It was an idea that on paper looked great; a coffee bar inside one of Stockholms most spectacular sites. I was invited very late to the party, since I was on paternity leave up until after the opening of this place. Nevertheless, I was very excited about this project, since it allowed me to work with great people in a great environment doing something, well intended to do something, great… In hindsight it is very easy to see where things went wrong.
The Dome of Visions is a meeting place for people to discuss topics around sustainability and innovation. It’s built and owned by NCC, and run together with the Royal Technical University, Open Lab, IVL and Academic Houses (and several more probably). In theory, a lot of the people from these various backgrounds wouldn’t normally meet, so this place was a melting point for them to start talking about theory vs. practice for instance, or sharing ideas regarding the future of constructing cities, urban farming, how to use resources etc. etc. Also it’s been a place with super interesting cultural events that fit superbly along the line with the topics addressed.
As already mentioned, this all look great on paper to run a coffee bar in. Like an everyday TED-talk bar, that’s what you kind of imagine, right? Wrong. I’ll start with the coffee bar itself.
The company I work for were invited probably cause they had been interested in a nearby location prior, and the contact was already made. They were invited late into the game. My guess is they saw opportunity to get the catering for all the events, and a coffee bar was a bonus from where staff could serve the catered food and drinks, as well as run as a bar with special licences on certain events. This is all good, since the events are held on the premises, and we do the catering, there is a given customer. From a coffee bar point of view, that customer is not ideal (at least once every event we get the “something wrong with the milk? there’s something odd tasting with my coffee!” because the only coffee from our roaster I’m happy serving in there happens to be a natural Yirgacheffe).
But if the customer that has chosen the Dome of Visions as a meeting place might not be the perfect customer, 85% of the walk in customer is a nightmare (the rest are my wonderful regulars) coffee bar wise. Why? First of all, we’re on a campus. Second of all, we’re on a campus in an area that happens to be the last ungentrified area of Stockholm, serving food at 1987 quality and prices. People here don’t care the least for quality. The first thing they say is: “Wow, that’s expensive” (no, it isn’t, only compared to that sandwich in the kiosk across the road made from the cheapest stuff Lidl has to offer). The second thing the say, or ask, is: “You have student discount?”. When saying no, these people actually walk away cause they’re not willing to spend an extra 0,30 Euro on a latte. Those who do comes back though, but they’re not students.
Price is one thing, but we could’ve become a destination if there had been a will to incorporate the ideas of speciality coffee, sustainability and innovation into the concept. If your competition does cheap, bad and unsustainable stuff, you have to go the other way. Buy micro farm dairy, and explain why it costs more and why it tastes different. Grow plants inside the Dome that we could use on the sandwiches. Fertilize those plants with used coffee grounds. We could’ve hosted seminars on growing coffee ecologically, debates on the pros and cons of Fairtrade, coffee tastings and on and on and on…
Just fucking do it, you say. It’s easier said than done. One issue is the management and the communication between all parties that are working under this umbrella. Noone wants to take decisions. “You have free hands” they say. Sure, when can we do it? “We don’t know yet”. And they still don’t know. Everyone is too busy booking events and cater food, and not really interested in these matters it seems.
And then there’s the building itself. It’s created with a background in Buckminster Fullers philosophy around building domes in order to create small self sustainable platforms where communities could save energy and grow plants and live happily ever after. One idea he had was to build a dome over Manhattan. The heat and energy from the humans and the machines would be enough to keep it warm. Manhattan has 8 million people and a lot of houses and machines that generates heat. The Dome of Visions has a coffee machine, and can host up to 149 people, but normally there are like 5 people in the outer room at the same time. To give you an idea: when it’s 12 degrees outside and sunny, it can be up to 30 degrees. With overcast, it’s about 15 degrees inside -the temperature drops rapidly. I caught pneumonia first cold month in there, cause the changes in climate was so fast I was wearing too little and didn’t bother dressing warmer since I gathered it will soon be warm again. And we thought the cold was a problem (well, technically it was, since the bookings of our events got in danger, so for the more prominent bookings, they heated up the place with diesel generators…), it was a small problem compared to the heat. If the sun is up right now, the temperature is about 55 degrees celsius inside the building. It’s not a place to consume food or beverages in. Even cold drinks don’t make it pleasant enough to stay inside. As a contrast to the winters problem, I got sunstroke the other week.
But overall, despite the hardships to work, I’ve had a blast getting to know people from all kinds of walks of life and contexts. We’ve hosted a water tasting recently, with a woman doing scientific research in this field the past 30 years. It has spurred some ideas regarding coffee comps for me actually. Also gotten to know a few people behind the company Plantagon, working with vertical plantations all over the world, has been interesting and inspiring on a personal level. There’s definitely been some benefits for me working on this project. But as of yesterday, I’ve done my last shift there. It’s sad but also a relief. I will miss all the people involved, and I am grateful for all the knowledge I’ve gained these last 9 months! Onwards, onwards they rode on.
NP: Quantum Leap – That’s The Reason