Fuzzy, energetic, excited, and most importantly a mascot is unceasingly enthusiastic about whatever it is being mascotted. Meet Dave Thomassen: Coffea’s resident mascot.
I met Dave for the first time six years ago. He came into the shop with much the same buoyancy and aura of a young Tom Bombadil asking about pu’er tea but settling for “Your finest cappuccino.” He quickly became that beloved regular that would celebrate with us about a coffee that scored well, newly mastered latte art, or if the line to order was long he would chat up customers about why it’s worth the wait.
I made the mistake of underestimating his vow to be our Downtown location’s first customer on opening day. That morning, I arrived about thirty minutes before opening to see if they needed extra hands-on-deck, only to see Dave in front of the door bundled up on a lawn chair, wearing Coffea logo-ed sweatshirt, and hat with all the Coffea flair (pins) he had. He’d been there since 5 A.M. just to be sure he would be first in line.
Even better was about two minutes before the store opened, NPR’s Kai Ryssdal showed up with a giant microphone and his producer saying they’re doing a series about small businesses that survived the great recession, and they couldn’t believe a coffee shop in the middle of Fly-Over country had a die-hard fan like Dave. Mid explanation to Kai about why he’d camped out since five in the morning, Kai cut him off and waved his producer over saying (and I quote), “Oh we’ve got to get this guy on tape.”
To this day, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather speak for our company on NPR.
I have to admit that I’m like Kai Ryssdal in the sense that Dave’s enthusiasm for our shop seems to defy logic… and this might be a good time to clarify that Thomassen is NOT that creepy guy that won’t leave the store. He has boundaries, follows social mores, and is a great person… he just really believes in something that’s also written into Coffea’s DNA: community is at the foundation of what we’re all about.
Dave came to us from a childhood in the wilds of Wisconsin. His formative years were spent in the pine-addled, excessively nice, plaid wasteland where mosquitos rule the lake-ladened landscape.
From one state dominated by manners, lakes, and mosquitoes to another, Dave moved to Minnesota, working at a coffee shop called The Beat, that operates with the mission to be community.
Dave explains it like this, “We had a coffee shop--well, really is a church plant but nobody cares about church up there, so we had a coffee shop to do life with people.”
They hung art on the walls from anybody in the community, hosted concerts from anybody in the community--the only stipulation being, “Keep it, like, PG-13.” Thomassen went on, “We weren’t evangelizing like you might think. We just had the idea that we wanted to live there and live in such a way that when it came time to explain it (Jesus), it made sense.”
They only served French Press coffee, but they served the real deal: Bull Run while it was still called Bull Run (they’re now called Vicinity, but still good stuff). He also got used to having a family of coworkers with something more than coffee behind their work, and community that was more than just a financial transaction. They truly invested in and got to know the people that came and went out of their shop.
Then he was offered a job in some town in South Dakota called Sioux Falls.
Thomassen explains, “The Beat had such a strong community that when it came time to move, I would be leaving my regulars, my community. So when it came time to move I said I was going to really miss my community. They said to me, ‘Junior’--that was my name there-- ‘Junior, just become one of our regulars at a different coffee shop.’”
Thomassen stops here, then exclaims with a George Costanza like enthusiasm, “ And that was brilliant!”
So from The Beat to Sioux Falls, Thomassen took a job as youth pastor at Falls Church. Now all he needed was a shop where he could become the regular.
After doing a bit of research, he found Coffea.
When asked if he remembers the first drink he got, this was his response, “ The first time I came in was April 29th, 2011*. We (my girlfriend at the time--now wife--and I) were going to Cracker Barrel. I went into Coffea thinking, ‘I hope these guys are good. If not, I’ll infiltrate and make it better.’ I asked them about their cappuccino and espresso.”
Allow me to interject here and tell you, dear reader, you should read his words “asked them” as, “interrogated them.”
Back to Dave’s words, “So, Libby and I were sitting in that second room, at that high-top table--which is now in my house**--and we had a cappuccino. I took a drink of it and thought, ‘This is decent. I can work with this.’ And I was just stunned to be having specialty coffee in South Dakota.”
In the six or so years since then, a lot of life has happened to Dave and his then girlfriend--now wife and mother of two. Dave is now a bi-vocational pastor, still with Falls Church, also selling paint, talking to people about exterior house paint, playing jazz (Dave plays upright bass), and “...playing with the cute children that live at my house.”
But one unquenchable, irrepressible quality of Thomassen is the same as the first day I met him.
He’s very much like Sam Hamilton in East of Eden: he’s quick with a story, easy to get along with--no matter who you are-- and seems to know everybody. For Thomassen, community building seems like a language he’s not just familiar with; he’s fluent and poetic.
When asked why community is such a pivotal piece of who he is, Thomassen did not disappoint in his Sam Hamilton-esque answer.
“For a while, I had this concept of almost owning this town. But I think the more beneficial, truer, more Christlike drive is to steward this town. I see a web of people. I like connecting people, so networking is fun. Even when I’m going to a BNI lunch with one of my buddies, we’re just hanging out, enjoying that each of us enjoys the unique, good food we’re having for lunch.
“Networking isn’t sucking up to people. With stewarding, I’m working to build up a thing. I like talking about something I’m passionate about: coffee, French pastries, house paint--there’s the beginning of a real conversation we can have. There’s enjoyment we can share. Because, for me, it’s all about this: do you know Jesus?
“I don’t feel bad about being preachy. You know? I have strong opinions and convictions, but I like to talk about them from places of actual relationship instead of pushing a dogma.
“It can come down to one of those moments where someone is in need and really needs help and I can be there. Or we can just be blessings to each other.”
Dave takes a breath and laughs because he can see I’m furiously trying to type down all his words. As I finish typing, he’s had a moment to collect his thoughts and he wraps up with this:
“Here’s the thing: Coffea is the spot that my connection to Sioux Falls derives from. That’s where I met Chris Hanmer and learned about French pastry, macarons, and learned about all that. Where I met Chad Pickard and learned about bikes and Spoke-N-Sport. Where I met Pat Cannon and had those deep, philosophical conversations. It just seems to me that in Sioux Falls, so much of the culture passes through this shop because coffee is such an integral part of our routines.”
To Dave, the brand or really the coffee isn’t what really matters. When I asked him about his favorite cup he’s ever had, it had so much more to do with the person he shared it with than the bean.
“It was the Etheopia Amaro Gaio from 2009’s harvest***. It came through Cafe Imports, a 90+ coffee, and Bull Run was the roaster that we got to use at The Beat. That coffee tasted like deep, rich, chocolate covered cherries. There were berries, it was so… smooth is a terrible word to say but… It was over a French press of Amaro Gaio that I realized this girl that I had put the Friend Zone for a while might be something else.
“She was a customer, and I was dating this other girl but… it was over a French press with this girl that I realized she was real, she was nice, and the Friend Zone shattered.”
He finished the story, then had to add, “That was the first coffee that Libby ever enjoyed black.”
While coffee might be a vehicle, while Coffea might be a scenic highway to drive that vehicle down, Dave’s more about the journey. Outside of coffee, you might catch Dave playing bass around town. I made the mistake of asking him about this by saying, “Why do you slap-a-dat-bass so well?”
Dave scratched his beard in consternation and said, “Two things annoy me about being a bass player: I’m not 'all about that bass' and I don’t 'slap the bass.' This isn’t the 1990’s and I’m not trying to play the opening to Sienfeld.”
I chuckled, apologized, and likened him to a Scott Pilgrim type, and rephrased, “Ok, ok. So… help me understand why you play a stand-up bass, and jazz.”
Nodding, he answered, “One of my favorite things is playing combo-jazz with an upright bass. I’m not the focal point, I’m there to assist and support and the soloist is the focal point. You have a drum, a keyboard, and maybe a saxophone, and what I love about jazz is I can show up to a gig and I might not have ever met these guys before, but as along as we listen to each other and we play together, we make fantastic jazz.”
If that’s not a voice of hope in today’s… tumultuous times, I don’t know what is.
He went on to say, “It’s the same thing as coffee, because the friends I’ve made--the friends that I have in the jazz world--we might not all agree on everything in life, but we are truly friends because we share not only music but we share playing this music together; we have shared experiences, which are unique experiences, so those become true friendships... And, like, it just looks cool and sounds cool.”
And that’s the thing about Dave--not the ‘looks cool and sounds cool’ bit--but he truly is that pivotal support and community piece that is beaming and rumbling around in the swell of music between the grinders, steam wands, and conversation, hearing a music that is real and rich and so much more than a morning ritual. It’s the music that undergirds our day-to-day life. He hears that music and he hears the people that make up that beat, that messy, always a little bit different, but surprisingly familiar, daily beat, and he comes alive in that harmony. That’s Dave.
One of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue explains it this way, “Real friendship… is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition.” Dave Thomassen is so much more than a regular, more than a mascot. He is a living recognition of coffee with community. If you haven’t met him yet, you’ve got a great conversation awaiting you with your next cup of coffee.
* This is not an exaggeration. He rattled off the exact date without taking a breath.
***Yep. Didn’t bat an eye or take a beat to reach back into his mind palace.
Let us equip you with good questions and common pitfalls to avoid when setting up your coffee situation at work.
This is our first issue in a series that will explore a few commonly seen coffee set-ups at the workplace. Keep checking in throughout this week and next week to see how anybody can make their workplace coffee experience better.