Happy Birthday, Caliber!
Caliber is celebrating it’s first birthday, and we couldn’t be more excited! This past year has been full of immense growth and change, and while each day has brought with it a brand new challenge, they haven't been without their joyful moments. Through thousands of cups of coffee, various events, and hours of meaningful conversations, Caliber has spent the last year investing in and getting to know the Donelson community. For those in the Donelson area, the story of Caliber began in April of 2018, but for Keith and Alaina Schwartz, Caliber had already been several months in the making. I got to sit down with the owners and hear the story of Caliber’s creation firsthand as Keith and Alaina look back on Caliber’s first year.
It was Christmas 2017. The Schwartz’s were making their way back to Nashville after spending the holiday with family in Orlando. While engaged in a conversation about the future of their community, they wondered what could be lacking in the Donelson area. In a community where local businesses thrived on almost every street corner, it seemed as though Donelson had almost everything it needed. As they poured over the ins and outs of their community, they realized that Donelson was in need of a central place for community, specifically, a coffee shop. This conversation sparked something within the Schwartz's, and the idea for Caliber was born.
While the thought of opening a restaurant might have seemed impossible to many, for Keith and Alaina, it was an idea that made sense. Keith had several years of experience in the food and service industry, and had worked in a variety of positions, ranging from waiter to restaurant manager. In addition, he and Alaina had catered several large events together in the Nashville area and as a result, they were no strangers to the culinary world. Though the idea of opening a coffee shop in their community greatly appealed to them, it didn’t appear totally feasible at first glance. Keith was employed as manager at a local restaurant and Alaina spent the majority of her year teaching. On top of the jobs they already had, they had no equipment and no space with which to create a coffee shop. For them, the idea of opening a shop seemed more like a dream than a reality. However, it soon became clear that the reality of opening their own coffee shop wasn’t as far fetched as they had once thought. Not long after the ride back from Orlando, they heard of a Gallatin based coffee shop that was closing its doors and selling all of its equipment - and selling it at a bargain.
“In kind of a spur of the moment decision we bought up all of their equipment without really realizing we didn’t have a place to put it,” Keith states about the process. “Suddenly it was an all-or-nothing sort of thing. We’d spent all of this money on the equipment, so there was no turning back.”
For Keith and Alaina, Caliber didn’t happen overnight; it took time to find the right space. Even after finding the right building, it took months of strenuous work full of extensive planning and renovations for the space to be ready. When the time finally came for Caliber to open its doors, Alaina recalls how quickly they realized that they were severely understaffed.
“When we first opened, it was just Keith, me, and our first hire, Jake. Within the first week of our soft open, we had to close down for a few weeks to hire and train. There was no way we could do it alone.”
With their official return on April 22, 2018, Caliber opened its doors to a community that it already loved. With a couple of new hires and friendly faces beginning to make their way into the space, the Schwartz’s felt more prepared to face the challenges and joys that would come their way. When I sat down with Keith and Alaina, I wanted to understand what this journey has been like for them. I wanted to know how the past year for them had been, how opening up their lives to an entire community had affected their personal lives. When I asked them to reflect on the past year and to name what felt different from what they had originally expected, they were honest about the moments that they found rewarding and those that they found tougher to deal with.
“We weren't naive in thinking how many hours we would be here in a single week, but the reality in being here that much has required more sacrifice than we realized,” Alaina relates. “Through that sacrifice though, we truly feel that we have been incredibly blessed. Our business has continued to grow. We went into this without any investors or a trust fund, just some savings and hard work. We've been able to pay off over $70,000 in debt from the start up of Caliber and will continue until we are debt-free.”
Along with being able to alleviate substantial financial burdens, they mentioned that one of the biggest joys they have received through Caliber has been the connections they have made with those they have served.
“We never truly expected to find so many great relationships with others in our community. We've had the joy to celebrate babies being born, marriages, graduations, and just amazing days with others. We've also been there for deaths, loss of dreams, and just hard days. The opportunity to build these relationships through the day-to-day life of our community is priceless.”
For Keith and Alaina Schwartz, fostering community is the reason that Caliber Coffee is around today. What began as a simple idea quickly became something so much more. As we celebrate Caliber’s first anniversary, it only seems appropriate to celebrate the journey that has led Caliber to be the place of community that it has become. There is no way that Keith and Alaina could have known what their dream would turn into, but as connections are made and life moments are shared within its walls, it is clear that Caliber is more than just a coffee shop. It is a testament to hard work and the desire for connection; it is a symbol of community and the chasing of dreams. Caliber’s first birthday is an invitation to pay attention to where you are, to notice those around you in a different light, because you never know what opportunities lie ahead.