This week in our Love Local series, we chatted and caffeinated with Graham Braun, owner of Monigram Coffee Rosters: a hot spot for coffee, entertainment, and so much more in the heart of downtown Galt. Sip coffee, read on, get inspired: repeat.

You know an interview is off to a good start when the words “illegal coffee” are put on the table within the first five minutes.

Bootleg Beverages

Graham MonigramI still remember the first time I stepped into Monigram Coffee Roasters in July, 2013. At the time, the business was awaiting final inspection and approval: a process that was drawn out over a number of visits and additional inspection requests... and ones that delayed their plans for opening by over a month. So what is there to do in this situation but sell the coffee illegally? “We put out a jar, and just asked people to come try it out. They were free to donate what they wanted.” I remember meeting bright eyed Monica (Graham’s wife, and partner in the business: hence, the “Monigram” name), at an event and hearing about what made their concept stand out from other coffee houses: they were also a coffee roaster. At the time, Graham (who does all the roasting himself) was roasting once or twice a week; now, he’s up to roasting once a day. “It’s about 50 pounds an hour,” Graham told me. With beans that come from Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Kenya to name a few, what you get at the iconic coffee house nestled in downtown Galt can’t be found elsewhere… except, of course, in other Galt based locations such as Malasada WorldE.V.O. Kitchen, and some of the other fine restaurants in the region.

Humble Beginnings: From Basement to Brew Master

Though Graham was no stranger to roasting coffee, running a business was a new avenue for him who was at the time a musician-slash-IT project manager. So, why coffee? I asked. “We considered a number of things: a wine and tapas bar, maybe a bed and breakfast. But I was passionate about coffee. And I knew about it,” Graham said: mentioning his then part time hobby of roasting coffee in his basement. What was behind wanting to open a business, I asked: given that it’s such a risky move on so many fronts? “Truthfully, we wanted to work for ourselves. To drive our own destiny. It wasn’t about the money: we could have likely made more doing what we were doing. But working for ourselves meant that the stakes, and the successes, were all ours.” 

Branded: Inside the Box

I asked how Graham became such a brand aficionado, referencing their innovative messaging and product packaging (such as their boxed, not bagged, coffee). To which Graham shrugged his shoulders and said simply, “everyone was doing bags. So I thought, no one is doing a box. We could do a box.” Pro tips he’d recommend for others looking to build a strong brand? “Look at all the people who are doing what you’re looking to do, say a logo, successfully: within your industry and outside of it. The indie shops, restaurants, airlines: incorporate that thinking into your design. Whatever fits.”

Platforms for Every Occasion

When I asked Graham what his primary marketing advice would be for small businesses looking to grow, he didn’t hesitate to tell me how useful social media has been for them. “We can’t convince people to come here. It has to be by recommendation by word of mouth from people they know: and social is the best way to do that.” With all the different platforms to choose from, how do they decide which message fits what platform, and how much time to spend on each? “We don’t post as often as some. And we’re more interested in things that matter, over things that we’re selling. Graham explained that each platform is used for very different purposes: Malasada World for innovative and high-impact product images, Twitter to talk about what’s changed and what’s happening (in the business and community), and Facebook for telling the story inside the business. 

The Dream Caffeine Team

Anyone, and I mean, everyone, who has visited Monigram before knows that while the outstanding unmatched flavour of their coffee brings people through the doors, the attentive and obliging staff of twelve keep those people coming back. Consistently, the upbeat baristas are serving up not only a mean caffeine fix, but are facilitating community connections with each patron, too: whether they’re a Monigram rookie or a regular. So how, exactly, do you inspire them to become active connectors of community like he and Monica are? “We tell our staff who’s an artist, and a real estate agent.... we love seeing them connect people to each other. It helps that the front of house staff are outgoing types, too. That personable approach is more important for us than any technical skills on their resume.” What other qualities are they looking for when they interview potential team members? “Our interviewing style is different,” Graham said. “We have lunch together: that way, we know how they interact with people informally. Their faces are usually familiar to us already, and we know them from coming into the shop. If you had a favourite interview question it would be... "where do you like to go for coffee? What do you like about it?” 

Supported Service

If you don’t know Graham or Monica because of their coffee (unlikely, but…), you know them because of their connections to the community. As just one example (of many), Graham is a Board Member for Galt’s Business Improvement Agency (BIA), and Monica teaches ballet and works with The Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Foundation. In their 90-hour work week, why is this work important to make time for? “As a small business, especially in downtown, you’re part of a very tight knit mesh. If you don’t support the other small businesses, you get left out.” I think every small business should subscribe to this next idea: “if someone comes in with a box from Malasada World [donuts], I’ll plate it for them. If they have a Galt Juice, I’ll grab them a glass. It’s so easy to support each other: why wouldn’t you want to?” 

Custom-Made Community

I asked Graham what go-to favourites they recommend to their customers. He told me there really are too many to choose from. “If I don’t know [their interests] already, I can usually tell who should go where from the bags they’re carrying. If I see them with vinyl for example I ask them: ‘hey, did you get that at Forch’s Records?’ And if they say no, I tell them where they should go. I’d be shocked if you can’t find something you like here,” Graham said of the downtown core. True to the history of the coffee house as a gathering place, there are always events happening at Monigram: from their Backlot Sessions to their gaming nights, there’s always something to keep the community engaged. 

Lessons Well Loved

Monigram Family ShotGraham warned me that he’s “terribly optimistic:” and in a very cool and cavalier fashion, cast off the words risk and failure. “We always tell our girls: if you’re coming to a problem over and over, it just means you haven’t found the solution yet. In my Ignite talk, I talked about this: what’s the worst that can happen to us, here in Canada? Maybe the business doesn’t do as well as we hoped. So maybe we lose the house. If at the end of the day we still have a great family, and the stable support of each other. Even if we’re negatively impacted in the business somehow, all the important things are still true.” Though these words of wisdom rattle me long after I leave, I asked Graham if he had any last ones to leave us with. And with a genuine, heartfelt emphasis, he said: “Care. Just care. It’s not magic. Show up every day and care about the customer, the staff, the environment, all of it. And don’t forget.”

If you haven’t yet had the Americano at Monigram, today is as good a day as any to go and have your life changed… just saying.

 

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