Wednesday, July 16, 2008

   from Mitsu
Dear internet peoples,

Thanks for the over 200 comments that folks have left here. Again, despite the "feedback" (to put it lightly) that I'm a [insert expletive here] for not posting the comments, I'd rather keep the death-threats and suggestions on how to fellate myself in the moderation queue, even though a significant proportion of the feedback has been very supportive. There are plenty of places for folks to rant and rave, without us having to provide that soapbox. Thanks though to those who have written with supportive words.

Like many of the bloggers out there, the fascinating thing to me is the story about the story. That is, the ways that folks have responded to this little internet tale, and the "coverage" that it's gotten online. David and I had a nice visit from a Washington Post reporter this morning, and expect to see something in the Metro section tomorrow here's the article].

While I don't want to prolong the attention to this thing, I did have a few thoughts on the subject. Read them at your peril.

If there are three main things that I've been ruminating on, they are about:
- coffee, and whether or not it's something that someone should try to do well
- the way people should or should not treat each other
- blogs, and communication in general, can get really weird when subjected to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Coffee:
I can appreciate that a lot of folks think that it's ridiculous that anyone would take as much apparent effort (as we do) to do coffee. Before opening our first shop in Georgetown a few years ago, I certainly didn't think that there was any more to being a barista as there is to flipping burgers or being a Pez dispenser. The fact is, there's a lot more to coffee than people think, and there was a time that a career position like a "sommelier" was completely absurd (before wine became "fancy") too.

There's a craft to coffee, that most people haven't been exposed to. When we first opened our shop, nobody had ever seen "latte art" before, or was thinking about coffee bean varietals. Just as the average person understands at least that a "merlot" is different from a "chardonnay," maybe someday people will understand that a coffee brewed from bourbon varietal from a particular coffee farm in El Salvador is different from a particular lot of Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia. Right now, to most people, coffee is coffee, just like a Diet Coke is a Diet Coke.

We take pride in, and put a lot of effort in making great coffee... NOT because we're full of ourselves, or because coffee is our only obsession, but because we want our customers to have something good. Our standards are such that the average person-on-the-street, my own mother, a homeless guy, or the World Barista Champion (yes, there is such a thing) will get the same quality cappuccino from us, because people are worth it. Having the standards that we do are in support of that, although it may seem antithetical.

Coffee can be much more than what you've experienced before, whether you believe me or not.


The way people should or should not treat each other:
The fact is, I believe that people should treat each other with dignity and respect. When a homeless person asks me for money when I'm walking down the street, I look them in the eye and say, "Sorry, but no." rather than just walking by and ignoring them. When it comes to my shop, engaging in the transaction that makes us customer and barista, or customer and "server," means that we've engaged in a transaction, and we have an obligation: to give you the best product we can, with customer service that's equal to the respect and courtesy that any two people should (hopefully) expect from one another.

With road rage (and its milder iterations) being the norm, more communication tools disconnecting face-to-face interactions, and the growing expectation from people that their wants and needs being met are an inalienable right, people sometimes forget what common courtesy is. We're people, and we're going to do our best to treat you as we would a friend or guest.

The customer in question, when told that it's our policy NOT to offer "espresso over ice," got angry right away. Regardless of how you feel about the merits of our policy, the fact that he got angry (in my opinion) is the crux of the matter. There are things in life to get angry about. There are matters that demand an elevated heart rate. This is not one of them.

The other thing that's worth mentioning is that David, the barista in question, contrary to what many seem to believe, was NOT voicing his objection to the espresso over ice per se. He was admonishing him for his poor behavior toward the barista at the register, and toward our policy. Many have written me saying, "Once it's in the customer's hands, it's out of your hands." That's absolutely true. David was telling the customer that it wasn't okay that he'd act-out to the staff the way he was. As in the guy's own blog-recounting of the incident, David was interrupted before he could finish, and Mr. Simmermon proceeded to mock David, then following it up with the infamous dollar-bill.

The guy admitted on his own blog that he "acted like a total dick here." He also writes, "But it's not like I didn't have probable cause." I'd hope that something like a coffeeshop policy about what we do or don't offer doesn't constitute "probable cause" for this sort of behavior.


Blogs, and communication in general, can get really weird when subjected to the Law of Unintended Consequences:

These days, blogs, online forums, and the like are their own form of recreation, with more in common with playing an online video game than with actual reality. Speaking for our murky coffee blog, it's a way to disseminate information, and to inject a little bit of our own personality. With the printed word, however, it's hard to really convey intention, mood, and subtlety. I'm sure that Mr. murkycoffee.com didn't intend to have as many readers as he did when he wrote his blog post. I sure didn't for ours (15,000 on Tuesday, up from 250 site visits on an average day).

Being snarky, confrontational, parsing words, and personal attacks, are all common practice in the online world of blogs and forums. God knows, I've engaged in a healthy amount of online b.s., and I know for a fact that Mr. murkycoffee.com has too. The hard part is dealing with what happens when the online world creeps into the real world, and being able to clearly differentiate between the two. Movies like "Enchanted" or "Cool World" aside, some things are supposed to be separate. Sometimes, it's not up to you though.

My now infamous "punch you in your dick" comment was absolutely meant as a retort to "the only way I'm ever coming back to Murky Coffee in Arlington is if I'm carrying matches and a can of kerosene." I was as serious as he was, no more, no less. When people email me saying, "I'll never visit the shop of someone who would threaten bodily harm," I sorta throw up my hands. "Don't they get it?" But that's the way the written word is.

For the sake of my own peace of mind and my own integrity, I'll unilaterally withdraw my written threat. It was indeed childish and dumb. In the future, when it comes to that sort of swagger or bravado, I'll do my best to keep it contained to the place where it's most appropriate: when I'm playing Street Fighter 2 Turbo online on my XBOX.


I'll reiterate my earlier advice to you, the reader: call your mom and tell her you love her. Then dream with me of a day when people will honor that love that people share between friends and family in the way we treat each other.

Happy brewing!
Nick
nick08@murkycoffee.com

Monday, July 14, 2008

   from Nick

Open Letter to Jeff Simmermon

Dear Jeff Simmermon,

So as you've seen, there's a little blog-thing going around today on BoingBoing and Metafilter about some sort of incident at the shop this past weekend.

(Original blog post here. Also blogged here and here.)

I suppose some sort of two-cents is warranted here.

Okay, we don't do espresso over ice. Why? Number one, because we don't do it. Number two, because we don't do it. Mostly for quality reasons. Also, because more than half the time, it's abused ghetto latte").

We have some policies at murky coffee. No sleeping in the shop. If you're asleep, you'll be tapped on the shoulder and asked not to sleep in the shop. We've had to ban a customer because of his chronic napping.

No modifications to the Classic Cappuccino. No questions will be answered about the $5 Hot Chocolate (during the months we offer it). No espresso in a to-go cup. No espresso over ice. These are our policies. We have our reasons, and we're happy to share them.

To others reading this I will say that if you don't like the policies, I respectfully recommend that you find some other place that will give you what you want, or select something that we can offer you. David, the barista in question, is respectful, passionate, and cares about making good coffee, and he cares about murky's policies. Nobody's perfect, and maybe David could have chosen different words or a slightly different tack in responding to Jeff Simmermon's request. But that's life. At murky, we try to treat people with common courtesy, and expect the same from our customers. Not in response or in turn, but because that's how people are supposed to treat each other. We're not supposed to go through life looking for reasons to get pissed off. Life's too short for that sort of thing.

To Mr. Simmermon, you overplayed your hand with your vulgar tip-schtick. While I certainly won't bemoan you your right to free-speech, I have to respond to you in your own dialect: F*@k you, Jeff Simmermon. Considering your public threat of arson, you'll understand when I say that if you ever show your face at my shop, I'll punch you in your dick.

Respectfully,
Nick
Owner, murky coffee



[UPDATE July 16, 2008: A follow-up here]

Friday, May 09, 2008

   from Nick

updates

Hey folks. Wanted to update everyone on murky coffee goings-ons.

Katie, Travis and I just returned from the Specialty Coffee Association of America's 20th Conference and Exhibition in Minneapolis. Katie competed at the US Barista Championship, where though she went too far over-time to qualify for semi-finals, gave a wonderful presentation!

If you're interested, you can see what the SCAA Conference is like by visiting the official SCAA Conference blog.

Also, we've received many inquiries about training classes resuming. We're waiting on some parts to repair our training machine, a 3-group Synesso Cyncra, so we'll have training info up as soon as we can get the machine fixed.

In the mean time, be sure to send Katie an email through cuppings@ (domain is murkycoffee.com), to get on the email list for our weekly cuppings. There are some lovely coffees on their way right now, and cupping continues to be known as the best tool to get to know all the nuances and flavors that coffee has to offer!

Finally, it's a bit late, but we wanted to wish Aaron and Elizabeth Ultimo happy trails, as they've moved to the Philadelphia area to start work on opening their own shop up there. If anyone's gonna figure out how to pair cheesesteaks with coffees, Aaron's the man. We'll miss you, Aaron, and we love you!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

   from Nick

murky coffee capitol hill

Link to today's Washington Post article

It is with great sadness, regret, and shame that I report that murky coffee capitol hill will not reopen.

The above article in today's Metro section of the Washington Post sums up our situation fairly well: due to my own financial mismanagement, and the DC Office of Tax and Revenue's inability to revise their figures to the actual liability in time to be able to re-open the shop, the shop has been shut down and will not reopen.

I again thank everyone who has sent emails and messages of well-wishing and support. There have been many questions, and I'd like to address a few of them here now:

Q: What about the staff that we've come to love and appreciate?
A: A few have already found new employment at other local independent coffee shops and elsewhere. A few are now working at our Arlington shop. The staff is grateful for the outpouring of support for them specifically.

Q: Will this DC issue effect the Arlington shop?
A: The two shops are separate LLC's and separate companies. As far as I know, having received expert advice on this, there won't be. I have contacted Arlington County, as well as Virginia's tax authorities, and we have no issues that threaten a similar occurrence.

Q: What happens to the tax liabilities, now that you can't reopen?
A: I am committed to resolving all outstanding issues to mutual satisfaction, and as soon as possible. I am not, and never have been, interested in not living up to our obligations. The problems in DC were due to mismanagement that spun out of control.

Q: Can I use my gift certificate at the Arlington shop?
A: Absolutely

Q: Will you open a new shop in DC? If so, when?
A: We are hoping that we will, though that would require that all outstanding issues with DC are resolved first.

Q: Have you engaged any DC Council members, or other people to engage the DC OTR?
A: We had spoken to a couple individuals involved in the DC Council, and may request support from Council members soon. However, and perhaps (at least in hindsight) foolishly, I chose to engage the DC OTR directly and being completely forthcoming.

Q: Why couldn't things get worked out and the store reopened?
A: The DC OTR Audit Division assessed (estimated) our taxes for specific months and years at amounts ten-times higher than the actual amounts, resulting in the $427K published figure. Until the actual amounts would be entered into their records, we could not negotiate terms that would allow us to reopen (we expected that successful revisions to those assessments would have led to our reopening within days of the original action). As engaging the DC OTR continued to drag on slowly, our landlords for the Capitol Hill store were understandably unwilling to wait forever as their property remained locked up. Therefore, they chose to evict us, according to their rights. Our landlords have always been reasonable and understanding with us, and there is absolutely no ill-will towards them. They clearly had no choice. It is unfortunate that the DC OTR could not work with us to allow us to reopen when we had a chance.

If there are any questions or comments, feel free to email me at nick@ (and then murkycoffee.com). Thanks again to all, for your comments both positive and critical. I completely deserve what angry commentary that I have received, and I can only hope that I will be able to re-earn your trust.

Sincerely,
Nick Cho

Monday, March 17, 2008

   from Nick

murky capitol hill updates

As varying reports about the state of the Capitol Hill shop pop up in different places, I wanted to take a moment to clarify a few points.

- I'm still hopeful that the DC Office of Tax and Revenue will be able to work with us to get murky capitol hill reopened. That office continues to play hot-potato with us, and we're stuck in a now almost month-long holding-pattern, with a new "you need to talk to so-and-so" every few days.
- The $427,395 figure mentioned in the Voice of the Hill and elsewhere is our current "in the system" liability to DC, with the majority of that amount based on assessments from their audit office: from 2 particular months in 2006 for sales tax, and two filings for "unincorporated franchise tax" (which is like income tax on the business profits). Those assessments were for over $200,000 more than the actual submitted returns. All four of those returns WERE previously submitted to the DC tax office (they have the "true" filings for months before and after the months in question), but they were apparently lost by the DC office. ("assessments" are estimates by the tax office)
- Part of the "holding pattern" right now is that we need to correct that $427,395 figure down to the accurate figures. Copies of those previously submitted returns had been sent to the DC Office of Tax and Revenue immediately after the shop was shut down, but the Audit department there has played hot-potato (so to speak) with them ever since.
- FYI, more than half of the amounts owed to DC are "penalties and interest." The actual tax amounts are a good amount under $100K.
- I have never denied my responsibility to pay these taxes. There were mistakes made due to financial mismanagement in more than one way. That said, I have complied 100% with the DC OTR since this issue came up, and have dialed 202-442-____ phone numbers no less than 500 times (with 490 of those times resulting in nobody picking up), trying and pleading with the DC OTR to work with us to resolve the issues. To this date, we have made little to no apparent progress with them.

Thank you for all of the support and emails. I offer my sincerest apologies to everyone, particularly to folks who have left comments or sent emails that express some level of displeasure, for this whole debacle.

Stay tuned.
Nick

Friday, February 29, 2008

   from Nick

This weekend at murky capitol hill

We submitted the requested information on Thursday morning, and our "case" has been sitting on someone's desk at the DC Office of Tax and Revenue since then. Today came and went without any apparent progress at that office.

We were hoping that we could resolve the immediate issues by today, but there was no such luck. Therefore, murky coffee capitol hill will remain closed through the weekend.

We're now hoping for a Monday or Tuesday reopening, but it's hard to be too optimistic about any sort of prediction right now.

Thanks for the flood of emails of support. Again, I'm sorry about all of this, and the supportive emails have meant a lot.

Nick

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