It's what We Create…
I have spent a lot of time in coffee shops since I started working at NeighborLink. For my first 6 years, NeighborLink didn't have an office and I would float between my dining room table, local coffee shops, and anywhere else I could find a table. Old habits are hard to break because I still spend several days a week working out of coffee shops. I love being in an environment where all kinds of interactions are happening. Coffee shops are fascinating places to me because they can be transactional or highly relational, but they're always a representation of community.
People order the same things, they sit in the same places, and depending on your personality or the personality of the person behind the counter, you get to know a lot or very little about each other. You quickly learn that every coffee shop, local or national chain, has its own character. It's no surprise when you think about the reality that places take on the life of its leaders, especially in locally owned and operated places,
When Cyndi Demaree and her husband, Paul, opened Firefly Coffee House 19 years ago, I'm not sure they had an idea of what kind of impact they would have on the community. After spending a lot of years in a community that they often felt judged by, they wanted to break free and start over. The two set out on a journey to create a place where people are welcomed and loved no matter who they are or where they come from. They wanted Firefly to become a home, a neighborhood gathering place centered around coffee. And that’s exactly what it has become.
If you've local to Fort Wayne and spent any time at Firefly, you've likely met Cyndi and know that she spends so much time investing in her customers. She tries to make us all feel seen, known, and welcome like we're the only customer of the day. If customers are unsure of what they want, she'll warmly draw out their likes and dislikes and come up with the perfect beverage. Spend enough time with her, and she'll know all about your family, job, and personal interest. She has watched infants who came in with their parents when they first opened now graduating from college. She has been able to witness the lives of countless people firsthand, as if they truly are part of her family.
Stepping into Firefly, you encounter a unique microcosmic neighborhood. An environment reflective of Cyndi and Paul's life, their leadership priorities, and the core values that drive their lives. Cyndi, Paul, and their daughter who also is involved in the operations, have been intentional since day one to emulate this in an atmosphere of community and family. When it comes to hiring, they realized they could teach coffee, but not an employee’s character and how they treated and interacted with customers. They are intentional about who they hire and how. They focus on creating a staff united in the pursuit of harmony among themselves and customers – their goal from the beginning was to create a business that lived and breathed the mindset that people over money. For small business owners, this unique approach to running a business is what makes it such a unique environment to sit and have a drink in. Cyndi believes that when you make people feel at home, they will keep coming back.
By intentionally prioritizing people over profit, Cyndi and Paul have created a neighborhood inside their business, and they treat it as so. Approaching their staff and their regular customers as family and neighbors, they make an intentional effort to maintain the peace inside of the business. Though, prioritizing an atmosphere of inclusion, grace, and openness, it has brought with it tough conversations to protect that “family unit” they work to maintain. It has meant, on a few times over 19 years, making tough calls that require asking customers who threaten that framework to leave the business. Cyndi knows and believes that everyone wants to be heard, everyone wants to have a voice and to have the benefit of the doubt. They take it seriously when there are disruptions and threats to the familial foundation in Firefly. To build a healthy community/neighborhood, we need to be able to have grace for one another and be able to have difficult conversations with one another.
Everything in their business and personal models, from top to bottom, points towards community. Making people feel known, making the business more than just coffee. They have been intentional to have their business reflect that and haven’t budged on cultivating a place of peace inside Firefly Coffee House. It has been inspiring to hear Cyndi’s heart on her business. They set out to create a community they felt they were missing in their lives and have been successful in building that for the community.