- On January 18, 2017
- Entrepreneurship, Obama, Trinidad DC, vigilante coffee
By: Chris Vigilante
Dear Mr. President,
Seven years ago, I arrived to Washington D.C. with the idea to start my own company; a specialty coffee roasting company that sources its beans directly from small farms all over the world.
For anyone that has ever started or attempted to start a business, God bless you. It’s got to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in life. Not even a formal education can prepare a small business owner for the reality of what a small business must endure day to day.
There is no such thing as failure. There are only learning curves
There is no playbook, simply rules and regulations, hurdles, competitors, and learning curves. Did you notice how I didn’t mention failure? One thing business has taught me is that there is no such thing as failure. There are only learning curves.
You can’t lose if you refuse to give up. That was my mentality 7 years ago and it’s my mentality today. But I’m human and like anyone else, I have doubts, and I have insecurities trusting that my path will be the right one.
However, I’ve also learned to look for the signs. The signs that tell you when you’re doing the right things, heading in the right direction. One of those signs occurred 7 years ago. I was at a barbecue at a row house in NE Washington D.C. where I met a young lady that worked at the White House.
When she first said where she worked, I have to be honest, I didn’t really believe her, but after she showed me her very official business card, I started to think it was true. And here I was, the only 23-year-old kid trying to launch a coffee company using 100% Hawaiian Coffee in Washington D.C. and the only President to ever come from the small islands of Hawaii was in the White House just 6 miles from where I was roasting. Wow, I thought, what were the odds?
I recognized this as serendipity and decided that I had to get my coffee into the White House and this young lady, who I was fortunate enough to meet, was surely my best shot.
So, I called and emailed, and called some more, then I emailed some more for about 2 months until finally the young lady replied back and told me that the White House and President Obama would love to accept my gift of Hawaiian coffee.
They told me they would send an intern to our roastery to pick up the coffee. At the time, I was roasting in a friend’s basement on Orren St. in Trinidad, D.C. I’m forever grateful to that neighborhood for letting me roast and fill it with the aroma of freshly roasted coffee, but, it was not the kind of place I wanted a representative of the White House to come and pick up a coffee gift for the President. So, instead, I requested they come to the coffee shop where I worked as a barista on Capitol Hill. It’s no longer there, but the shop was called Pound.
At the time, I had not started Vigilante Coffee yet. It was still a dot of an idea in my brain. I was working for a vertically integrated Hawaiian Coffee farm and roastery based out of the Big Island of Hawaii. When I say vertically integrated, I mean they grew, roasted, and sold their own coffee.
At the time, I was struggling to make ends meet. I was a wholesaler for the Hawaiian company and I was a barista at two cafes (both now closed, R.I.P. Sova & Pound). When I got word that they were sending an intern to the coffee shop to pick up the gift for the President of the United States of America, I did what most anyone would do…I called my Mom. She was ecstatic!
On the day the intern arrived, I had the coffee specially packaged with the President’s name on the front and I remember specifically praying to God that the intern would actually show up. I had already told everyone I knew that I had gotten my coffee into the White House!
Thankfully, in walked a young 20 something year old dressed in a grey suit, white undershirt, and a black tie. It was the intern. I ran around the coffee bar and tried to dry the sweat that had accumulated on my palms before shaking his hand. I eagerly handed over the coffee gifts and he thanked me. I asked, “When will I find out if the President enjoyed the coffee?” The Intern replied, “You’ll get a letter in the mail” and was gone.
Regardless of where that intern went or did with that coffee, in my mind, I had accomplished my mission. I had gotten my Hawaiian Coffee into the office of the 44th President of The United States. President Barack Obama would be the recipient of a coffee I roasted! I was on cloud 9.
Three months passed and I continued along the path of trying to carve out my space in the coffee world. Then one day, my roommate and fellow conspirator in the basement roasting days, Antajuan Scott, ran into the coffee bar (Pound) where I was working and yelled that I had received a letter addressed to me from the White House.
Holy shit, it actually worked! I’m not totally full of it! I really did get my coffee into the White House! A feeling of absolute joy overwhelmed me and I went outside the shop to open the letter. Adorned with a golden White House emblem and these words:
Please accept my deep thanks for your kind gift.
I appreciate your thoughtfulness and generosity. If we join together in common purpose to address the challenges of our time, I am confident our Nation will continue to lead in the 21st century.
Thank you again for the gift, and I wish you all the best.”
Mr. President, that letter is what motivated me to create my own company, Vigilante Coffee. It was the sign I needed that showed me I was capable of carving out my place in the world as a business owner. In doing so, my company has created over 30 jobs and donated directly to schools and children in need in the countries from which I source coffee. I have been blessed to travel the world in search of great coffee and see places that you knew as a kid, like Indonesia. I understand that my purpose is to share the good karma and to help people.
I found that calling 7 years ago and I stayed the path because you were kind enough to accept a bag of Hawaiian coffee from a 23-year-old kid roasting out of a basement in Trinidad DC. You were kind enough to let your legacy shine upon mine and I just wanted to tell you, thanks. You really did make a difference.
Forever grateful & thankful for your service,
Christopher R. Vigilante