Where Everybody Knows Your Name, and You're Always Glad You Came
by Jack Mazzola as told to Dana Roc
At first glance, Jack Mazzola would seem to be just an ordinary, regular guy. But more than a glance will reveal that Jack Mazzola is, in fact, highly irregular.
Jack Mazzola is an extraordinary guy.
Jack is the owner of Jack's Stir Brew Coffee, an organic and fair trade coffee shop located at 138 West 10th Street in New York City's West Village.
But that is not what makes him highly irregular.
Jack serves some of the best coffee in New York and has gotten a lot of recent local and national attention including the Best Coffee Award from New York Magazine and a guest appearance on The Today Show with Al Roker and Katie Couric. And, while all of that is great, what makes Jack Mazzola so extraordinary and leaves him in a class all by himself is the simple, yet powerful philosophy that governs the way that Jack chooses to live his life.
"I worked in the service business my whole life, bartending, waiting tables, working in coffee shops and I came to a point where I felt that I was working harder then the owner himself. I don't have a formal education. I didn't go to college and I figured when I was 27 years old I'd better try and decide what I wanted to do with my life.
I went to work full time at my Dad's auto body shop. I was able to have the freedom there of putting together a business plan. I think a lot of the focus on a business profile for me was influenced by my experience with my Dad and his business - amazing bedside manner. He was always there for everyone and built a community. When someone would get into an accident, he was right there for them...He is in business 35-40 years now and still going strong with the customers.
What I wanted to do is basically bring 'Old New York' to 'New New York'.
'Old New York' is old school. It's taking the time to listen and pay attention to guys like Joe Columbo - real villagers, real New Yorkers; Lorraine Wilbur, 96 years old, listening to her. For me it was like:
Old meets new -- on a first name basis!
That was my vision.
It was about forming a community, and as you can see, in the store we have a myriad of 30-40 black and white photographs of what I call 'Real New Yorkers'.
As far as Jack's products -
Jack's Stir Brew Coffee
138 West 10th Street NYC
Click here to learn more about Jack's Stir Brew Coffee.
If you are in town, stop in for a visit. For those of you who aren't, you can shop online.
"It is really about supporting sustainable agriculture, like New York farms to keep everyone feeding off one another. From the Red Jacket Orchard which is a farm up in Geneva, New York, to Keeper Springs, a non-profit Kennedy Foundation, and all proceeds go to New York City watersheds.
It is about supporting sustainable agriculture.
Not only that, but to build a relationship with everyone in the food chain. From the families who pick my coffee, to the local farms.
I actually had the experience of working on a farm in the Dominican Republic. The farm is owned by Julie Alvarez. She is a writer. While I was working at my Dad's place part time and working to put my plan together, I came across one of her books, The Cafecito Story, which became my inspiration. I contacted Julie and she invited me to her farm in the Dominican Republic. Prior to inviting me to the farm, she came to my apartment, which is upstairs from the store, and we tasted her coffee. I loved it and she invited me out to the Dominican Republic for a harvest. It was an amazing experience.
I knew that I wanted to do organic coffee. I didn't know about Fair Trade Coffee and I was educated through Julie Alvarez and through my experience of knowing these families that pick your coffee and really wanting to give them a fair salary so that they are able to feed themselves and put a roof over their heads and educate themselves and build a community themselves. So not only do we have community awareness, we also have this vision of global awareness - which for a little store like this, 390 square feet, we are pretty loud. We have a lot going on."
Jack also has the kind of people in the community that are really willing to make a global noise consistent with his basic philosophies.
"You have your Joe Columbos and your Lorraine Wilburs.
Joe is from Milan. He imported and exported furniture from Italy when he was younger. He's still going to The Garage to listen to jazz. I had the honor of accompanying him one Monday night to Arthur's to see a friend -- a guy who grew up with him on Thompson Street -- play. He is a jazz musician. His name was Giovanno. And I asked him 'What your greatest experience as a musician.' He said 'Thirteen months with Chet Baker!' And again, it's from Jack's, meeting Joe, that led to me having a great conversation with Giovanno about Chet Baker!"
I know first hand what a sense of community that is experienced the minute you walk into Jack's. How does he manage to consistently cultivate that kind of environment for his customers?
"It worked really organically and that's the truth. I had high expectations for the store to do well. A lot of it is my personality - the way that I interact with people, the way that I hire my employees. My staff has the same kind of personality".
Former speech writer to President Bill Clinton, John Pollack, or JP as he is known at Jack's, shares some thoughts:
"For example, I had just moved onto the block and I didn't know anybody in the neighborhood and I was walking by. I was still painting my apartment and the screen door to Jack's was open but the shop wasn't open yet. I peered in and I said 'When are you opening?' and Jack said 'Next week but do you want a cup of coffee now?'
"So, having built out the store and talking to everyone and trying to educate everyone about organic coffee and fair trade and sharing about my experience in on the farm in the Dominican Republic - people were really intrigued by that...
I notice that 2 or 3 different people, coming in to buy coffee, are asking about Lorraine Wilbur. Lorraine is 96 years old and part of the Jack's Coffee family. People care and they know that Jack and John, and Joe and others who dine at Jack's...know about where Lorraine has been and how Lorraine is doing because they care.
That is what makes Jack Mazzola so extraordinary!
In a city like New York people need permission to connect with other people and Jack grants them permission to connect in meaningful easy.
"I have known Doug, Jack says, "and I would see Doug on the street and he would never lift his head up or say 'hi' or anything. But now, in the store he says 'hello' and his own way and we talk."
JP and Jack as they head off to Antarctica
Recently, Jack had one of those life-changing experiences:
"JP gave me the opportunity to go to Antarctica. That was an amazing trip. It kind of felt like a compliment to everything else that I am doing.
We sat in on a lot of lectures. JP's Dad is a geologist and gave a lot of lectures on global warming. So it felt like everything that we are doing here at Jack's, from recycling to selling organic baked goods...our baked goods are of the highest quality ...there is a healthy kind of environment here.
Listening to the lectures, it kind of felt like it would be nice to tie in those kind of bigger things.
For example, we were invited to PS 41 to speak to the eighth graders and do a slide show of our trip and our experience, to talk to them about global warming and tell them about things that they can to do be aware of what is happening."
"We are just a speck in this huge immensity and you see your own insignificance but, at the same time, with all that is happening with climate change...you realize your collective responsibility as people. As one person, you are nothing, but together we have a huge responsibility in our daily lives and we are effecting that.
80,000 penguins "in one spot"
We would land and there would be 80,000 penguins in one spot and they would have their nests scattered around -- really dense. It would be very crowded and they would march along, single file, up these paths that they had carved with their little feet and I realized that it was just like commuters and that we are like penguins in our own way -- marching along. We shouldn't take ourselves so seriously."
It is clear that the experience of going to Antarctica served to add another layer to the consciousness that Jack possesses about the way he does business and about the way he does community.
"The interesting thing is, in opening the store here I find that Jack's is a voice that people actually listen to. Just in educating our consumers on fair trade and organic and working with local farms, we are making a difference. Like, people will listen if we actually did something to speak about global warming or the green house effect or anything that was about protecting or saving the world. Anything that we can do to make things different -- I think that people would actually listen."
"What Jack offers", insists JP, "is a way for people to make a positive and an affirmative choice everyday to buy organic and fair trade coffee. It's a small act but if Starbuck's were to do that, for example, then that would have a tremendous impact because they are probably the single largest buyer of coffee in the world.
Jack is carving a path by giving people a choice that they can make that is both pleasurable and doing good by the world, at the same time."
And it is, I must say, some of the best coffee that I have ever tasted.
"What is your own personal experience now, about global warming?" I asked Jack.
"I would hear about global warming and I never really understood global warming but after going to the Antarctica and listening to JP's Dad talk about it by showing graphs and examples...data and stuff that's actually happening or has happened from this effect, and the visual experience of Antarctica; seeing how beautiful and how possibly effecting that can be, is stuff to think about. I am thinking about it a lot.
If the people in New York or in any coastal area...for instance, if you melt the West Antarctic ice cap you will raise sea level by 70 meters. That's seven-zero and what is Manhattan? It's about one level above sea level.
It's an equal opportunity impact. Whether you live in the fanciest house on Palm Beach or the poorest hut in India, you are going to be under water".
Jack Mazzola lives life aware and, if you stop and look him over, sit down and sip for awhile, you will find that that is what makes him much more than what he would seem to be at first glance.
Jack lives his life aware of people, and that is what makes him highly irregular. He lives his life bigger than himself and his own personal concerns and that is what makes him extraordinary.
If ever there was someone who could make a global difference in the world, it would probably be someone who was already making a difference person by person, conversation by conversation every single day of their life.
It would probably be somebody like -
"There is a lot of beauty in this world and we are responsible for protecting it because if we don't take responsibility, it won't be there."