Maddie is the owner of Coffee Cat, a locally sourced coffee shop in Auburn, Alabama with a community atmosphere.
Since 2014 it has been their passion, their goal, and their great pleasure to bring handcrafted drinks and goods straight from their heart to their customers; however, coffee is only the half of it. At the Coffee Cat, they understand that there are things much more important than that first cup of the day — and we strive to provide you with service and a space that will not only get you going but also encourage you to stay for a while. We believe that community is the spirit of culture and growth, and we think you’re the perfect candidate to grow with us.
Tony: Welcome to the Leadership Legacy podcast. I’m sitting here with Maddie Corbeau who is the owner of Coffee Cat which is a locally sourced coffee shop in Auburn, Alabama has community atmosphere. They’ve been open since 2014 and it is their passion, their goal and their great pleasure to bring handcrafted drinks and goods straight from their heart to their customers. However, they know is only half of it. At Coffee Cat, they understand that they are that there are more things more important than the first cup of the day and we strive to provide their customers with service and a space that will not only get you going but also encourage you to stay for a while.
Tony: Maddie thank you so much for joining me this morning.
Tony: Maddie tell us a little bit about your story. Where did you grow up? Where did the love of all of Auburn come from?
Maddie: I grew up mostly in Montgomery County, like the rural areas. I’m from a little community called Grady. That’s that’s pretty much it just mostly Montgomery. I lived in Minnesota for a small time before I moved to Auburn, like 10 years ago.
Tony: Well how did you get the job at Coffee Cat? What made you decide to open a coffee shop or to start running a coffee shop?
Maddie: That is kind of a weird long winded story. I had never really considered opening a business, least of all the coffee shop. I had like a hundred jobs in various fields mostly customer service based. And then right after I got married in 2011 I realized that I was just really like not unsatisfied in my work because I love customer service, I think that any opportunity to have an interaction with a new person is great. But the work itself was not fulfilling. So I took advantage of the opportunity, my husband had a good job and so I quit my big girl job which was not really a big girl job. I was just going to take some time and figure out what I wanted to do. I reapplied to go back to school and was getting ready to do that. But maybe who am I don’t like to sit still. So on the side I got a job in a little used bookstore called Gnu’s Room. God just took over. Like 7 or 8 months after working at the bookstore, the owner offered, the cafe portion of the bookstore to myself and Sarah Gill who was Sarah Barnett at the time who was the owner of MamaMochas Coffee Emporium and Roasteries. It was too good an opportunity to not do it. And that was in 2012. And then a year after working with Sarah we opened a second location.
Maddie: A year after that I was six months pregnant and she was really wanting to go in a different direction, open new things, and expand the business which is wonderful and I fully supported her in that. But, being six months pregnant and going through life as I was going through life at that time, there was no way that I could focus on expanding business. So we got amicably business divorced is what we called it and I got one story and she got the other and now was the birth of Coffee Cat.
Tony: Where did the name coffee cup come from?
Maddie: So I actually let someone else name it. Like even if I was to open it today I’m not sure what I would call it. I think that CoffeeCat is the perfect name for it. Every now and then when kids ask I’ll say that CatDog was my favorite show as a kid because we attached the Hound. That’s not true at all. But it’s really funny to say. What’s really funny about it now is that when I say it’s kids who are like 18/19 year old, they’re like what’s that, it ages me a little bit. But no I mean it kind of I guess it named itself, it just happened.
Tony: When you’re looking for an employee somebody that’s going to come here to help you clean the shop or are you looking for baristas or other staff. What do you look for in those people before you hire them?
Maddie: I look for a genuinely happy people. It’s probably dumb but I look for what I call “light bringers”. There’s a very specific kind of person that’s designed for customer service at the level that like the restaurant industry is. And it’s you know I refer to it as like the nameless faceless barista robot, like being willing to like stepping into their role because for most people who walk into a business to purchase a thing. They’re not looking to make a personal connection. So I look for people who are distinctly capable of taking an interaction that could be meaningless and turning it into something that can be five minutes of somebody’s day that’s really enjoyable.
Maddie: Anybody who’s ever worked for Chic-Fil-A because anybody who’s ever worked for a Chic-Fil-A knows about customer service.
Tony: They have a great process.
Maddie: They do have a great process. I just look for just really really nice people. It’s not like the most difficult job in the world. Coffee is actually not my passion. I always keep someone on staff who loves coffee more than I do to keep me up to date because coffee is such a fluid always changing industry.
Tony: It seems like every day there’s some there’s some new drink out there that’s just been made or some new way. I was at a coffee shop recently and they were testing a different way to make a caramel latte and they had that time had actually put the caramel in the milk as they steamed it. Which they said was the first time they tried it. So I thought that was interesting. You know you just think there’s a process to make a drink and boom boom boom. But I guess baristas are always trying new things trying to make their take on the drinks which is pretty cool.
Maddie: And then it’s got a whole culture around it. There’s a huge, huge following.
Tony: What drives you to get up in the morning?
Tony: I know here recently you’ve been commuting pretty good distance every morning to work. So what drives you to get up and make that commute. And then when you get settled here and Auburn what drives you to get up to come to work every day to face those customers that may not be happy every day to face people calling in sick or something like that. What drives you to come to work?
Maddie: This is not just like a what drives me to work… what drives me to wake up kinda question…because there is a freedom that comes with owning a business as well as you know the buck stops here. So what I usually tell people when they ask about what it’s like to own a business is I take none of the credit and all of their responsibility. Because I do have an incredible staff and they do more than more than what they’re asked all the time and I love that about them.
Maddie: Everyone who works for me has an incredible work ethic and they really care about the shop and I think that they care about the shops because they recognize that for me it’s not just a business. It’s not just a place to come by a cup of coffee. It’s like a community. It’s a place where anybody can come and be welcomed.
Maddie: I think probably what drives me most in my life is the search for um, not even really the search because I think that I have the most mostly figured out which is a really dumb thing to say at 31. They figured out anything. I just want to do every day the best that I can for what God has destined me to do. And I think that that changes. In the day-to-day. CoffeeCat was obviously given to me for a purpose. You know I never dreamed about it never really like I mean it was handed to me on a silver platter. So I feel very responsible for using it for aGod-drivenn purpose. And I think that purpose is to show everyone who walks through the door just like unlimited kindness and welcomeness. I hope that that’s how I treat my whole life and working out of.
Tony: We talked about this a little bit when you talked about what drives you. What principles have helped you personally that maybe have transferred over into business?
Maddie: I think that the biggest principle in my life that transfers over into business is just kindness, just business isn’t for me you know black and white numbers and it’s not it’s not business. I guess. I mean I know that there’s like you know I have an office where there’s a scary amount of papers that sometimes I’ll go through. And that’s really terrible and that’s like the terrible part ofa business. But the rest of it is really personal. You know like I have poured my life into it. Not my life, I’ve poured the last six years and to everyone who works here pours themselves into it. And people from the community pour themselves into it. And I think that you know the principle that everybody is involved in the business. I don’t know what you would call that as far as a principle goes. Oneness, everybody matters.
Tony: Yeah and it’s so important to have people around you that feel the same way about your business and treat it the way that you would treat it. That brings that whole level of customer service and this family community together into the business and makes the business stronger when you have people that kind of see the same values and have the same goals that you do even as a staff member.
Tony: Well there’s a stigma attached to the word failure. A lot of people want to use that as an excuse to not go forward. Some people use it as a learning tool. What does the word failure mean to you?
Maddie: I don’t believe in failure. I think that failure is a made up concept and kind of a lie that we have been told. That surrounds the false idea that we haven’t actually any control. I think that when you are approaching a situation or a decision and you set out to get a certain response or reaction and you don’t the problem is not that you have failed, the problem is that your expectations were too narrow. Every opportunity, every everything that you do is an opportunity to learn something and you’re going to either learn like OK this works or OK this super does not work. And there have been lots of occasions where I have tried things that super did not work. But I don’t, I don’t consider it to be a failure. There is a lot of negative connotation around that word. I think if you walk around and are putting like check marks next to the things that you have done and are like I succeeded here or I failed here, you’re really minimizing the amount of impact you can have in your life and other lives for a very long time. Like if you say that you have failed at something the first time that you try and where is the desire to try again or try a new and different way it’s going to come from. So you know I tried things over and over and over again. And there are things that I have tried with Coffee Cat, that I try it once every six months and they never work. It never works. And I don’t care because it makes sense to me.
Maddie: I’m going to keep doing it as long as it’s not hurting anybody except for maybe my like my self-esteem for five minutes I’m just going to keep trying. Because if it makes sense to keep trying. It makes sense to keep trying.
Tony: I think that’s so important. We talked about customer service a little bit earlier and how you kind of look for people to hire you want people that have the customers best interests at heart really front and center. It’s not only about making the coffee it’s about the experience and about the family and the community that the shop provides. What are some of the skills that you’ve learned over time to help you with dealing with an angry customer?
Maddie: Fortunately we don’t have very many angry customers. What I always tell the staff when they come to me with this question, and it’s funny because the staff comes to me wanting to know what to do about an irritating customer or a customer who is rude and their interaction with them is not how I experience interaction with them. So I think what I always tell people is it’s just coffee. Like if someone is paid five dollars for a latte and it’s not exactly what they want it just make it again. You know it’s not that big a deal. It’s an opportunity for you to spend two more minutes with this person, maybe figure out if they’re having a bad day if they’re meeting you at that kind of irritated level because something is going wrong in their life. Ask them how they’re doing.
Maddie: But I think people generally will meet you where where you start. So if you start an interaction in your head about that thing that’s kind of irritating you whether you’re in customers or not they’re going to meet you already at that level of your irritation. So I don’t know, I don’t get irritated by people easily just think that it’s too easy. Like our weird broken world to have a bad day and to pour that anybody else.
Tony: I’ve heard it said that hurting people hurt people. Usually like you are talking about you know if somebody comes in they’re upset because their lattes are hot enough or they feel like they didn’t get enough sugar in their drink or they are upset about something in the shop. It’s more than likely going to be something that is not necessarily dealing with the shop, it’s something that they’re dealing with and it’s just magnified.
Maddie: Yes. Because in reality who wakes up in the morning and it’s like my coffee is not perfect. I’m going to be a huge jerk about it. Nobody. Nobody actually cares that much about coffee. The coffee is wonderful and you should buy it all the time.
Maddie: But you know if someone’s irritated about the state of their coffee they’re not irritated about the state of their coffee. They irritated about the state of their lives. In customer service like we have the advantage as a coffee shop and I think this is really cool…I’ve always liked this comparison that we are a lot like bartenders and bartenders are like therapists and a lot of ways only our customers aren’t drunk they’re caffeinated and so they’re more likely to spill the beans. Pun intended. Yeah about you know about what’s going on.
Tony: Well what’s been the hardest thing so far in running the business?
Maddie: Oh the paperwork for sure. Yeah. It’s the worst. My office is a scary place that I visit not very often at all. And it’s like scary hoarders den meets a beautiful mind. Like I know where everything is. But if anybody ever tried to find something in there they might find like a grenade.
Tony: Or an old box of cereal or kids toys.
Maddie: There’s lots of Cars characters. There might be at least four lightning mcqueens hidden to my office right now.
Tony: And you wonder where they went. You look all over the house for them but there’s no way they’re in the office.
Maddie: Never gonna buy you this toy again. You don’t take care of it.
Maddie: Yeah I would say that make sure that it doesn’t become prioritize the wrong way. I am a single mom, I have a son who is turning 4 in a few weeks, so balancing being a good parent and being a good business owner has kind of been a constantly changing struggle. As he gets bigger he requires different things for me the business grows it requires different things for me and trying to do the best at those is a little hairy.
Tony: Yes. That’s a good point. I think a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of want-to-be business owners or don’t realize that if you own a business your family is coming along with you.
Tony: I mean you know if you have a 9 to 5 job you can punch in and punch out and go home. But for a business owner for an entrepreneur, it’s 24/7. The balancing act of making sure like you said you’re being a good parent you’re being a good a good role model for your for your kids and for you your family is obviously number one for everyone. I would hope. Balancing that with the responsibilities of having to run a business and run other staff members and you know to make sure the lights stay on and make sure they get paid to make sure the coffee is coming and when it’s supposed to. All the things that come with running a business.
: Well and like you said like I don’t have hours. So you know, I will do payroll on the couch while Harry’s eating dinner. He has started, tt’s really funny, so he has started responding to me if I ask what are you doing. If he’s like playing on the computer or you know like he put his stuff in a little briefcase and I say what are you doing, he says I’m working. Apparently, that’s what I say all the time. Which is cute and it’s great because I do want you to see me work and I want him to know what a good work ethic looks like him to be raised and that is really important. But the balance of like. OK. Now put this down and go be a mom.
Tony: I mean like for you your office at home offices at home and when the big girls understand I have an 11 year old and a 9 year old. They understand. OK, Daddy T is going to go to work. He’s got to bring in money so that we can eat you know. Right. Because like you said the buck stops with us. I mean you own your own business. If you don’t make any money don’t make any money. And if you if you lose money you still got to pay your people. So you could be operating in the red. A lot. But with Avery who is about to turn 3, she doesn’t get that. And so I’ll be sitting in my office and she’ll be banging on the door of us sit downstairs. At the at the dining room table she’ll come up and she’ll say daddy play daddy play and I have to say daddy’s working.
Tony: You know it’s a hard balance to make sure, and so a lot of times I find myself leave and work and wherever there’s WiFi.
Tony: If you have one piece of advice that you want to offer someone that was just getting into either the coffee business or who thinks they have that that pull to be an entrepreneur or a business owner, what advice would you give them?
Maddie: I would probably say it’s great to know what the rules are. But don’t plan on playing by them. I think that there’s a formula you know you go to business school. Absolutely nothing business school. All of that information exists for a reason and it’s true. But I think that we’ve reached a point especially in America where if you’re going to start something new as a business owner it needs to be new. There are so many options, there’s so many different versions of the same thing. If your business isn’t tied to you, if it is a representation of who you are, then it’s not going to make it. Because there’s four different coffee shops in Auburn/Opelika. People aren’t necessarily the average customer. There’s obviously the coffee culture people who are looking for something specific. But the average customer is not looking for anything super special in a cup of coffee. They want a vanilla latte and they can get that at four or five different places in a 10 mile radius. What they’re look what my customers are looking for, is the brand that I’m selling, is the environment that I’m selling, or the environment is something SideTrack, or Prevail, or Ross House. I think that would be my advice like Don’t forget that it’s not a + b = c. It’s you to the world.
Tony: That’s so great. That’s such a good piece of advice. I think a lot of people don’t realize.
Maddie: We’ll get one last question I want to ask you. It kind of sums up everything that we’ve already talked about. But at the end of your life when you look back at your back at your kids, you look back at your family and the community here at Coffee Cat, but also just the community that you’ve been a part of. What do you want them to remember you by? What do you want that legacy to be?
Maddie: I have a legacy I would say that I want it to be kindness. It’s actually tatooed right here on my arm. Sometimes you need a reminder. My tattoo says Be Kind Anyway which is a Mother Teresa quote, the full quote is huge. It’s very long. But the line is if you’re kind to people, they will often accuse you of having alterior motives….be kind anyway. And if I was going to have a legacy I would hope it.
Tony: Well Maddie thank you so much for sitting down with me this morning. I appreciate your time and what you’re doing here at Coffee Cat so much.