Alexandra Mosher: [00:00:00] This is part two of the interview with Sarah Parish, one of the founders of Torch Coffee in Seville, Spain. Sarah expands on her background growing up in Guatemala and how this affected the why behind her opening up a coffee shop. She also expands on how a trip from Torch's founder helped her and her sister to press on and what it looks like to be clear about your business's culture and the systems within your business. Sarah shares her story here with SCI's Alexandra Mosher.
How's it been like knowing that it's your last, your last month there? Cause what you've been there for five years? Four years?
Sara Parish: [00:00:45] Almost nine... eight, eight and a half years.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:00:48] Almost eight and a half?!
Sara Parish: [00:00:49] Yes. Yeah, by the time we got a residency, we got all the paperwork done, we looked for a locale, remodeled, everything else... so the business has been open five years, but it took us about six months before. So just by one thing after another it's we've been here a little over eight years now.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:01:10] Okay. Yeah. Cause that's what I was kind of wondering, because I know you guys have had the shop for what, like four years now. Right?
Sara Parish: [00:01:17] September 15th would have been five years. So two weeks till five years.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:01:23] Yeah. I was trying to figure out the timeline for like how everything started. So can you walk me through like the timeline of what happened for those eight years?
Sara Parish: [00:09:11] Going back to the very beginning, when I first had the idea of opening coffee shop, I think it wasn't so much about coffee for me. I know a lot of people get into coffee shops cause they love coffee. For me, I think it was the idea of like I've always loved business. I've always been really drawn by it, but it was also the idea of community around the whole coffee shop and the coffee community. That was really appealing to me. I probably didn't understand or grasp the full concept of it until I actually got into coffee, but that was super appealing for me. Like just to have a space where you can just connect with people and have conversation. I think that was one of the main motivators for me was more the business aspect and the community aspect of coffee.
Sara Parish: [00:01:34] When we first got here, we moved to Spain with just a regular tourist visa, just to try to get information. Spain is really well known for horrible bureaucracy and nothing is clear and the immigration system is just a mess. Like there's tons of blogs and jokes and memes about it, but we could not find any information whatsoever online about what type of visa or residency we needed to apply for.
So we're like, well, we have a 90 day tourist visa. Let's just go to the offices, try to get some information, hire a lawyer, whatever we need to do. We are here on six months and then we were able to extend it several times so we could stay here while we applied for the residency. But it took us almost a year and a half just to get the residency paperwork done.
It was, it was just a huge mess. Like we would go to one office, no one could give us information or they'd say, "you need this document from this place." So we'd have to make an appointment, the appointment was a month away. So we have to waste a whole month. Finally get to our appointment and we show up to that office they're like, "no, this isn't the right office. You have to make an appointment somewhere else." And wait another month, it was just a year and a half of basically being sent from one place to another, trying to figure out what paperwork we needed to send in. So after a year and a half, we were finally able to figure out what it was that we needed to do, what paperwork was required. We were able to get everything together [and] submit the paperwork. So it took us about a year and a half. And then once we finally got our legal residency, then we started trying to look for locales, which was also very... wasn't easy.
When we first got to Spain, I was 25-26 [years old]. My sister was 23-24. And that age in Spain is like really, really young. In the States, I think that they have this [idea] like once you're 18, you're an adult. You move out, you live on your own, you're self-supporting, you pay for your own things. But the culture in Spain is like, you can be 35 - I have friends, guy friends, that are lawyers and engineers, and they're like 35-40 [years old] and they still live at home.
And so at 25... two single women in their twenties was like, "What? You guys have no idea what you're doing." Like no one wanted to rent us a place. They thought that we didn't know what we were doing. Which is partially true, but so it took us another eight months or so I think to finally find a locale that we liked that was a reasonable price and that was willing to rent to us.
And then once we got that worked out, then it took us, I think, four or five months for the remodel and getting it all ready for opening.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:09:52] Okay. And you started it with your sister, right?
Sara Parish: [00:09:54] Yes.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:09:55] So was that the same thing for her? Like, tell me what that was like with you to like, talking about it.
Sara Parish: [00:10:00] We’re very, very different. I'm probably more of the business side. She's super talented in a bunch of stuff, but I don't think Vicky ever was drawn to opening a business. I think she just opened the business cause it sounded like a good idea and she want to do it with me, but she's not the business person. She's super creative. She's really good at decorating. She's super good at coffee. But she wasn't drawn into coffee so much for the business as I was, she just got on board because I threw the idea at her and it sounded really cool. And we work really well together and now she loves it. But I think at the beginning it was just the idea of working together and starting a project together.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:10:40] Okay. So starting a coffee shop is a pretty big commitment and like, where did it go from like a fun idea to like, "okay, let's actually do this."
Sara Parish: [00:10:48] I think it was very progressive. One thing led to another and we kept trying to take steps in a certain direction and then one door would open up another door When we first decided that's what we wanted to do, and we both decided that we wanted to do it in Spain I had this idea that I was like, "we'll be back in six months, open in six months" and it ended up taking almost two years to finally get back and have the finances and have everything ready to open, but it was just the way things worked out were super, super cool, because we had the idea, we were determined that's what we wanted to do, but we had never worked in coffee. We knew nothing about coffee. We had never opened a business. We worked a lot, had management experience and that kind of stuff, but it was basically "let's open a coffee shop," but we had no background and [had] never worked in a coffee shop before in our lives.
And so it was... it was that just one thing led to another. It was of love, like social entrepreneurship. So I found a business/social entrepreneurship course in Thailand, and that's where I met Samuel! Samuel was of one of the speakers there. He invited us to go - he heard that we were opening a coffee shop - and he invited us to go to China, to Greenhouse and get our coffee training. And he had lived a while in Guatemala. We knew a couple of the same people in Guatemala. So I was like, "Hey, why not?" And so we went and we spent, I think it was a little over three months in China learning coffee.
So it was basically, we were at the coffee shop all day. We had trainers, there were two types of coffee. So it was just like hands-on practice for about three months. And that was all the coffee training we had before opening. After China we went back to the States to look for investment, get all our paperwork together and that kind of stuff. So it was more like meeting Samuel in Thailand - he was the one that kind of introduced us into specialty coffee and helped us get trained and have a little bit of experience before opening.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:12:41] Wow! That seems so divine that you would meet Samuel, who's been in Guatemala… and I always thought you guys met in Guatemala. That's so crazy that you guys met in Thailand. Okay. So before that, were you thinking about not doing specialty coffee or just going to do, like...
Sara Parish: [00:12:56] I didn't even know that was a thing.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:12:59] Okay.
Sara Parish: [00:12:59] My first introduction to specialty coffee was with Samuel. He was telling me third wave coffee. I was like, "what the heck, is this?" And that was the first time I ever saw latte art. And that was weird. Because growing up in Guatemala, you're surrounded by coffee, but most of the good quality coffee was always exported. And so I've been drinking coffee since I was a little girl, but it was just coffee. [You] know, we understood that it was from the area, but I had absolutely no concept of specialty coffee then. So he was our first introduction to it.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:13:33] If you can think back to when you first started thinking about opening a coffee shop, what was your ideal vision? What was like your dream coffee shop?
Sara Parish: [00:13:44] Decor-wise. I think Vicki, my sister was the one that had more of an idea. And I think what we ended up opening up with is pretty much on what we were envisioning. It was a little more industrial. We played off a lot of the Torch brand with blues, black accents and stuff like that, but, it did - eventually it would change over like the two years that we're looking at or planning opening a coffee shop - our end product is pretty much what we wanted.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:04:57] When you first were going into it, did you kind of expect that it was going to take that long? Or did you have like a different idea?
Sara Parish: [00:05:06] No... I didn't think it was going to take that long at all. I think the most frustrating part, it took us a while to find investment, but that was kind of, we kind of knew that was going to happen, just trying to find investors for a different country. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. But I think the part, the most frustrating part was trying to get residency just because we're opening business, so we have an entrepreneurship visa or residency, or had... you would think a country that was in crisis would be more willing or a little more motivated to try to get entrepreneurs to open businesses here, but it was a drawn out absolutely stressful, confusing process.
And like the whole time we were here, we weren't working and we were still having to like pay rent and, and all that kind of stuff. So I think that was the most frustrating part of the process.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:05:58] It's interesting because I feel like, especially in the United States, we have this idea of Spain, like, "I'm going to move to Spain and I'm going to start a business and it's like, woohoo! like party all the time!"
Sara Parish: [00:06:10] No, it's, it's not like that at all. It's, it's actually pretty sad in my opinion. It's really, really sad to see because like, you talk to young people here and I don't know anybody, anybody that's my age or younger - I'm 34 - my age or younger that actually wants to open a business.
Because everyone knows how, how difficult it is and how high taxes are and how many regulations and paperwork and bureaucracy and roadblocks and everything that they put towards for you that it's, it completely kills anybody that has any desire to do so. And that was even before, like this whole situation and everyone here wants to work for the government.
And so I think in the States, almost like they have this idea that anyone that works for the government is kind of like... like even like you think about like post office, like who wants to work in a post office, but here that's like actually, people... that's, for them, that's a great career choice because they know no matter what you'll be working for the government, you'll have a steady paycheck, they can't fire you because it's impossible to get fired here. Any kind of crisis, like right now, COVID, everybody that works in the government has a stable paycheck. So it's kind of sad that like, they don't incentivize entrepreneurship at all here. And I didn't see that until moving here and being here for nine years that I don't know very many people that actually have the desire to open businesses here.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:15:57] Right. Okay. So take me back to when you guys first opened up the coffee shop, what was that like for you guys?
Sara Parish: [00:16:04] It was tough. We were the very first specialty coffee in the city and we were one of the very first in the country. So no one understood the concept.
It was something completely different that was done in the city. And we were in a very, very traditional city. There's even a saying here in Seville called de todo la vida, which is "of all your life," and they say it constantly. You just hear people and it's just like a common theme that comes up with every conversation where they say "de todo la vida."
So they like things that they're used to that have been normal for them during their whole life. And so when people would come in, that's what they'd ask us. They're like, we want a coffee. So we explained to them the difference in specialty coffee is going to taste different. Like we would kind of educate them a little on specialty coffee.
"No, no, no, no, no, no. I just want one my whole life. De todo la vida." And we're like "it's going to be different." The first two years of the coffee shop was most of our time was spent with just explaining and educating and communicating what specialty coffee was. So it was, it wasn't so much serving. It was more communicating and educating, and it was just really long hours trying to introduce a new product to… or create a market where there was [none]. There was no specialty coffee market in Seville at all.
It went from the coffee they serve here in Spain is a low quality or robusta and they roast it called torrefacto, which is they roast it with sugar. So it's like charred black, really dark coffee, and it's super, super cheap. So they're used to buying coffees at a bar that they drink in 30 seconds and leave for less than a Euro.
And we were charging two to three times that, and it took us a lot longer to make because you have to follow certain steps and you heat up milk only once. And so it was a totally different concept of coffee from going, "coffee is something you drink really quickly just to give you caffeine in the morning at a really, really low cost or price" to something artisanal that takes very long to make and their concept that was very expensive.
So it was a big shock. We just thought, "Oh, people are going to want to try it. Cause it's something new and cool and different." And we didn't realize how traditional the city was and how hard that transition was going to be to try to get people, to try this new product.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:18:36] So you were like not only dealing with starting your first business, but also in a different culture too, like putting it into a different culture.
Sara Parish: [00:19:09] I think it was, it was a huge emotional rollercoaster because we weren't making money. We were losing money the first three and a half years that we were open... four years that we were open. Expenses are super high here. Taxes are very high. So like during the first three, three and a half, four years, we wanted to make it work, we were super passionate about it. We were really excited about [it] being our first business. We were very motivated to make it work, but it was an uphill battle the whole time. We weren't making money. We were losing money. We weren't making... There were times where we didn't even get a salary. We're working 80, 90 hours a week, every single day, had no time off. Had no social life, had no personal life. And there was months where we were like, “okay, we did all that. And we're not even making a salary.”
Sara Parish: [00:23:20] You get into this routine of like, and you just get used to being in this routine. Like now I look back at them, like I have no idea how we were working 90 hours a week, but I think your body, you just get on adrenaline and you just get on this routine of, that's just what you do every day.
You wake up in the morning, you go to work at 7:30 in the morning, you get off work at 9:30 at night, you go home, have dinner, go to sleep. It's just this routine that you get on. That it's like a, what is that called… a hamster wheel, that you just don't get off and you don't really realize how you're on the same routine, but I think it hit us when we started [thinking] like, “okay, we've been doing this for three years and what have we done other than the coffee shop?" And so, it's hard to describe because you get in this routine, but at the same time, you're like you see that time is passing by. And you're not getting any younger and you've missed out on a lot of stuff that people are doing that... oh, I'm going to get emotional! And that part's hard.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:24:24] Yeah. You felt like you had missed out on stuff cause you had to focus so much on the business.
Sara Parish: [00:24:29] Yeah. When, like my friends are traveling and having fun and get to go on holidays and like for five years of my life, I didn't have vacation. I didn't have a personal life. I didn't have a social life.
So that's, what's been, that was tough. Yeah.
And so it wasn't just like the stress of our- the business isn't making money. How are we going to cover the expenses of the business? But on top of that, the personal sacrifice, we weren't even making money on a personal level. So I was like, is it worth it? Is the business worth all the sacrifices we're making on a personal level?
So it was just like a huge mix of stuff of like, we really wanted to make it work. Because there was a project that we loved and we were passionate about, and we put a lot of effort and sacrifice and we invested a lot into it. But at the same time, on a personal level, you sacrifice a lot, a lot to try to get the project up and running.
So it was a huge rollercoaster of emotions of like some days where we're excited because people - it was starting to pick up and we're starting to get recognized and we're doing really well on TripAdvisor. And we were starting to get recognized in the European coffee community. So there were highs and like emotions of like it's working a little, but then lows once you start looking at the finances and you're not making money and how we're going to pay rent and how we're going to pay taxes.
And so it's just like every single day was an emotional roller coaster and you never knew what it was going to be like, it was going to be a great day or really, really bad day or... It was very, very tough.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:14:09] Okay. And was it like the community feeling that you were looking for?
Sara Parish: [00:14:12] Different! Very, very, very different. We had never worked in a coffee shop. We had never opened a business before. So I think before opening the coffee shop, our vision was we're going to have so much time off and we're going to have time just to sit down with customers and talk to them for hours on end. We just like everyone's idea when they go into the coffee shop, of just how peaceful it is. And the reality was totally different. There were days we didn't even have a chance to sit down and have lunch much less sit down and have conversations and community with people inside the coffee shop.
So it was very different the way we had imagined it at the... before opening. But we did find that even if we were working and we didn't have a chance to sit down with people, community was still created, especially with our team. now we have a really good relationship with even the other coffee shops in the city.
We have a WhatsApp group and we're always talking on there. We get together to have coffee or drinks or whatever about once a month. So community naturally happened, but it wasn't the way we envisioned it.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:15:21] So you felt like, maybe - correct me if I'm wrong - like for you, you had community more with like your team and other coffee shops, but you were kind of expecting you to have community with like the patrons, the people.
Sara Parish: [00:15:33] There was also a lot of community there with our locals, with the customers that would come in every day. But just the way we envisioned it was a lot more us behind the bar working and that interaction and conversation and that kind of stuff. It wasn't so much, we had envisioned it was more going to be like, we're going to sit at the tables and we're going to be able just to have conversation with everyone all day.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:24:46] Yeah. So you had the business for five years, total?
Sara Parish: [00:24:51] This month we turned five years.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:24:53] Okay.
Sara Parish: [00:24:53] So like really hard sacrifice was I think three and a half years.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:24:59] But even the year and a half recently, you still were not able to do a whole lot besides the business?
Sara Parish: [00:25:08] I would say maybe six to eight months before COVID, it was going very well. We're finally, we weren't having to work. We weren't needed, there was days we'd go into the coffee shop and like, we're like, "okay, we're leaving," because there's nothing for us to do. We were able to hire enough staff. Everything was running by itself. Basically we were there just to supervise, roast coffee, do admin work, paperwork, that kind of stuff. But like the daily work of the coffee shop, we were completely not needed anymore. I would say about eight months before COVID hit. So during that time it was really nice, cause we, we finally saw that it was working. We had time off, we were able to build friendships with people. That period of time was good.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:25:48] So for someone who wants to start a coffee shop, would you tell them that it's worth it? That it's a good idea? What would you say to them?
Sara Parish: [00:25:57] Me and my sister talk about this quite often. We're like, if we could go back, would we still do it? And we both say yes. It's super weird, because like I look back at it and I'm like, "it's emotional, but I don't see myself doing anything else." And also during COVID and everything that's been going on right now, we've been trying to decide what to do.
And we're both like, I can't see myself working for anybody else. It's been super hard and it's been an uphill battle. I wouldn't have changed it at all for anything. Just because like the lessons you learn, your personal development, how you grow as a person, experience that you have, the people that you meet... for me, that was all worth all the sacrifice for sure.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:26:38] Would you say the hardest part was just missing out on certain things that you would've liked to be at?
Sara Parish: [00:26:43] Yeah.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:26:45] Why do you think that part was the most difficult for you out of like everything that could have been the most difficult?
Sara Parish: [00:26:50] I think just being like completely honest and raw and vulnerable, I think the aspect that I'm a single woman about to turn 34 years old, that hits you hard. And so it's like, I only have a few more years left. Like I'm 34. Like that starts, that starts creeping up on you. And so, I think that's been the hardest part.
We knew before COVID - we have been talking to Samuel about it for a long time now - we knew eventually we wanted to sell the business and move back to Guatemala. So we always knew that was kind of the direction we wanted to go in. But business in itself was doing great. We paid off our last debt two weeks before COVID hit. We had gotten a couple months behind on rent and two weeks before COVID hit, we caught up on all our rent. We had a line of credit that we had gone into the negatives quite a bit. We had finally gotten up to zero on that. So two weeks before COVID we're like, "okay, we're finally from here on out, we're going to be able to start making money." So we were making that to cover all the expenses and then to be able to get caught up a little on our debt and stuff.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:28:18] Okay. And then what happened? How did COVID affect everything?
Sara Parish: [00:28:24] At first, here in Spain, they just announced a two week shutdown. That first it was literally within 24 hours. We went into work on Saturday and we started just hearing "they're shutting things down in Italy. All the businesses are closed in Italy." There was a lot of rumors of it happening in Spain. So we were trying to work on Saturday. The weekends were really, really busy for us. Like it was nonstop. So I was trying to work and produce and be with customers and all that kind of stuff. At the same time, it was trying to figure out what was going on with the news and if the government was making any announcements. And then all of a sudden I started noticing on Instagram, on social media that a lot of the coffee shops in the country were closing voluntarily. And I was like, what do we do? I had eight people on staff. So I was like, I can't just close my business for two weeks when I have eight people that depend on their jobs, like four out of our eight staff have families, have kids, and it's a huge responsibility.
And so I was like, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. And so, that was just during one day, by the end of the day on Saturday, we were getting a lot of pressure from people through our Instagram, our social media of why we hadn't closed yet. This wasn't even 24 hours. We had no time to even make a decision.
And tons of pressure. We're getting pretty nasty messages. And so by Sunday, we decided for our staff not to come in and me and my sister would work by ourselves until we could figure out what was going on. By Sunday night, they announced that all the hospitality businesses had to be closed by Monday morning. We did not even have time to go through our fridges. We had just stocked up on a bunch of food. We had just ordered a bunch of green coffee. They didn't even give us a chance to go through everything that we had ordered. It was literally 24 hours and they shut us down. And what started off as two weeks ended up being two and a half months that we were completely closed down.
It was very difficult, very difficult. Luckily in Spain, all of our staff was able to go onto unemployment. So for the two and a half months that we were closed, we didn't have to pay salaries or social security for them. So we just had to figure out what we're going to… how we're going to pay all the other expenses.
We still had to pay rent.We had to pay all our taxes. We had to pay light, but luckily we didn't have to pay salaries during the two and a half months that we were closed.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:30:56] Pre-COVID, you guys were thinking about going to Guatemala. What was influencing that decision? Why were you deciding to sell the business and go back to Guatemala?
Sara Parish: [00:31:06] I think it was a big mix of a lot of different reasons. I think we realized what we wanted on a personal level. We weren't going to be able to accomplish that in Spain. Vicki, and I have always had the vision of like, for us, it wasn't just about opening one coffee shop. I've always wanted to open several coffee shops and do a roastery and like eventually do school. And like, we had a vision of a lot more and we realized that in Spain we were always going to be limited just because expenses are so high, taxes are ridiculous. Bureaucracy is... it's just difficult.
So we just felt like we were never going to be able to accomplish what we really wanted to here in Spain. We would always be like, okay, if we just want to open up one coffee shop then it would work. But when we expand and stuff like that, it'd be very difficult here. So I think it was a mix of that. And then just on a personal level, we were kind of ready to go home, be back with our family and our friends. We were also excited about the possibilities or the prospects of what we could do in Guatemala. So I think it was just a mix of everything.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:32:09] How did COVID kind of change what ended up happening?
Sara Parish: [00:32:16] It's actually been a progression. So when we were able to open up again, we were only able to open up at a 30% capacity and at that amount we lost all the tourism. Before COVID we were… about 85% of our customers were tourism. And now borders are shut down. So there is a little bit of tourism in Spain, but it's just European tourism right now.
When we opened up, it was just me and my sister working all our staff is still under unemployment for a while, but we knew tourism probably wasn't going to be coming back until 2021. And with the expenses we had with rent, just all the expenses that we had, that it would be very, very difficult to get back on our feet.
And if we were able to, we'd get back into debt, we'd accumulate quite a bit of debt just trying to make it through that next year. So we were opened up for another two months, just me and my sister working by ourselves. And then we decided at the end of August to close. Our idea at the end of August was to look for a different locale - find something really small, something really cheap. And at least that would reduce the expenses and try to survive this year. And then by next year, maybe we can save the business and try to sell it. So if we save the business, try to sell it, we'll take that money and we'll move back to Guatemala. But just this last, two weeks, we've decided that it's not even worth trying to reopen here and we're just going to head out to Guatemala and try to set up there.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:33:55] What was that decision like? How did you guys feel about that?
Sara Parish: [00:33:59] It's tough because pre-COVID a broker had valued our business at like $280,000. We were going to make a lot of money. We were able with that money, we were [going to be] able to do a lot of things in Guatemala. And now our idea of going to Guatemala went from being able to sell our business for $280,000 and having a big chunk of cash to be able to do something in Guatemala to now, basically all we have left is our furniture and our machinery, and that's it.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:34:45] What you want to do in Guatemala is you want to start some more coffee shops?
Sara Parish: [00:34:50] For now I think our idea is just to open a small coffee shop and maybe focus more on roasting. More roasting, sourcing coffee, buying coffee directly from farmers there, eventually getting into education, but I think we're going to focus more on roasting and education and not so much on coffee shop. We've realized coffee shops is a huge investment of time. And so we were thinking about maybe focusing a little bit different.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:35:15] So like, even though you wouldn't have done it any differently with starting the coffee shop you've kind of like moved away from, for now, doing another coffee shop.
Sara Parish: [00:35:26] I think eventually I would be open to opening a large one like we had here, but I think for our next step would just be a smaller coffee shop.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:35:34] Okay. So you would eventually like to open up another coffee shop.
Sara Parish: [00:35:38] Yeah.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:35:38] So you mentioned the reasons why you wouldn't have done it any differently. You said personal development, all the lessons that you learned, what were some of the other things?
Sara Parish: [00:35:51] Just experience. Just the experiences we've had here. I think that opening your own business, being pushed to your limits, having to deal with all the mix of emotions, all the problems that you have on a daily basis. I think that is like, on a personal development side, is huge. Lessons and learned that I don't think you'll ever learn -
Alexandra Mosher: [00:36:29] Could you imagine that when you first had this idea about the coffee shop, that it would take you like through this whole journey, and like...
Sara Parish: [00:36:36] No...sometimes ask us - people that kind of understand the Spanish market ask us - like, what were you guys thinking?
I was like, it was pure ignorance, honestly it was pure ignorance. We got into this, not having any idea what it was going to be like. We had heard people say opening a business is difficult, but I don't think until you're in it and you experience what's really like you fully grasp that. Cause it's like a whole other level of difficulty. Cause like before I was working a job, so you have difficulties, you have a boss that's behind you. You have stress, you have deadlines, but never to the level where it's like 24-hour non-stop where you're waking up at 3:00 in the morning, trying to figure out what you're going to do with your espresso machine that's broken or little things like that is.. It's a totally different level of stress that unless you're in it, I don't think you'll fully grasp it or understand it. We knew it was going to be hard and we knew it was going to require a lot of work and a lot of effort, but you don't fully get it until you're there.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:37:41] So can you tell me something that people wouldn't necessarily think about? Like, what was one of your favorite parts of owning a coffee shop?
Sara Parish: [00:37:50] There's tons of things that I love about it. Something that's been super cool for me is like, we can literally go to any city in Spain right now and have connection with someone. So like, I go to Barcelona, I can write anybody at any of the coffee shops in Barcelona and already have a contact there. So that's super cool. Like basically it's like this huge worldwide community, that's all connected just because we all have the same passion through coffee. And I think that is that's super neat. I could just go anywhere and not even know somebody and just walk into a coffee shop and be like, "Hey, I work in coffee," and how that automatically creates a connection with someone. I think that's super cool.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:39:37]
So because of Samuel, I've learned some things about what is challenging with a coffee shop. One of the things that we talk about sometimes is location. How was that for you guys finding location build out…
Sara Parish: [00:39:57] In parts it was difficult and other parts we actually [got] pretty lucky with the location we got. The hard part for us was when we moved here, we were looking for a for a coffee shop. I was 25 or 26, new in the country, had no history here. And in the United States – the United States is very entrepreneurial - being 25 or 26 opening your first business is quite common. In Spanish culture it's not common at all. At all. Everyone's dream here is to work for the government or be employed by some government office. And so entrepreneurship is not incentivized here. And so being 26 years old and trying to open a business, especially the size that we were doing, was unheard of here.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:07:33] You like have more faith in Guatemala's situation as far as like opening up a business or you guys want to do like, you said you wanted to do like, maybe like a smaller cafe, but you wanted to also maybe focus on roasting, right?
Sara Parish: [00:07:48] Yeah, we're looking at doing more roasting, like wholesale roasting, education and maybe just a small coffee shop. But I feel like it would be a lot easier, I think both the United States and Guatemala are countries that incentivize entrepreneurship a little bit more. They already understand the difficulties of being an entrepreneur just by itself and aren't going to put 20 million roadblocks for you. Just to give you an example here since... this is just one out of like dozens of paperwork I have to fill out every day.
But everything, any machinery or anything maintenance-wise that I'd have to do at the coffee shop, I have to fill out paperwork for down to if a light bulb goes off during the day, I have to fill out paperwork stating that the light bulb went out, what date and time and what actions I did in order to fix it. If the refrigerator breaks, I have to call a technician. If the grinder needs repairing, I have to call technician for every little repair I do during the day I have to fill out paperwork for, and that's just one out of dozens and dozens of things I'd have to do every day. And so just putting so many requirements like that, it's just like, then your whole day is filled up with just trying to be legal every day, and have all your paperwork done just in case you have an inspection that it doesn't leave any time for creativity or growth or for anything else. So I think in the United States and Guatemala they kind of facilitate businesses a lot more.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:09:18] Okay. That's good news. I'm excited for you guys to go back to Guatemala and see what that's like to do something similar, like... well would you say it's something similar? Are you still going to be under the Torch brand?
Sara Parish: [00:09:30] Oh, for sure. Yeah. That was one thing that I knew for sure. I love working in coffee and I absolutely love the coffee community and I love working with Torch. And so the thing that wasn't the easiest was trying to do business in Spain, but I knew, I knew right off the bat I didn't know where I wanted to be in the world for a while, I didn't know, leaving Spain, if I would want to go to another European country or go back to the States, or... we were kind of playing with, where for awhile, but what we knew for sure is that we want to continue working on coffee, and we wanted to continue working with Torch.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:10:07] Okay. And so right now, the vision... when you say education, what do you mean?
Sara Parish: [00:10:12] Courses. Coffee courses. So everything from sensory, roasting, brewing, barista...
Alexandra Mosher: [00:10:18] What is kind of like the purpose behind that? Is there a certain demographic that you're going for? Or like, what are your hopes with education?
Sara Parish: [00:10:26] In Guatemala, from last time I looked - I haven't looked in the last couple months, I've been kind of trying to get this closed out - but last time I checked there isn't a certified - SCA certified - coffee school in Guatemala. So there's some smaller coffee schools, but I think we have the huge advantage of it's - we're wanting to do Sustainable Coffee Institute, but also SCA, but we have the advantage of both languages. So we're looking at running courses for people in Guatemala that are wanting to work in coffee, but also opening it up to outside of Guatemala. So people from the States, they can do... we can do coffee tours or processing camps or, anyone that wants to go to Guatemala, learn coffee in a country of origin, we can run classes in English as well. So we're looking at running classes in both languages.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:11:13] You probably have to be like SCA certified, right?
Sara Parish: [00:11:16] My sister is, I'm not there yet. Vicki's good!
Alexandra Mosher: [00:11:21] Amazing. Okay. So I wanted to ask you some questions kind of about like... I realized that I didn't really understand your background a whole lot. So I know that you grew up mostly in Guatemala, right? Can you tell me kind of like your background?
Sara Parish: [00:11:38] I'm a huge mix, so... I get that question a lot and sometimes like, I don't know how to answer it. I come from a very multicultural family. My dad has three passports, Canadian, American and Guatemalan. But my grandfather, his dad was raised in Columbia.
And so my dad is American/Canadian/Guatemalan, but was born and raised in Guatemala. But my mother is from Georgia.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:12:03] The state or the country?
Sara Parish: [00:12:04] The state, the United States. Yeah, Georgia. They met in the United States. They were both studying there. They got married, went to Guatemala and we were all born and raised in Guatemala.
So when... the short story, what I give people just to simplify my story, I just say I'm half/half. I'm, half American, half Guatemalan. I was in Guatemala till I was 19 or 20 spent my whole life Guatemala. And then I went to Texas for a few years to study. I think I was in Texas for four years and then I moved to Spain.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:12:35] Okay. What did you study in Texas?
Sara Parish: [00:12:38] Business.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:12:39] Okay.
Sara Parish: [00:12:40] Yeah.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:12:40] And so if I'm correct, isn't like your family... aren't they missionaries, or no?
Sara Parish: [00:12:45] I personally don't consider them missionaries because like, when I see other missionaries in Guatemala, my family is not like that at all. Like really, my family are locals. Like they're, they're like... my dad is, he's tall and white, but culturally speaking, language, the way he views things, he's 100% Guatemalan. And like, he's been speaking, he learned English when he met my mom, so he's half American, but he didn't even speak English until he was 20...like 20... 19-20. And so our way of interacting and stuff, like, I don't know, maybe I just have a picture of what missionaries were like in Guatemala and they all like did social work or feeding children, or like, in my family, my parents were church planters.
And so I don't consider them missionaries because for them that's home. For us that's home. My mom, my mom is the foreigner, but actually she's super Guatemalan now. Like, I think she feels more at home in Guatemala than she does in United States now. So I would say we were, we were in ministry, but I wouldn't consider us ourselves or like my parents missionaries.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:13:47] It would be like saying like I'm a missionary in Portland, but...
Sara Parish: [00:13:50] That's home for you. Yeah.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:13:52] Yeah. That makes sense.
Okay. So what like town, or what area in Guatemala did you grow up in?
Sara Parish: [00:14:04] I grew up in a town called San Cristóbal, which is right outside of Guatemala city. It's actually closer, it's on the way to Antigua. So coffee people they know Antigua, Guatemala. It was a town right outside of the city, like kind of going towards Antigua.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:14:20] Okay. So did you experience a lot of like coffee culture growing up?
Sara Parish: [00:14:24] I think in a sense I did. I don't think growing up, I really paid attention to it, but I think just being from a producing country, I remember my whole life just driving by coffee farms and it was just like normal. It wasn't... I'd never even stopped to think about it.
And even in Guatemala City, there're certain areas of the city that you drive by and it's like a house and then there's a farm. And it's just very much part of the views around Guatemala City. So you see a volcano and then you see farms around it. And so, I think in a certain sense, you kind of grow up with a coffee culture. You start drinking coffee, very young there. I remember drinking coffee when I was a baby and it's very typical to have coffee after dinner, around the table. You have dinner, you clear off the table and then people bring out coffee. So you sit around the table after dinner, still drinking coffee. So it was very much like a cultural thing, but I think it's just, you don't really realize it. It's the same as Spain. Like people have cultural understanding of wine, but because they're around it. But I wouldn't say I knew coffee, like it was just... we were around coffee farms and kind of knew what they looked like and you had a sense, or... I have a sense or understanding what the weather needs to be like for, for coffee to grow. Cause that's just like where I grew up.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:15:36] Okay. So I'm trying to understand where this coffee dream was born from. Was it just like, “well, yeah, that sounds like it could be fun,” or like, was there something else behind it?
Sara Parish: [00:15:47] I think it was, I think a lot of people get into coffee cause they first love coffee. I think for me it was, I got into coffee because of my love for business. And I think business came before coffee for me. And so I always knew I wanted to run a business. And so I think being my first business, I always had the idea or I was in love with the idea of a coffee shop. Cause like, I think when you're a customer at a coffee shop, you have this like romantic idea of what it's like, and it's not like that at all, but of just like sitting down and enjoying a cup of coffee with your friends and like the community around it and like the pastries and just how, how enjoyable it is. I think I was in love with that idea and I, I got into coffee or starting learning coffee because of, I wanted to open a business.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:16:31] Yes. Especially if you have this tradition in Guatemala where like, after dinner, you and your family even get around coffee. You know, like in the United States, it's like, oh, you meet up with a friend or a colleague and you go out to coffee, but it's like every night after you have this, like this moment with your family have dinner and how like familial that is, and then you have like coffee, like, it just sounds like it's so much more built into how you're social.
Sara Parish: [00:16:58] Yeah, no, even on the weekends. So during the week, it's you drink it a lot and family or at home, but on the weekends, you go out with friends and you get together for coffee. But I, I even remember we would have family dinners once a week where my aunts and uncles, everyone came to the house, and after dinner we would sit there for hours drinking coffee and just talking and talking and talking and talking and talking. This is very much part of the family life, but also your friends and family and socializing and everything like that as well.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:17:29] Well, that's interesting too, because it, to me, I feel like in the United States, I could replace that with like drinking alcohol almost, you know, like after dinner, it's pretty normal to have like some kind of like alcoholic drink afterwards. But personally I like the idea of coffee, like better. I dunno. I think it's more... like there's more energy behind it or something.
Sara Parish: [00:17:53] Maybe like drinks and like alcohol or beers and stuff would be more like on the weekend type thing. But then like during the family, during the week, it would be more, it would be more coffee.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:18:01] Hm, okay. So you were talking about before, like Vicki wanted to just like really do a business with you, even though she wasn't super business-orientated. Did she also have this romantic view of coffee shops and coffee?
Sara Parish: [00:18:16] I think so. I think Vicki and I, we both have very different motivations for wanting to do this and we both have different strengths and different roles within the business. So she's never been the type of like wanting to open a business or... that's more my side, but I think she really enjoys, like, I wouldn't use this word, but I can't think of another, another word for it. Maybe the more artistic or the creative side of coffee. And so she's the one that focuses on like the education or the brewing methods or extractions. Like she's more into the coffee side, I'm more into the, the business side. So it works out great, because we both have our own focus and we're able to get a lot more done that way.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:18:55] Yeah, that's amazing. And Samuel was also, he mentioned something like how coffee is this interesting business because there is so many people who do go into coffee with this romantic idea, but because of coffee shops. But you don't see that in a lot of other businesses, for instance, like, if I was opening up like a paper company or I was opening up, like, you know, he used the example of like a port-a-potty company to go into it with the business mindset. Like, there's not like romance behind it. You're like going into about like, okay, how are we going to be profitable? What is the business model? And like, you're very focused on that.
What would you say about the beginning? Like, if someone was opening up a coffee shop right now, like how they could be more prepared when they go into it, if they are the kind of person who is like very, "I'm going to do this for the social aspect," or something like that.
Sara Parish: [00:19:51] I think it's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you go into it. I think having that, like that illusion or that romantic idea of coffee shops kind of is what helps you create that environment. And so if you're able to recreate that environment where people also fall in love with that idea, then you're doing your job pretty well. If someone comes into a coffee shop and all these sense is like chaos, disorder, too much commotion, disorganization, like if they don't come in with that same sense, then you're... in a sense you're not doing your job right. And so I think that having that romantic idea helps you also to kind of focus and like recreate that same atmosphere for somebody else. But the negative aspect is you don't realize how much work [there is] behind the scenes. So when, when someone has the only experience they have at a coffee shop is just being a customer and they've never worked behind the bar, they have no idea how much work goes into it. And it's just, it could kill the romance really quickly if you don't have a good idea of what all it goes into it. And so we always joke around saying we spend more time cleaning bathrooms and washing dishes then we do sitting down and having coffee. And that's the truth.
There'd be days I don't even get a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee. Like you can get a shot real quick behind the bar cause you're trying out the shots all day and like that kind of stuff, but really sitting down and enjoying it? There's days that you don't even have a chance to do that. You're washing dishes, cleaning floors, cleaning bathrooms, picking up napkins off the floor, just the million and one things that go behind running a coffee shop. And I think going in with an understanding that it's not as romantic behind the bar as it is in front of the bar, then at least your expectation, you go into it with correct expectations.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:21:45] Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. So, something that you had talked about is when you were in China, did you go through these courses of like understanding your culture and like your value and everything?
Sara Parish: [00:21:58] Understanding of the company culture or...
Alexandra Mosher: [00:22:01] Yeah, like did you do... cause SCI has these coffee management courses, did you kind of go through a course like that?
Sara Parish: [00:22:06] This was way before that? No, this is actually before Samuel had any schools open. This was in Greenhouse Coffee. So he didn't open schools I think until he had... there was one school in Shiyan that we went to. I think we were only there for like two weeks. So we got to Shiyan, we first got to Shiyan, we were there for two weeks. We were actually in the school upstairs and we did some like official coffee, like espresso machine courses. Like, "this is how you make an espresso machine," "This is how you do the tamping," like, set courses. But then we ended up going to Xining, which is in the North, and there wasn't a school there. And so most of our training was just hands-on.
It was either at the roastery, like the headquarters that they had, jumping in on any courses that were like classes that were given or cuppings that they were doing, or we would go to the coffee shop and just go behind of the bar and just like pull shots all day. So there was a trainer, Nick, that he was basically sitting with us for a lot of time in doing training with us, but the school wasn't... there wasn't like an official school yet. And so most of our training, Vicki and I, it wasn't, we didn't even do like official courses or anything like that. It was just getting in there and learning, just doing coffees and jumping in the cuppings and observing the roastings and that kind of stuff. So this was before there was even schools open.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:23:33] So did Samuel ever go through any of that with you? Like, clarifying your culture? What are your values?
Sara Parish: [00:23:41] Yeah, he's done it with us quite a few times on a personal level. The first few years of Torch, we... think the two or three times, I can't remember, we had yearly meetings. So once a year, we'd all get together and that was what we discussed. Like we're... as a company, what is our culture? What are our values? What is our vision? So we did that altogether. It was Samuel, there was a few of us involved in Torch those few years. And then Samuel came to Spain a few years back as well, and we looked over it again. So we've done it quite a few times already.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:24:12] Did you find that like helpful for you?
Sara Parish: [00:24:15] Oh, I found that super helpful. Super, super helpful. Yeah. I think on two different levels: on a level... personal level, in the sense of where are we going as a company, and on a local level in Spain. So what is our main motivators? Like what is the core of our company, but also to make sure that we're being in line with Torch and other places. So it was very difficult because like, even though we've known Samuel and Marty for years and years now, we don't have like a constant daily communication. It's, it's… he has tons of stuff going on, I don't know how he does it. And so I think having the set values across the board for Torch, even though we don't have a daily communication or a constant communication between all of us, it kind of ensures that we're all going the same direction. And so we don't have to, in my sense, I don't feel like I have to discuss everything with Samuel, or I don't have to ask his opinion on everything because I feel like we already have the set values across the board.
And so even though my decision might be a little different than he would make, at the end we're all kind of going the same direction. And same thing I think for me, at least having that clear vision has helped me feel that there's like a set standard or like there's something that's unifying us across the board.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:25:33] Do you feel like it has given you more mental space or the ability to make decisions more clearly?
Sara Parish: [00:25:41] I think so, yes. I think so. I think one of the ones, for example, making everything repeatable. I think that was the correct word. I'm trying to think of translating in Spanish and English. That helped me a lot with like every... clearly everything that we do system-wise or in the coffee shop is this repeatable, is this repeatable, can this be repeated easily? So it's just like having those in your head constantly helps you make little decisions across the board of like, no, I'm not going to do this. If it can't be easily, easily repeated. Or you can make decisions easier, understanding what the vision is.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:26:14] Okay. Yeah. And like Samuel talks about this idea of idea fatigue, where maybe coffee shop owners get in this place where they're just trying to make something work, or they're just trying to change things to make themselves more profitable. And they get to a place where, because they're not aligned with why they're doing it, they're just kind of trying everything. Did you guys ever experience a point like that or were you always like, we are only making these kinds of decisions in line with who we want to be?
Sara Parish: [00:26:45] I just, I honestly, I don't feel like I ever did that. Cause I think we were very... we had a very long-term clear vision of where we wanted to be. Our staff would kind of joke around about it too. Like, they would say that I'm terca. I don't know if the word is English... shoot stubborn? I guess the word would be. Because I had a very clear vision. And so sometimes they would bring ideas to the - like ideas up, of like, "why don't we do this?" Or, "why don't we do this?" And I would bring up like, “what's our long-term vision?” And so there were ideas that they would bring that did fit in and we ended up doing it, but I was very clear on what, what we were supposed to be doing. And so I think having that long-term [vision] helped me, like kind of weave out things. I didn't even consider things that weren't part of the long-term.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:27:30] So like, what was the long-term?
Sara Parish: [00:27:33] We knew what type of products we wanted to offer. We knew that the coffee had to be the focal point. So any food items that we did had to be secondary and couldn't clash with the coffee. For example, the... our Baker. Our Baker's from Seville. He is very, very traditional Sevillano. And a lot of the food items here, like they're very set on what type of foods they like, and they don't kind of go outside of that. We're going to introduce some new lunch items. So we had a meeting like to give ideas of what we could put in for, for the lunch. And one of the options he brought up was a sandwich with chorizo. And which is, everyone loves chorizo here, so it would have sold really well, but we already knew that the flavors of chorizo would clash completely with the coffee. So we discarded that because we knew the coffee has to be the main focal point, anything that goes around it or is accompanied by it has to compliment it.
So that's just like a small example, but having that clear vision helped us make decisions easier.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:28:38] What else was part of the vision? The coffee's the priority, what else was in that?
Sara Parish: [00:28:43] I think also keeping everything simple in preparation. So like one of the ideas is like, “let's make waffles.” I was like, “waffles are great, but it's very difficult when you're behind the bar, like in the systems, in the workflow.” That would have taken up way too much time.
And so, the product might be great. It might've sold really well, but it would've thrown off our workflow completely. And the time-wise, like we, our goal was to have everything on the table for breakfast: 15 minutes. And we would make breakfast in the kitchen, like poached eggs and all that kind of stuff. So our max time was 15 minutes. So we knew if the food item was too complicated. Or couldn't be done within that timeframe then we wouldn't even consider it. So we just had these kind of guidelines of like service, how long it was going to take what the workflow would look like. Does that fit into the system easily? The ingredients, how many new ingredients would be added to the ingredient list? Because the less amount of ingredients use the easier it is to prep stuff in the kitchen. So there's just a bunch of stuff like that. Keeping it simple, keeping it fast that helped us kind of discard things that, that didn't fit into that.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:29:51] Okay. Yeah. I guess I'm kind of going backwards cause I feel like that's maybe a little bit, even like down the line, because there's probably a question that you answered before that, to where you knew that only 15 minutes for breakfast.
Sara Parish: [00:30:06] And if it couldn't be prepped and served on the table, like on a plate on table within that time that we wouldn't even consider it.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:30:12] Right. So like, why did you make even that decision?
Sara Parish: [00:30:16] That decision? I think it came down to several things. First, we... because of the high cost of social security and everything here we were always on a very, very limited staff. And so sometimes when I talk to people outside of Spain, and I would tell them how many tickets we'd see how many tables we have, how many people came into a coffee shop, how many coffees would sell per day - and I was like, and there were days we're working with three people on a busy, busy, chaotic breakfast rush. And it's one person in kitchen, one person on register, one person on machine. And they're like, how did you guys do that? And it was because we had really good systems, but we made sure that everything was super simple to make, and that it was super easy to prep like prep before breakfast, prep during breakfast, and then we'd be able to take it to table really quickly.
And so it was a mix of necessity because we couldn't hire any more help, so we need to make sure that everything that we're doing was simple enough and easy enough for the limited amount of stuff that we could hire, and two, because we were working with a lot of tourism. And so, people that are here for tourism don't want to sit down and have breakfast for an hour. They want to have breakfast in half an hour, and then get back to their tour, get back to the city. And so we needed to make sure that we were serving our customers well, in that sense of if they're from tourism, if they're a tourist here, they have the option of eating breakfast really quickly and moving out. But we were also serving and customers quickly enough that if they want to stay and enjoy they can. But then we also have the ability of rotating tables pretty quickly too.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:31:45] Okay. That makes sense. And that sounds like something that you probably had to develop more once you got there, once you understood what you were working with.
Sara Parish: [00:31:52] Yes, definitely. Definitely.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:31:54] Yeah. That's something Samuel also talks about is that a lot of coffee shop owners are looking for, "okay, what works and what doesn't work," like the very like black and white kind of answers. And he's like, it just really depends on your market. There's so many different answers and there's not really like a, "this works and this doesn't work," kind of thing.
And so I want to go back to like the first question that he probably would have asked you is like the why behind your coffee shop? Like, what would you say was like the why behind Torch Seville?
Sara Parish: [00:32:26] I think there's, there's several, I think our core heart or core reasoning for even doing business for Torch was our heart for the producers, coffee producers back in Guatemala and other countries, because we would see how difficult it was for them and having the ability to be on the other end of selling specialty coffee and selling it at, or purchasing it at a reasonable price to where that producer's actually making money.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:32:57] Yeah. Do you work with the coffee farmers in Guatemala?
Sara Parish: [00:32:59] Not directly. That's kind of our, that was our long-term like, that's what we really wanted to do. I think our... even coming to Spain, we wanted to start working directly with farmers right away, but it never, we were never able to do it. The same thing, bureaucracy, importing, just, it was just a mess and it wasn't just, it wasn't something we could do, but that was always like our motivation, but we weren’t ever able to do it. I think on a local level, I think for us, it was really big about community creating a space for where people could find community, which is something that's very difficult here. So I think that was our, our motivation for starting the business and then our motivation for specifically doing it in Seville.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:33:40] How did you go about trying to make a place for community in the city?
Sara Parish: [00:33:47] The atmosphere that we tried to create, it was very different from the coffee shops here in Seville. The coffee shops here are they're called barras. The bar. Basically you come up to a bar it's like Italy: stand up at a bar. They give you a coffee, you drink it really fast and you leave. And so I think we were the first like actual sit-down, relaxed-type coffee shop other than Starbucks. And so I think it was a mix of the location, the actual locale that we found, the furniture and seating that we tried to create, and then the atmosphere. So the noise level, the type of music, stuff we offered, we were very intentional on every aspect just to make sure that it was comfortable and that community would happen naturally.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:34:30] Okay. And so Samuel also talks about like your values, like the, the way that like you as a staff and as a team kind of behave in order to uphold that... kind of your why. Right. So like what were the behaviors or the values that you upheld the most for you and your team?
Sara Parish: [00:34:49] I think one that was very noticeable - and I think even if you would talk to our staff now is one that kind of stuck out a little bit more, especially I think when you look at the cultural context, it was something that for me, or when you, when you talk to or, like in America, you're like, "Oh, come on, but every company he does that," but when you're in a different cultural context and you realize that is not the norm, then that really sticks out - and I would say: respect.
The hospitality industry in Seville is really known for yelling, cursing, insulting, mistreating. Just it's like, it’s just what they're known for. And so I think every person who has worked at Torch has mentioned that at one place or another about how they have appreciated the fact that everyone is so respectful to each other and that even within conflict, that there's ways to resolve it being respectful. And I think even the customers picked up on that because like even one of the articles that came out about us, the title was "Un Oasis de Paz," an Oasis of Peace.
And so, something that for us is just like, that's just how you interact with other human beings, because we're all valuable and that kind of stuff, but I think that was something very important to us as well. That we were wanting to be different in that sense. Not treat all our employees the same way that all the other, everybody else in hospitality treats each other and in Seville.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:36:15] Wow, what was that like for you when you saw that article?
Sara Parish: [00:36:18] I think that was the article that has some, we had articles in like European Coffee Trip, like we had tons of [attention] like, on the coffee level that has been great, but this was just like a small local, blog-type article, but I thought it was super cool and I think that, that hit me more on a personal level. Because, that was, it's not just being recognized cause like the coffee magazines you're recognized for your coffee quality or that kind of stuff. But this was like, even more. It was beyond that. They recognized our core values as a company that goes beyond just what you're serving.
And so for me, that was one, I think, that impacted me a little bit more on a personal level.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:36:58] That’s beautiful. Like what a compliment.
Sara Parish: [00:37:02] Yeah.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:37:03] And to just kind of see your work, come to fruition, right? Like that you achieved what, the goal that you were like setting out for.
So you talked a little bit about some of the strategies that you had for the customers that you were serving about trying to make food quickly for tourism and you... yeah, can you talk about maybe, maybe a couple more strategies that you used for the people that you were serving and the kind of coffee shop you were trying to be?
Sara Parish: [00:37:38] These strategies and especially behind the bar were super, super important to us. Because we were always very short-staffed and so on a busy, busy, busy Saturday and Sunday morning, we'd have three people working: front of house and the one kitchen. But then during the week, we'd have two people in front of house and one person in kitchen. That's serving... we could sit up to 60 people and because we're such low staffed all the time, our systems had to be impeccable where communication was clear, everyone knew what they had to do, we wouldn't waste time having to ask questions about tickets or orders. So everything from, just from the register, how the tickets are passed on to the barista, the person plating the desserts, how we communicated through the tickets.
Like for example, the register was in charge of writing the table number on the, on the ticket. And then whenever the person that was at the register is also in charge of plating the desserts. So between customers they'd be plating desserts and as soon as they'd plate a dessert, they'd put a dot next to, next to the item on the ticket. That way the next person in line, or the barista already knows that that's being plated, that's already plated, it's on the counter, ready to go. And as soon as they saw the dot, then that means I'm ready. I can start making the coffees. That way everything goes out at the same time. And so if he doesn't see a dot, then he would know that the coffees can't be made yet. The coffees if they're made too early, they'll get cold. So it's just kind of this workflow of like when the barista knew they have to make coffees and then communicate that it's actually being done, to once that ticket's... everything in that ticket is prepared, we would move it over to the other side of the counter where everything's plated and set. And then that ticket would be put in a specific spot once they're taken to the table. So that the ticket would actually move around three places, but every place indicated where there, where that ticket was in [the] process. And then we had a specific place once the full ticket was on the table and then another specific place if there was something missing on the table.
So just like, depending on where the ticket is and what's on the ticket, we would kind of know if something's missing on the table or not. Or if that table's completely done or if there's lacking coffees or... so the communication through the tickets is like, we could see a ticket and know exactly where we were at or exactly depending on where the ticket is, what's lacking.
So I think that took a while to get situated, but then ended up working really, really, really well, really well to the, to the point where other coffee shops here in Seville have asked me kind of to help them out, explain the systems and... and then the kitchen, we had other systems for the tickets in the kitchen. I think we were very, very careful about, especially with the tickets. Tickets can be super confusing and if you don't have a correct system, then it could be a huge one waste of time and customers aren't served correctly because then there's missing items on the table or things come too late and they're cold, or just to give good customer service it's important, to have this, all the tickets and stuff and correct systems.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:40:46] How long did that take you to develop that system?
Sara Parish: [00:40:50] I think we're pretty intentional from the very beginning to try to create a system. And so I think for the first year and a half, two years, it was just me, my sister working behind the bar. So I think that was the advantage of we were working the bar, so we kind of knew how things worked, and from the very beginning we were like, "well, does this work better? Does this work better?" So even if we didn't at that point - cause there wasn't very many customers, we didn't need a system - I think we knew, or we were working with the idea that at some point, hopefully we'd have a lot of customers and that system you need to be in place by then. And so I think we were pretty intentional right off the bat to at least try to start creating it, but like the actual perfected system, I think it took us maybe two and a half years.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:41:33] That's interesting because that, especially, I mean, I think it would be good for any coffee shop, but especially for you guys it was necessary because you guys had this super high, you were saying like social security, right? For employees. And so you had to be short staffed and that was like a system that you had to have in place in order to work around that, right?
Sara Parish: [00:41:53] Exactly.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:41:59] It's probably gonna change a lot once you get to Guatemala and you kind of like figure out what the situation is, but right now, like kind of what you and Vicki are talking about is like, if you do a roastery, are you doing like, who do you kind of envision yourself selling coffee to.
Sara Parish: [00:42:16] Either like other specialty coffee shops or coffee shops in general, and then maybe more like the higher end gourmet type grocery stores. There's quite a few of those in Guatemala, setting up kiosks, that kind of stuff. Okay. So is specialty coffee, a thing in Guatemala right now? It is now. It is now. It started few years, maybe three years ago or so three, four years ago.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:42:40] And you specifically want to work with the farmers there?
Sara Parish: [00:42:46] Yeah, that would be, that would be our plan is to eventually start buying directly from farmers being able to roast their coffee. Eventually, maybe do some exporting.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:42:55] And then you guys wanted to try and do some education. And then right now you're thinking... what are, what are the coffee shops like in Guatemala? Are they similar to the Spain kind of like bar thing? Or are they more like sit down?
Sara Parish: [00:43:08] I think they've all been sit down type coffee shops. I think that's just cultural. Like they sit down to have coffee. But quality coffee has not really been introduced until the last couple of years. I think people are starting to appreciate. Before all the specialty coffee was exported, so it wasn't until Raul Rodas won the World Barista Championship a couple years ago, I think it was, I don't remember how many years ago. He was the one that started kind of introducing specialty coffee to, on a local level in Guatemala. And people are starting to really appreciate it now.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:43:42] Just to clarify the class that you went to in Thailand, why did you decide to go to that class?
Sara Parish: [00:43:49] I think for me, it was a mix of three different things. I think on a personal level, I grew up in ministry with my parents. And so I kind of had this, like this internal struggle of understanding that like, I guess most missionaries think like to serve God, you have to be a missionary, you have to be a pastor or whatever. And so I had this mix of like, I wanted to do business. I loved business. I was obsessed with business, but I felt like, no, but that's not what I'm supposed to be doing because in order to be a good Christian, you have to serve God. Like, it was kind of that.
And then also the mix of like, I feel like growing up in Guatemala, I saw kind of the negative aspects also, or the long-term effects of social work. And so like handout, like handing people food out or giving them shoes or little things like that. It's [a] great temporary fix. But the long-term effects are actually pretty devastating. And I think because of, I see I've seen the long-term effects in some of the social work that's being done in Guatemala and with very good intentions, with very good intentions, but it's created like this kind of dependency mindset or victim mentality. And I really saw that the only effective way of helping people out of poverty was giving them either jobs, stable jobs where they're the one that's producing their income. It's kind of like a pride thing. Now they're there, they have… not pride... orguio, it's different word, like...
Alexandra Mosher: [00:45:23] Dignity?
Sara Parish: [00:45:24] Dignity, exactly. Dignity in what they do. They've worked for this, like that's their money. And they would be able to now take care of their families and send their kids to school. And so I really saw that the only long-term solution for poverty is either job creation or businesses, like giving the people ability to open their own business.
So I think it was a mix of those three for me, like, [I] loved business, what's the best way to do this honoring God. And then the social aspect of like social entrepreneurship, job creation, sustainability, that kind of stuff. So the course in Thailand was kind of a mix of those three things.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:46:03] Okay. And so you heard about it while you were in Guatemala and it was like, it was intriguing enough for you to travel all the way? Or were you in Texas at the time when you heard about this course?
Sara Parish: [00:46:14] I was kind of, it was something I was kind of dealing with internally, I think during that whole period, because I really like this was, for me, it was like, why am I mixing these three things? Or I didn't understand why I was struggling with like the mixing of these three things. Like, how is it that I love business. But how can I join this in with like social entrepreneurship, but at the same time wanting to honor God. So it was like joining three different ideas for me that I didn't fully understand how they all fit in together. I think for maybe somebody else in the other side of the world or whatever it was a concept they could fully grasp or understand, but that just in that moment of life, for me, it was something that I was trying to understand fully. And I thought I was like, in that moment, I didn't know anybody else who had this idea or this struggle or felt this weight on them for, for not just business, but like a sustainable business and that kind of stuff.
So, I didn't know anybody that was kind of having the struggle with these three ideas and how to combine them. I thought I was like the only crazy person out there that [was] somehow trying to fit this in my head. So when I saw that course in Thailand, I was like, "What? This is actually a thing!" This is actually a concept of joining social entrepreneurship, honoring God, like that kind of stuff.
I think just the fact of seeing that there's other people out there with the same concept or trying to understand this concept. And it was, to me it was like, I have to learn more about it and I have to meet people with this same type of vision. And that's where I met Samuel. So.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:47:46] And so that course did also include faith in it?
Sara Parish: [00:47:49] Yes.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:47:50] Oh, okay. That makes so much sense. Of course they would invite Samuel to talk about that. He would be perfect for that. It's so cool because I feel like this is such, for me, at least it's like a new conversation that's happened within the last couple of years where it's like, we're getting rid of this secular and Holy divide, and we're like, how do we just exist in the world and just like love people really well, like where they're at without having to separate God and work.
Sara Parish: [00:48:19] One thing with another. Yeah. But for me, it was like, I just came from such a traditional ministry background, that to me was like a totally foreign concept. And I had this in my head and it was something that I was trying to work through, but I, because I had no one in my context or no one in my world that even had this concept, and to me it was completely foreign until I met Samuel. I met other people that kind of have that same vision.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:48:48] Yeah, I feel like that's it. I just really wanted to have a little bit more background information and talk a little bit more about the things that me and Samuel had been talking so much about, which is like vision and culture. And you were saying that that really did help you a lot to go back to like your why. And so especially during that time when you and Vicki were having a really hard time and Samuel was like, "Don't throw in the towel, like, let me just come out there." What was like, so rejuvenating about that time with Samuel.
Sara Parish: [00:49:18] I think just going back to the reason why we're doing this. I think it's so easy to get exhausted. Seeing the daily struggles, the problems, the roadblocks, like you just get so overwhelmed with all these issues. You forget the why. And so I think Samuel really helped us go back to like, well, why are you doing this? And is the why more important than all these troubles and struggles or... and that kind of stuff. So it kind of helped us refocus on what's important.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:49:47] Okay. And for you guys that was to create a community space in your city.
Sara Parish: [00:49:54] Well, he helped us kind of rework or... we changed some of the things up. So we had to re-look at pricing, like he kind of helped us create a plan for that year and what we needed to do. But I think just having him there is kind of... that's what, what inspired us to remember why we were there. Actually I have a list here. I think I still have it on my desktop actually, when Samuel came.
"Strategic plan, 2018." The playbook, we made a whole playbook for the year. So yeah, that's when he came, we went through all this. So like why we exist? What do we want to accomplish in five years? How do we behave? Who will we serve? So I think he helped us just to go back and like refocus all this and really get a clear vision of what it is that we needed to do.
And then also we created a... kind of looking at what needed to change from where we're at and making an action plan based on that. So like, who needs to do what, when. Like we needed to raise prices, we needed to hire more staff. We need to increase seating, improve experience. So he kind of like helped us create a list of... included in that list was like Vicky and I a personal level needed to create healthier rhythms on a personal level, like exercise, rest, have a day off, little things like that. So he helped us like break down everything. Cause like you could just get so overwhelmed with like, I'm just exhausted. I'm just exhausted. I haven't had a day off in two years. Like, when you're that tired you just, you can't think anymore. So he really helped us to like break everything down to where it made it look very simple to us.
Like we just had, okay, well, it's not that much we have to do. We just have to add a couple more seatings and raise the prices. And like he helped us kind of just like break it down to where it was something that we felt that we could change. And that was in our control to change.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:51:48] Can you read like what the why and the values that you wrote down on that playbook?
Sara Parish: [00:51:53] Let me go back. Why do we exist? It was to influence farmers to have a better quality of life. Co-labor with God and our business [and] intentionally create an environment for growth. What do we want to accomplish in five years? And that point we wanted to be the top brand of specialty coffee in Spain. We wanted to have a 22-kilo Probat roaster, which didn't happen. And then we have like, how do we behave our values? So we champion healthiness, we value your person, we develop people, we get it done, we do it with excellence, and we communicate to understand. So kind of like in a description for every one of those things, who do we serve, which was our target market are tourists, ex-pats, and open-minded locals. What do those customers want, and like tourists: what they want, ex-pats: what they want, open-minded locals: what they want. What do we do for our target customers: experience a little piece of home. Coffee quality, pastries and food service, and a place to meet, which is the, creating the community. And we had strategic anchors like customer experience, creating a great brand, better photos, coffee info, sharing.
Then this was the, we only do things that are repeatable. So creating systems, every employee knows responsibilities. Every employee knows their goals. We make written procedures, we follow procedures and update the procedures. We create a work environment that encourages employees to thrive. Encourage wholehearted living. We hold each other accountable in effective ways. And then it goes into the list of what we needed to do to get back on track and stuff.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:53:29] When you are so exhausted and you have so many tasks, you're just focused on like the kind of like the most urgent things that need...
Sara Parish: [00:53:36] Burning, taking out fires everywhere.
Alexandra Mosher: [00:53:39] Yeah. Right. Exactly. So I'm so glad that he could come out there and just like help you guys look at the big picture. And that's so cool that you said, like help you kind of like simplify it, like actually. We can do this. Like, this is like, not as, as difficult as maybe it was appearing, like when we were putting out like a ton of fires.
Okay. Well, I think that's all the questions I have and I'm going to write a story about you. It's so funny to tell someone that... okay, thanks so much, Sarah!
Sara Parish: [00:54:15] Thank you!