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Community Spotlight · Keys to the Shop Podcast

Chris Deferio

In 2016, Chris Deferio had an idea.

After 18 years of professional coffee work—which included several stints as a barista, trainer, and café manager, as well as being a successful latte art, barista competitor, and industry speaker—Chris was eager to gain practical insights that would help make him a better leader in the café setting. However, he found that there was little along those lines available in the coffee industry. And that’s when his aha moment happened.

“Inspired by leadership and coaching podcasts and books from outside of coffee, I had the idea to start my own show that would supply curated and practical insights, inspiration, and tools for coffee pros wanting to build great careers and businesses in retail coffee,” Chris says.

He called the new podcast Keys to the Shop, a nod at the valuable info offered in the podcast’s content, but also winking toward a deeper meaning. “As a barista I always would have these moments as an opener and closer where I am unlocking the door in the morning and thinking about the possibilities of that day, and locking up the shop meditating on all that took place within those walls over coffee,” Chris says, adding: “Keys to the Shop is all about those transcendent moments, and equipping people to create and recognize them for themselves, their staff, and customers.”

It’s only fitting that Chris’ podcast should focus on coffee shops, as the institutions have fascinated him since he started working at a café in Northwest Arkansas in 1999. “I was drawn into coffee shops because of the energy, culture, and the way the coffee itself inspired artistic expression, conversation, and community,” he says. “I decided one day that this is what I would pursue as a career, got a job as a barista, and never looked back.”

Almost two decades into his coffee career, Chris says he firmly believes that coffee shops are key to the success of all we do in the industry. “They are not just the place where the coffee reaches its final expression, but where customers form their opinions and worldview towards specialty coffee,” he says. “There is a lot at stake, and how well we prepare ourselves and others to work in and lead the café will determine whether a shop is an asset to the industry or a liability.”

Since he’s been hosting Keys to the Shop, Chris has talked to hundreds of coffee pros, and learned countless lessons. He says one of the chief things he has learned is that coffee professionals have more in common than they may realize. “As I interview guests on various subjects from around the world from various backgrounds and experiences, I see us all seeking after something deep and meaningful in our daily work, but we rarely afford ourselves the time and space to see it,” he says. “I frequently hear people say something like, ‘Wow we have done a lot! We don’t ever get to talk about it in depth like this.’ I would love to see more people give themselves the gift of time for self reflection.”

One additional nugget of wisdom Chris has acquired from doing Keys to the Shop: There is always value in being open to conversation and listening carefully, as sometimes the most valuable insights come form unexpected places. “I believe there is so much untapped potential in the seemingly ordinary that gets passed over for the well-marketed, glossy, and popular,” he says. “You don’t need a podcast; all it takes is some persistence and you will be surprised at the kinds of connections you can make and the treasures that result.”

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