Today’s installment in the Doing What You Love series features Rich Nieto – Owner of Sweetleaf Coffee
Sweetleaf is my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, in a neighborhood that has a lot of coffee shops. Sweetleaf gets it right for me. They take coffee seriously, without the attitude and pretension that most of the other coffee shops in Williamsburg, Brooklyn unfortunately feel is a prerequisite to making a good cup of coffee or espresso.
The baristas are friendly and take the time to speak with you and get to know you on a first name basis. The space itself is also extremely comfortable and the music, at least for me, always matches my mood. The atmosphere also seems to attract a clientele who appreciates and enhances it, as I happily experienced one morning while experiencing an act of selfless generosity at Sweetleaf.
Especially in smaller, independent businesses, my experience has been that the culture of the company is a direct reflection of the people running it. So it’s with this introduction that I’m feeling really excited to feature Rick Nieto, owner of Sweetleaf, in this installment of Doing What you Love!
1 – What is it you do that you love?
I LOVE all things coffee. Whether that’s roasting it, brewing it or just drinking. It’s my passion and it’s what drives me everyday. I’m very thankful that I’ve been involved professionally with coffee for 8 years now and I haven’t lost a drop of my initial excitement for it.
2 – How and when did you realize what it is you love to do?
When I first got involved with Sweetleaf back in 2008 I knew very little about coffee. I actually didn’t even think the business model was one that could succeed. I told my then partner “we’ll never make any real money with a tiny (at the time 300 sq. ft.) little coffee shop in LIC. We need to do green coffee importing.” I had a lot of contacts in Latin America from a previous business but I had one problem, I didn’t know jack about coffee!
So I set out to find out everything I could about it. It only took about 2 months and I fell head over heels in love with it. I did a complete 180 and all I wanted to do was make coffee and keep learning. Fast forward 7 years and now Sweetleaf has 4 shops and a roastery and no plans of getting involved in green coffee importing! LOL
3 – When did you decide to make a commitment to doing what you love? What does that commitment look like, e.g. full-time job, part-time hobby, etc.
The commitment takes on different roles but the passion stays the same. I started focusing strictly on how to brew coffee and espresso and now I’m roasting coffee. It’s a full time job for me, which is probably about 60-70 hrs a week, but when you do what you love it never feels that way.
4 – How long have you been doing what you love?
5 – What was the toughest decision you had to make when making a commitment to doing what you love?
Turning away from more profitable ventures. When I first partnered in Sweetleaf it was a full time job with no pay. I had to work another job and take out loans just to get through the first two years.
6 – Was there a time that you had doubts about doing what you love? If so, how did or do you overcome those doubts and keep doing what you love?
Finances can put a strain on anyone. That was probably the hardest part but giving up was never an option. I believed in what I was doing and more importantly I believed in myself. Wanting to serve the best coffee possible was what drove me. I counted on the money coming later.
7 – What are some of the things you enjoy most about doing what you love?
Right now I love roasting coffee. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There are so many variables to deal with on a day to day basis, that it’s enough to make you go mad. I think that’s also what fuels my fire. The challenge of it really gets my juices flowing.
8 – Do you have any advice for people who are struggling with making a commitment to doing what they love, even if they know they want to make the commitment?
I think you should consider all things. Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do it for a living. If you love to cook you can do so without cooking in a restaurant. On the other hand if you commit, then commit. Give all of yourself and know that every moment you do what you love is a reward within itself.
Here’s Rich Nieto’s Bio –
My name is Rich Nieto. I was born in Queens, New York. I’ve owned several businesses over the last 15 years. It wasn’t until I started working in coffee though that I found my home. I seriously doubt that I will ever work in another field again.