How to build a community
In 2011 I executed a project in the Boston metropolitan area. It was December and the weather was miserable. I was on a never ending project schedule around the planet since a few months and my only personal interest on daily basis was “how do I wake up in the morning”. This question translated into “find good coffee source”.
So on my first morning in the Aloft hotel in Lexington, I woke up, reached for a digital device, and executed a yelp search that read “Find ritual roasters coffee near me.” You see, Ritual is a coffee shop and roasterie in San Francisco which I know and trust so I figured that there is a small chance that someone in the Boston area was actually brewing coffee from these beans.
The first hit was a place with a funny name that was very close to the hotel: “Ride Studio Cafe.” They opened at 7AM and closed at 7PM – a perfect way for me to try and get the morning fix and in case another fix was still needed, return in the early afternoon and get some help until nighttime.
I drove the 2 kilometers from the hotel to the coffee shop in the pouring rain. I expected to find a little quaint New England spot fully focused on the typical smarty-pants student crowd that’s so common in that part of the world. Instead, I walked into a bike shop.
On the left side of the large space is a nice granite counter with pastries, espresso machine, drip coffee brewing contraptions, and what looks like an open kitchen. A Barista welcomed me with a warm smile and asked if she can help. At this point I was focused like a shark with laser beam attached to its head “I need something to help wake me up and I heard you guys sell Ritual coffee.” She nodded and explained that that is only one of the beans that they stock and pointed to other bags from the likes of George Howell and New York’s Grumpy.
This was clearly a weary traveler’s version of heaven and it could not get any better. After brewing me a steaming cup of Grumpy and completely convincing me that this place is going to have to deal with seeing me at least once a day I turned my attention to the rest of the shop and suddenly realized that I’m in a fancy bike shop.
You see, the other side of the space, right of the door if you will, is a Seven Cycles dealership. Right next to the door was one of Seven’s concept bikes, ironically the Berlin model. For a cyclist from Berlin, Germany, this was a sign that this was the right place to be. There were all sorts of Seven Cycles models everywhere – cross bikes, road bikes, mixed titanium and carbon, steel, tandem hanging from the ceiling and a fantastic display of Rapha clothes.
During that business trip I visited the shop on daily basis and enjoyed spending the 4-5 minutes every morning, waiting on the coffee to brew and breathing in the beautiful bikes that were everywhere. After spending a week in the area I flew to the next destination with fond memories and a few new acquaintances.
A year later I was back in the area for another project. This time one of the worst snow storms in Boston area history had just unloaded an ungodly amount of snow and the roads and pavements were all white. I drove from the airport directly to Ride Studio Cafe and tanked on a coffee and had a nice chat with Patria Lanfranchi – one of the owners of the shop. She explained that they organize rides on regular basis and are the biggest Seven dealership in the world.
The shop is welcoming in every sense of the word. A big table takes the majority of the space in the center of the shop and people, dressed in spandex as well as in business attire occupy its chairs most hours of the day. The table is covered with various bicycle magazines and coffee mugs and the air smells like a mix of bicycle grease and brewed coffee. The decor is minimal with shades of grey dominating colors and the occasional Rapha pink-stripe on the back of the wall.
Patria’s job title is actually co-owner and curator. She is responsible for the amazing and eye-poking selection of bikes on display in the shop. Every visit in the shop meant encountering new creations from the minds of Seven’s customers. In this particular visit I fell in love with an Orange-painted titanium rig that is described in details here. There was also a belt driven, all weather titanium commuter and various models of the newest creation from Seven’s owner – Honey Bicycles. I felt like a kid in a toy store.
The idea behind Ride Studio Cafe is brilliant – create a space in which bike enthusiasts, coffee lovers and the general public can come together in a friendly atmosphere. With the organized rides, the endurance team sponsorship, training and bike tuneups, locals flock to the shop. In all the visits to the shop I never had the feeling that any of the staff members was trying to sell me anything or was irritated by the customers – something that often happens in other bike shops. It felt like they were genuinely happy to see people coming in and were always happy to answer questions, show and explain the bikes on display and see you join the rides. Every time I visited the studio/cafe with friends or co-workers who are not bike enthusiasts, I was told that they loved the studio/cafe and that the place was welcoming.
Maybe it’s the friendly staff? Maybe it’s the decor? The excellent coffee? The carefully curated display? The free wifi? The clean bathrooms? The purified water dispenser that is designed just right to allow you to fill your bike’s water bottle? The friendly mechanic? Or maybe it’s the combination of everything and the fact that good people, like good places and that good people like to hang out with good people and that circle perpetuates itself and before you notice, you have created a community.