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I am so excited to start the #DrawYourOwnLifeMap series with a focus on Leah Brannock, the owner & operator of Grinder’s Caffé in Wilmington, NC. Doing this piece was incredibly recharging for my soul.
Much of that comes from my interview with Leah. There is something huge to be said for engaging in discussions with like minded people. It really raises your personal vibration and can have a wonderfully positive affect for days after.
This is a personal piece for me for a few reasons.
Grinder’s is a business that I have frequented for a long time. It was my go-to coffee shop when it opened literally around the corner from me 8 years ago in July of 2011. I stopped in on my way to work almost every morning for two of those years. When friends from “back home” or my mom came to visit, I made sure to bring them to Grinder’s. When my best friend and roommate moved out and got married, when I moved out and got married, I would meet my ex-roommates and closest friends there. It was my chill spot, my place to treat myself.
Since then I have moved twice, gotten married, had two babies, started my business, changed my business -twice- and wound up here. In a position to interview and shine light on an amazing woman and an amazing coffee shop.
I still stop by Grinder’s occasionally, even though I live 25 minutes away (on a good traffic day), because the coffee is really good and the vibe is always welcoming. When you walk in, you feel love. You feel creativity and comfort.
At Grinder’s you can almost hear the walls saying, “we accept you as you are. Be yourself here.”
Also they have coffee cubes, which are my favorite thing ever. Grab an iced coffee here and melting ice won’t water it down; because the ice is actually coffee. This is super appreciated on hot summer days in southeastern North Carolina.
My interview time with Leah was like a breath of fresh air for my soul. Many of the things we talked about concerning business and our community really spoke to me.
There are times when you are speaking with someone who you know just gets what you have been feeling, that it feels like your spirit is being revitalized. Even if you aren’t specifically talking about what you have been feeling. That’s what our interview did for me, and I hope I can fully honor that by translating that feeling to you.
Sometimes the things you are supposed to do, aren’t apparent to you at the beginning of your journey. Leah didn’t have a dream of opening a coffee shop. As she puts it, she didn’t grow up envisioning and planning her future coffee shop. It wasn’t some big manifestation come true.
She had actually worked at a coffee shop called The Smudge Pot, which occupied the same space that eventually became Grinder’s, while she was going to the local university. After she left, she went on to work various restaurant and catering jobs before one day being asked to cover a couple shifts back at The Smudge Pot.
It happened to be during that time that she met her future husband and owner of the guitar shop next door, Tony. The two started seeing each other and often went on their dates to various local coffee shops.
Fast forward a little bit and the two heard news that The Smudge Pot was closing. Tony “joked” about how owning a coffee shop would save them a lot of money and suggested the two of them open one in place of The Smudge Pot. Leah was not exactly sold on the idea and the spot was rented by someone else. That only lasted a year.
A few months later Leah and Tony opened Grinder’s Caffe. Leah says the spark really came from Tony. That he always had more of a vision of what Grinder’s could be.
I tell this story because it really highlights a contradiction to what many think jumping off of the traditional path is about. We often have this idea that if people are taking these big risks and putting themselves out there, that they are taking them to follow a big dream. The truth is, that’s not always the case. In fact, if I had to make an educated guess I would say it is rarely the case. Instead, many times it’s the blank paper we want. The freedom to find our dream or discover whatever is ahead. When we start out, we aren’t sure where the map we draw is going to lead us. We just know it’s going to be our decision. So we follow signs as they come up to lead us further into the unknown, and further into the freedom.
It’s the little things
Leah Brannock, Grinder’s Caffé
“Owning a business is like repairing an airplane while it’s in flight; all the time.
The plane never lands, by the way.”
It is hard being your own boss and to run a business. It takes discipline. During our interview Leah points out that you need to do your own due diligence, and while saying this her landlord happened to walk by giving her a chance to check in on the water bill- in perfect timing to make this point. On top of it all, you are your only cheerleader. Even though you may have supportive friends and family, you are the only one in it everyday. You don’t get performance reviews to tell you to keep up the good work. Although, as Leah pointed out, you do still get the criticisms. This starts to speak to why you always need to be actively working on your mindset.
When you own a business, no matter what kind, you are putting all of yourself into it.
One of the things Leah says is the hardest for her, is answering the question “how do we get away?” Where is the shut off? The line where you can leave the business on one side and have “business free” time on the other. As someone who also has their own business, I can tell you it feels nearly impossible to do. But you need to make that deliberate effort to shut it off sometimes. As Leah says, you need to remember that “life is not all about the dollar.”
Even with the difficulties of owning a business, I was hardly able to finish asking if she felt it was all worth it before Leah jumped in to say yes. Absolutely. She feels validated in her decision to open a coffee shop and create her own life often.
Her first and most important example being when her Grammy passed away.
They were extremely close and Leah was able to drop everything and leave. She was able to just be there with her Grammy before she passed, for as long as she wanted. As she points out, she didn’t need to request off or have someone switch shifts. There was no fear of being fired if she felt she needed to stay longer than expected. Leah says “There’s no value you can place on that”.
In talking with Leah, you can see the power of noticing the little things and being grateful. It’s those little things that makes her feel validated in her decision to have opened Grinder’s. We talked about how just two days ago, she was on the beach with her 12 year old dog. On a random Monday at noon, just because the weather was finally beautiful. “I almost feel guilty.” She says as we are talking about how so many people hate Mondays and complain about them. “But really I’m just grateful.”
There is a new sign at Grinder’s. On the wall behind the counter. It says “Medicine”.
Leah chose to put up this sign as a reminder that Grinder’s serves medicine for the soul. The teas, coffees, smoothies- they offer a break in your day to take care of yourself. Tired? Grinder’s can help. Need a study break? Grinder’s can help. Gotta get away from the office, or out of the library? Grinder’s can help. Forget your vitamins this morning? Head to Grinder’s for a smoothie. Just want to be around some cool people and recharge your soul? Seriously, head to Grinder’s.
The wonderful thing that you realize when you start to draw your own map, is that nothing has to be what others expect it to be. Grinder’s has become a place that is medicine not only for the individual soul, but the community’s. It is contributing outside of just offering coffee by offering a safe place to express yourself, and to join together with others in the community through weekly open-mic nights.
Recently Leah had to hire more employees. During one interview the applicant said “Grinder’s was the first place I felt comfortable playing my guitar in front of people”. After the interview, Leah went over to investigate on Facebook and saw tons of pictures of this person playing shows and in front of crowds.This person became more confident in who they are after having had the opportunity to open up and share themselves. (Yes, they got the job.)
There is a magic that blossoms in a place where people can express their souls, and you feel it when you walk in. Leah says there’s also a magic for her, to able to provide the place for people to do that.
Hurricanes and Hawaii
“Some of the scariest things in life create some of the most beautiful things in life”
Leah immediately used Hawaii as an example. The amazing beauty of Hawaii wouldn’t be there without the terrifying volcanoes and eruptions that created it.
We were talking about the hurricane and it’s affect on Grinder’s. If you live in North Carolina, and specifically Wilmington and the surrounding areas, you know exactly what hurricane we are talking about. The area is still cleaning up from Florence, and she was a “puny” category 1 five months ago when she hit.
It took four and a half months after the storm for Grinder’s to reopen. So yeah, you could say it was affected. The short story of it, (because I’m sure you’re wondering. We all like to know the details about disaster) is that the roof of the old building peeled off at the beginning of the storm. If you remember hearing about (or living through) Florence, you will remember that it hung out and rained for about 2.5 days before finally leaving. With the roof peeled off, you can imagine what happened. Then it got hot and humid, so it molded quickly.
It was heartbreaking for Leah when she returned.
She says she thought about taking the insurance money and just leaving. Taking a cross country trip and rebuilding when she got back. Maybe. (Maybe not.)
Tony suggested that they go out for dinner to take their minds off of it for a bit. So they went to one of the only restaurants in town that was reopened already, and upon walking in came face to face with a server who happened to be an “everydayer”. (A term Leah affectionately gives to customers who come in everyday, sometimes maybe twice a day.) His face dropped upon seeing her and he just looked so devastated. To the point that somehow she wound up comforting him. He said he drove through the parking lot everyday, and was just so upset about it. He wasn’t sure when he would be able to stop.
This was not a one time occasion. Everywhere she went out; to eat, to shop, the bank. This happened for the next four months while Leah built Grinder’s 2.0 in a strip mall not too far from the original. A customer offered her a new spot because he was ready to get back to Grinder’s. Hundreds of people asked her either in person or online, when they would be back. Of this she says, “I never realized that our tiny corner of the universe impacted so many people in such a positive way… until the hurricane.”
Leah expressed several times during our interview, how grateful she is that they have come out of that incredibly difficult time to be where they are.
No one gets a chance to come back after they have died, and start over knowing what they knew. Except Grinder’s, says Leah. She was able to feel the pain from the absence of Grinder’s in the community, and hear about how it felt from the community. She took what she learned in the first 8 years, all of the things that she said to herself over the years “I wish I had done it this way”, and did it that way.
In talking with Leah about Grinder’s you can see in her eyes and hear in her spirit, the amazing and deep love she has for this business she has created. It’s infectious, honestly. So I was not surprised when she emphatically offered (before I had the chance to ask) that she would “100% do it again. All over.”
“People say you only live once. That’s not true. You live everyday, you only die once. “
I asked Leah if she had anything she wanted to share, specifically with women who aren’t happy living on someone else’s terms or following society’s map anymore. She had a few things to say:
“Remember who you were before they told you who to be. And let that person make the decisions.
Thing’s are going to go wrong. Nothing goes to plan. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep an open mind…. Stand up for yourself.
If something feels really scary; don’t shy away from it, go into it head first. Within reason.
People say you only live once. That’s not true. You live everyday, you only die once.”
If you are in the Wilmington NC area or come to visit sometime, (we have great beaches!) make sure to stop in! I recommend an iced Caffé Joy with coconut milk.