got to work early on the first day, he was surprised to see several
large vehicles parked outside the R&S building. As he was
unlocking the front door, he heard cars shutting off their engines and
vehicle doors creaking open. He turned around and waved them off; he
mouthed the words "Not yet, we are not open" and shut (and locked) the
door behind him. He walked to the rear of the building and opened the
alley door to find his coffee partner in crime, Gary, waiting for him
with a symbolic cup of coffee to start the morning.
Gary smiled and said, "Congratulations. I see you already have
visitors. Are you ready to start selling the goods?"
"Well, we are the best part of waking up but I see that as well but I
might be a bit more exclusive than that. Also, turn the heat up a bit:
this will be a customer who constantly complains how cold they are."
"What do you mean?"
"I am not sure yet but I have a few other ideas but make sure you jack
the thermostat a bit. Speaking of ideas, do you have the coffee ready
"Absolutely. I have three urns: one regular, one semi-decaf and one
really strong regular. Feel free to take what you need: I figure I have
invested three dollars in this caper so far. Also, I now officially out
of decaf at the restaurant but I will get by without an issue."
They both smiled; substituting regular and decaf coffee has been a
long-standing restaurant tradition, almost as ancient as re-using
untouched bread baskets. People would come in and insist on decaf and
if they were jerks about it, would almost always receive the
high-octane java as a response. While decaffeinated coffee was lower
than caffeinated, the ranges varied wildly from ten to forty percent
depending on the batch, method and luck of the draw. And when one
combines range with the server variable, it was safe to assume that
anyone who was a jerk was consistently drinking the real thing for all
"I feel you will get your money back."
Gary smiled and walked away, "The door is open, I have a box of old
clean cups and saucers and let me know when you need a refill."
Nate went it the building and did a quick once-over. He had laid out
eight round tables, laid out a series of tablecloths, made sure he had
enough old chairs and then laid them out in a semi-orderly basis. He
looked around one more time and took a deep breath: it was showtime.
He walked to the door and unlocked it. Within two minutes, three women
walked in and looked for a menu, looked around for anything and looked
then looked at him. Nate stared back and finally said, "Good morning,
may I help you?"
"Is this a coffee shop?"
"It will be the coffee shop soon but we are still
under construction. However, if you want really some coffee now, I
might be able to get you a cup."
"That is great. I would like a decaf latte with skim and ..."
Nate interrupted her and said, "This is a coffee shop, in fact the
world's most expensive and exclusive coffee shop, and the menu is set.
We will not do milk-infused drinks, flavored drinks or anything outside
of straight, ultra-exclusive coffee. I have personally chosen the
finest coffee in the world and am preparing to present it to you, in
its purest form for your drinking pleasure."
His speech stunned the ladies and finally one said, "How expensive is
Nate did not hesitate and said, "It is planned at fifteen dollars a
cup. Perhaps one, two refills but no credit cards. No cookies. No
To his surprise, it didn't frighten the women. They were from out of
town, pockets flush with cash and dying to have something which is the
"world's finest." Nate deviated from his script and said while looking
around, "But since we are not technically open yet, I will offer you
ladies the opportunity to taste the first cups at this establishment at
no charge. If you like it, I want you to quickly compose a testimonial
which I will leave on display at the shop. If you do not like it, I
will close the shop today."
"You will allow us to get to taste the first cups here?"
"Yes. Are you ready?"
The women all nodded frantically. Nate waved them to the table near the
window. The bohemian nature of the shop combined with the exclusivity
of the coffee was created a low level rush of a great adventure. Once
they were settled, he asked the ladies one question: describe the
coffee you want. One said she wanted decaf, one wanted the house
special and one wanted "something exciting." They were all rampant with
anticipation when Nate had arrived with three cups just pulled from the
three urns. Presented in different cups, he could hear the women
internally applauding as the coffee cups were placed in front of them.
"Now, here are the facts with this coffee," said Nate with a solemn
tone. "In my opinion, these are absolutely the finest blends available
in the entire world. Please allow yourself a moment to smell the
bouquet of the coffee and when ready, you may finally taste the coffee.
But do yourself a favor, really taste the coffee."
Nate stepped back and solemnly paused while he watched them size up the
event. Each woman took their assigned cup and smelled the coffee with
deep, sincere inhales. One by one, each one sipped the diner coffee and
began to moan and squirm with a olfactory version of
self-actualization. They all three had their eyes shut, per Nate's
final instructions, all non-verbally oozing with the coffee as it
headed south inside them.
"That was wonderful, the finest coffee I have ever had," whispered one
of the three women. Her two clones nodded in unison and added a few
complimentary murmurs to the affirmative. "And it was warm inside your
shop; I have been so cold all day."
Nate further astounded the women by reiterating his promise: he would
the shutter the shop that day if the three woman said so. As he began
to repeat the promise, the woman all assured him in a sincere manner
that, indeed the coffee was the world's finest. He acted surprised,
shook their hands and handed them each a blank sheet of paper and a
pen. He took their pictures with a digital camera and once receiving
the testimonials, he framed them and placed all three on the hallway
that opened up to the great room.
"May we buy this coffee?"
"Unfortunately you cannot. I will not sell it except in a cup: my
production standards are exacting and to allow anyone to attempt to
make these blends outside of my laboratory...I mean kitchen, would
result in disappointment."
All three women nodded knowingly: this was no ordinary coffee. As they
finished the first cup and began positioning for another one, Nate came
to their table, took their cups and thanked them for their time. That
would be all the coffee dispensed that morning: although Nate was
actually thinking about turning the shop into an appointment-only
establishment, he wanted to shut down early because he accomplished his
initial goal of starting a buzz. He pocketed the fifty dollars that the
three ladies insisted on him keeping for their astonishing adventure
and walked through the back door to Gary's Diner to share the news.
"So, how did it go?"
"Well, it's hard to say but care to guess today's take? And don't
forget to include the tip."
Gary thought for a moment and said, "Two bucks....no, four bucks."
"Close. Fifty dollars."
Gary looked at Nate with an expression usually reserved for witnesses
of supernatural powers or the appearance of pancake batter coming out
of one's eyes. "Did you say FIFTY, F-I-F-T-Y DOLLARS?"
"Yes. I had offered them the coffee for free to validate my theory but
they were in such earthy rapture, they insisted on paying for the whole
"Well, I will make a sign announcing the hours. You should think about
making sure the urns are ready to go tomorrow...and I have to stop at
the Thrift Shop and pick up more orphaned coffee cups."
"This will never work."
"You are wrong my friend, it has and it will."
Nate spent the rest of the week arranging for periodic staff assistance,
finalizing his collection of free and second-hand furnishings, meeting
with a variety of the townspeople informing them of his plan and
generally getting ready to pull off the coffee caper. Each day, Nate
would pull in a few of the occupants of the queued-up vehicles and
repeat his challenge regarding the coffee product and each day, he
would deposit the cash with Gary for the war chest. However, each time
he did this, the urban legend of the coffee grew and grew: it was time
to officially open the doors. The last touch was the posting of the
testimonials by the front door; he intended to continue the tradition
as it appeared to be a good strategy in the face of some impending
lawsuit by the FDA or the FTC. The locals were tipped off to his ploy
so there was always room at the inn for the visitors who viewed the
shop as their little clubhouse for the coffee-enlightened. As visitors
gathered, they collectively determined their palates were far more
sophisticated then the locals and combining that discovered fact with
the far more discriminating needs of large city people, they grew
stronger in their enthusiasm of the shop.
The grand opening was neither grand or a formal opening. Nate opened
the doors the day he was ready and didn't look back. He repeated his
sales pitch when time permitted and at the end of the first day, he had
make fifteen hundred dollars and once subtracting his coffee costs, his
net profit was fourteen hundred and seventy dollars. Over the next four
months, fueled by only word of mouth, the coffee shop turned a net
profit of over three hundred thousand dollars. With that money, the
city council quietly purchased several large tracks of land from owners
planning to sell in the future. At the end of year one, the profit for
the last eight months of the year were slightly less than seven hundred
thousand dollars. With that income, the council purchased all available
buildings and lots well before they would have hit the market as well
as funding athletic teams, a few scholarships and general maintenance
improvements. The locals continued never to say a word and the town
remained galvanized as the legend grew deeper. Nate also advanced his
legend by deflecting requests to create franchising offering circulars,
accommodate media requests and his favorite, declare the shop closed at
anytime. If he ran out of coffee and was too lazy to go across the
alley to reload or if he wanted to go fishing, he would lock the door,
flip the sign to "closed" and announce to the folks within that they,
and they alone, were lucky enough to experience that day's batch. As
people arrived, he would walk outside and notify them that the coffee
was now done for the day, please try again tomorrow and when the
exiting customers would pass him, he would give them the look of the
lucky few, which only motivated today's outsiders to try again, but
Nate also established a communication plan which was committed to
memory by the locals and combined with a cooperative local government
which made real estate moves extremely frustrating and time-consuming,
things began to turn. The scripted whispers to the visitors from the
outside was "top quality land plots were never available in the first
place" and "the culture landscape of the town was truly underwhelming"
and eventually the general curiosity of the gentries grew quieter and
quieter regarding large parcels of land. The gentries now switched to
settling locally and sought out opportunities for new businesses in and
around the coffee shop. Visitors from around the world started to drop
in; the legend of the magical coffee began to loom larger and larger
while the town had to decide when it was prudent to declare victory and
avoid running the risk of being exposed by someone with common sense
and a curious nature.
One afternoon, Nate was stopped on the street by a local: an older
woman from the town who had alienated most of her neighbors with a
constant and exhausting conversation style. She had complied with the
ruse because she might have been a drag but at least she was a team
player (while she dragged down whomever she had engaged in casual
conversation). Nate knew this day was going to arrive but he had hoped
it was still somewhere in the future. However, today was the day.
"Nate, may I ask you a question?"
"Sure, Mrs. Rollenbach." Nate had left himself open to a potentially
long diatribe; his answers just fueling her questions for as long as
they both could stand.
"Why are you doing this?"
Nate was surprised at the question: it was obvious he wasn't gaining
anything tangible for himself with this project. The town, now flush
with cash and on the rise for the first time in decades could answer
for him but he knew it was up to him to shut her up.
"Mrs. Rollenbach, I want to begin by saying that the word "why" isn't
real important here. In fact, the word "why" is a pointless way to
start a question. The person asking it either uses it to assign blame
or they use it to focuses on the past."
"Yes, really. I am all for enlightenment but those insights can be
better gained without subjecting one person to a series of "why"
questions. I did this to give the town a fighting chance in the face of
crazy, stupid commercialism. I did it to preserve our way of life and I
did it to teach the people with too much money that they must not need
all that money. That's why."
Nate's face was red; Mrs. Rollenbach was shocked because no one had
come after her like that before. She knew she was a pain but his
response stopped her in her tracks and she lost her train of thought.
Maybe tomorrow she would ask him "why" again but it was time to beat a
watched Mrs. Rollenbach wander down the sidewalk back to whatever
gloomy little corner of the town she wandered out from earlier and he
had to admit, she did have a good question. The momentum of the success
of his plan had clouded his judgment on the timing to shut it down.
Obviously, this could not go on for forever; he needed to create an
exit plan. One of these days, someone with legitimately tax or
restaurant authority would be arriving at his door and would likely not
be sympathetic as the local authorities. After the day's business, Nate
decided to de-identify the store as part of the back out plan and
decided to have a meeting with his two co-conspirators; the Mayor and
Gary. It was time to move to a new phase or close this idea down.
in the day, in the Mayor's office, the trio sat in a circle, drinking
Gary's beers. They listened to Nate's concerns and realized he
had a good point. This charade was in need of evolution because they
were only as good as their security and it was only a matter of time
before someone, somewhere would say something innocent and the jig
would be up.
Betty took a long pull from her beer bottle and said, "I see two main problems: the media and the government."
"Agreed" said the gentlemen in unison.
"I can help with the government issue but I am rather useless when dealing with the fourth estate."
"How can you lessen the government issues?"
"Not lessen," said Betty, "I am rather sure I can make the all go away."
"Tom's son works for the state tax department."
"That solves one problem. You boys can work on the second and I will button up the first."
and Tom Murkowski had been boyfriend and girlfriend for thirty years.
During a brief hiatus, Tom had gotten married and with the
briefly married June Murkowski, and had a son, William. The
marriage did not last and fairly quickly, June had left town and was
overjoyed to sign over all her parental rights to Tom. There was no
smoking gun; June should have never married and was far too immature to
raise a child. Tom took on the role of both mother and father and did
an admirable job. Betty took on the role of a surrogate mother out of
proximity and general obligation and Billy Murkowski enjoyed a normal
childhood. Tom Murkowski had asked Betty at least two hundred times to
get married but she did not see the sense in it. They were a solid
couple with or without the license of marriage and after awhile the
topic died a death due to disinterest. Occasionally, one of Tom's
proposals would make the conversation circuit, but would easily get
dropped in priority as other, more interesting topics arrived on the
The next day, Billy Murkowski walked into the
now-anonymous coffee shop. The removal of the street advertising
actually caused a positive bump in business and Nate spent most of the
morning re-assuring his amped up and intensely highlighted clientele
that the decision to go stealth was an attempt to keep the offerings
exclusive. Each one of his paying customers loved the idea on being
just outside of an inside joke and continued to throw money at him.
"Betty told me about the situation. She also told me to help with it."
"And you are?"
"Helping with it."
"What do you want me to do?"
off, I don't know if I should hug you or arrest you but that isn't my
place. My place is to provide you with sufficient cover so you don't
run afoul of some law."
"I appreciate it."
"I am handing
you an envelope with three items in it. One, is a
post-dated license to allow you to conduct fair trade which was
created by a recently retired inspector. Number two, is a series of
health inspection records, elegantly matching up with the license. And
number three, well, let's say Betty still has a sense of humor."
historical designation certificate to protect you from absolutely
everything. Evidentially, this building was used in the Manhattan
"And the project is...."
"I was never here."
"Understood. However, just for fun, do you want to try the coffee."
went in the back and poured some high-test into a fairly clean china
cup. He brought it out and presented it to Billy with a sincere
Billy took the cup, without reverence, and drew back a
healthy sip. He smiled and whispered, "Really, you ought to be ashamed
Nate said, "Any other advice?"
"I am glad
you took down the signs. You may want to affiliate it with a
church but you should be good for awhile. Say hi to Betty and tell her
this makes us almost even."
Billy smiled and walked out. Nate waved and figured the next step was the media; this would be tricky.