A Coffee C.E.O.’s Pandemic Diary: ‘We Want to Still Provide an Escape’

A Coffee C.E.O.’s Pandemic Diary: ‘We Want to Still Provide an Escape’


A month ago, Nick Stone had a $50 million coffee business, with dozens of cafes in bustling downtowns.

Now the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated 90 percent of Bluestone Lane’s revenue, and he has laid off some 700 workers. “Everything I’ve put into this, everything all these other people have put into building the company, basically evaporated in five days,” he said. “It’s just been devastating, absolutely devastating, for hospitality.”

Mr. Stone has kept 12 of his 52 stores — which sell pastries, sandwiches and other items in addition to coffee — open for curbside pickup and delivery in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. He said he has been able to keep about 90 staff members working.

A native of Australia who now lives in Los Angeles, Mr. Stone, 38, opened the first Bluestone Lane cafe in New York in 2013, at the start of a wave of Australian-inspired coffee shops and eateries. The business grew steadily, Mr. Stone said, with revenue projected to rise by 50 percent in 2020.

Now, running a bare-bones version of his empire, Mr. Stone said he is determined to see glimpses of humanity in the crisis. He said he was enjoying spending more time with his family and had been touched by the gratitude of his customers who continue to patronize the newly contact-free locations.

“We wanted to make sure we could still provide an escape for our locals. If they’re stuck in their apartment all day, they’re going to deteriorate mentally,” he said. “We wanted to demonstrate that we were still remaining optimistic and positive that we will get through this.”

6:30 a.m. Woke up to the piercing cries of my kids. I grab Arabella, my 2.5-year-old, to play in 8-month-old Oliver’s room, change nappies and share some laughs. Despite the most challenging month in my professional career, a silver lining has been spending considerably more time at home after 100 nights away in the last year.

7:15 a.m. Call my brother, Andy, our vice president of marketing, to check in on him and discuss our new initiatives for curbside pickup and delivery. Sales were in line with our budget — albeit only 15 percent of normal revenue. We have issues with staff in New York commuting via the subway, so we discuss the feasibility of using a ride-share service.

8:35 a.m. Talk with David Cook, our vice president of supply chain and wholesale, about a termination meeting he’s just come from. The gentleman terminated was a much-loved person and had built our wholesale business dramatically. However, with no end in sight for the pandemic, his business is one that will have almost no revenue during this period. It’s a shame that we have to make such hard decisions, including terminating talent, in order to ensure we have the best chance of reopening.

9 a.m. My wife, Alexandra (Zand), and I get the kids dressed and take the double stroller for a short walk to Bluestone Lane Santa Monica. Despite the beautiful weather, we see fewer than 10 people, all of which are maintaining appropriate social distance.

10 a.m. When we get home, I take Arabella for a quick bike ride. We ride past one local standing on the curbside berating anyone who enters the park — and then he berates perhaps the wrong person. An altercation between the two nearly erupts, but it’s settled by the police.

3 p.m. I drive to Fairfax, where we have our storage facility for events equipment. An employee and I elbow-bump, keep our safe distance and proceed to load a mini espresso machine and grinder into my car. While at home, I plan on improving my barista skills, as I’m a better coffee consumer than maker. On the drive home, I speak with both my parents in Australia. They’re concerned about my welfare and the stress of the business.

9 p.m. After dinner and checking email, Zand and I catch an episode of “Tiger King” on Netflix. Holy smokes.

7.15 a.m. I do some email and then focus on interpreting all of the latest CARES Act legislation, particularly the new Paycheck Protection Program. I ask our operating counsel about this and for an update on our communications with landlords. We requested a rent abatement in April. Some of the landlords are very partnership-orientated; others just seem a little shortsighted, lacking empathy.

7:30 a.m. I dial in to a Milken Institute-hosted call to hear from experts on financial repercussions from Covid-19. The European commentators seemed noticeably more pessimistic than the U.S. commentators on the global economy and the time it will take to return to a pre-Covid world.

10 a.m. I speak with all my direct reports one-on-one, for 30 minutes each, to go over their priorities. For New York, we decide to put in place some strict measures, including a car service allowance for our retail team and a ban on multiple store visits.

2 p.m. We have our weekly executive call. We all express a lot of concern about the deteriorating conditions in New York. Despite the challenges, the meeting is positive as we feel that persisting in a limited way is providing our locals with some respite and a brief, safe escape. We are also learning how to make delivery and e-commerce a bigger part of our business for the future.

5 p.m. I jump on the Peloton cycle, which is conveniently located next to my new office desk. I ride a 45 minute class with the coach Robin Arzón — love her energy and focus. Exercise has always been a huge part of my life. I was a professional Australian Football League player for six seasons before transitioning to banking and finance, and it’s something I need as much for my mental well-being as physical fitness.

7:30 p.m. After a family dinner, I catch up with Zand. We share a few laughs on how life sometimes pans out. Up until three weeks ago, we were set to pack up our house to relocate back to the East Coast, in order to be closer to the team and reduce my nights away from the family. We were also booked to fly tomorrow to Barbados to relax on the beach while our furniture crossed the country!

6:30 a.m. Grab Arabella out of her bedroom. Ollie ended up sleeping in our bed after nonstop crying from 3 a.m. — he’s teething. I play with the kids and make a breakfast of porridge with oat milk, mashed banana, cinnamon and honey.

12 p.m. I call Andy, my brother, to talk about how we can support health care workers by donating and delivering ready-to-drink beverages and ground coffee to hospitals in New York and L.A.

1 p.m. I have my weekly call with our digital director. We talk about our switch to mobile-only ordering and how this might be continued in the future at our coffee shops. It’s interesting how a crisis demands urgent innovation.

7 p.m. I quickly take our golden retriever, Barney, for a walk around the block and then head home for a Training Mate online workout.

9:30 p.m. Check emails and read the news, when my paramedic friend calls — he’s in between shifts, and reinforces that the situation has really exploded in Northern California. His crew is doing a minimum of 12 suspected Covid-19 calls a day.

7 a.m. Call with an outsourcing firm in Denver and then with a Lyft manager about starting a commuting program for our employees in New York.

9 a.m. Drive to Bluestone Lane Venice to pick up coffees, juices and a breakfast burrito. Arabella joins for an escape from the house. The store looks great, with seven locals patiently waiting outside three to five meters apart.

11:30 a.m. Our long-awaited European-style four-seat cargo bike arrives. We’ve loved these since seeing them in Copenhagen. The seller says he’s never been busier. I take Arabella for a quick ride around the block to test it out.

1 p.m. I hear the heartbreaking news that a close friend’s father-in-law has passed away, from Covid-19.

3 p.m. Touch base with David regarding our roastery operations and inventory of the items we sell through Amazon and Fresh Direct. I also speak with our “chief people officer” about our internal communications. We commit to keep pushing a message of positivity, no matter the external conditions.

8 p.m. Update our cash-flow model with the latest payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable data, with a specific focus on short-term liquidity and burn rate. I’m fortunate having worked in finance for a long time before Bluestone Lane, so I’m financially literate and can model different scenarios to get us through this unprecedented crisis.

6:15 a.m. Wake up, get the kids, make breakfast. I swap with Zand and jump on the Peloton.

9 a.m. I take Arabella for a ride on our new cargo bike, swinging past Bluestone Lane Santa Monica. Sure enough, on the way home our back wheel goes flat, and I end up pushing the bike home.

11 a.m. I connect with all my direct reports, with a lot of focus on the small business loan application that’s set to open tomorrow.

2 p.m. On our weekly companywide call, I thank everyone for their dedication, empathy and for providing our locals with a daily escape. I’m proud of everyone, particularly given how traumatic the past weeks have been.

4 p.m. I work with Andy on the announcement and launch of our hospital coffee donations, which we’re calling Fuel for Heroes. Earlier in the day, two members of our team drove cases of cold brew and coffee to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which has been overwhelmed by the crisis. We met medical personnel curbside for a contactless drop off.

6 p.m. A dinner of vegetarian burritos with the family, followed by the bedtime routine.

8 p.m. The Small Business Administration releases the guidelines for the small business loans. I spend the evening reviewing our documents and calculations as we plan on submitting our application tomorrow. It does note “first come first serve,” and given what we’re enduring, I’m sure the demand is going to be overwhelming.

Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.



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