Meet the Farmers: Ugo
Who are you? I'm Ugo. They call me Google, sometimes... only sort of endearingly.
How long have you been at Irving Farm? In one capacity or another, I've been here a little over four years.
What position did you start in? I was first hired to work behind the counter at 56 Seventh Ave—a cafe that we closed a couple years ago—making sandwiches. I trained to become a barista but never made it full time. Let's just say that, at that time, you wouldn't have wanted me on the espresso machine during a morning rush hour on Seventh Avenue. I wouldn't have cut it.
But you could cut sandwiches in half! What's your role now? More recently, I've taken on the role of Director of Technology. Here, at least, that's an over-glorified computer geek. I'm the person most willing to take on the computer headaches around the company. I guess I'm the person, also, who—probably most annoyingly—brings up all the new gadgets and apps and new ways of doing things that I'd like everybody to try out. Yup. That's me! But seriously, my workdays are mostly spent planning, upgrading, and maintaining the IT infrastructure across all the Irving Farm locations. Given the various wholesale and retail operations of the company, I get to work on a really wide range of projects, and in several different environments. It's been especially cool to work with Steve and Muffin in the building and renovations of Irving Farm cafes. Over the course of about a year-and-a-half, after closing up shop on Seventh Avenue, the company expanded its retail presence from one cafe to five. In that same time frame, we also executed a complete rebranding of the company and rolled out a new website. Irving Farm has changed drastically, over the past few years. So, my primary responsibility has been to make sure that Irving Farm's technological capabilities (i.e., all the things) keep up with all of the company's changing needs. It's been great having such variety in my work here, and it's great having a hand in providing for experiences that people tend to love.
What was your first coffee job? I worked for a small cafe back home in Alabama, for maybe a year. I think we bought coffee from some Seattle roaster. At the time, my palate could only discern the difference between coffees from Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin Donuts. The term "specialty coffee" wasn't really in my lexicon. So, I can't really comment on the quality of coffee we served, but it was a great little mom and pop shop.
What's your favorite coffee right now? We just got a new crop of the Amaro Gayo, that s--- is delicious!
What's your favorite way to prepare it? Iced pour over! It's better than iced tea + lemonade on a hot summer day. But maybe I've just been away from Alabama for too long...
What do you love about Irving Farm or your role? I've loved being able to sort of define a role, and be a part of a company that's growing and willing and able to do new things. It's not just trying to remain what it is, what it has been. And I guess the first year or so that I was with the company I could definitely see that big things were going to happen--I just couldn't really tell how or when. Since things really kicked into high gear over the last couple years, it's been pretty demanding. With exciting things on so many horizons, there's always lots to do. It's been great to be part of that, and part of an organization that's not just trying to roll out cookie cutter cafes and coffee. Also, Irving Farm is the most diverse place that I've worked. When I was a kid, I wanted to live in New York City to be immersed in the most diverse mix of people in the country. That remains a priority for me, and Irving Farmers really represent a broad range of ages, ethnicities, genders...basically, we represent the whole spectrum here. Irving Farm has always felt like a company with opportunities for everyone. Steve and David lead the team with that openness. And everyone here really is much more interested in who's willing to help build things and get the job done than in who someone is and where someone comes from. Irving Farm's diversity is probably one of its more unsung virtues.
When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up? Probably a firefighter, like every other kid, because that s--- is cool! Other than that, from relatively early on, I really liked drawing things, and I always had an idea that I would design things. I was always drawing cars and soccer cleats. I didn't really know what a design or a designer was when I was five. But I guess if I could retroactively articulate what I geeked out about most back then, I would've thought I'd be doing something in the world of product design. In fact, my mom recently reminded me that I used to daydream about biomedical engineering and designing prosthetic limbs. I guess I've always been a geek for new technology. I was a very hands-on kid.
What do you do outside of work/coffee? I've played soccer all my life. Liverpool is a little like church for me. In fact, it's about time for my quadrennial month-long sabbatical... I also love riding bikes, and I try to go camping as much as possible. My partner and I would probably live in the woods pretty much full-time, if we could both work from a remote "office." The city's great, too, of course. It's an endless—and exhausting—source of fun. And there's great coffee seemingly everywhere these days. That can't be taken for granted... although, I know this question was about not-coffee.
What's your favorite embarrassing story about David or Steve? Weirdly enough, I can't really recall stories that are embarrassing for Steve and David. They're pretty easygoing dudes, even in seemingly stressful situations. But I know some stories that are a bit embarrassing for me. I'll try to keep it short and sweet with this one: I mentioned at the beginning a royal they who sometimes call me Google. That's meant much less as a compliment than as a reminder that with most new ideas, I'm probably flying solo in my enthusiasm for experimenting with new tech in new approaches to our work. Probably my first big undertaking that affected everyone across the company was leading Irving Farm to go Google a few years ago. Sure, Google Apps wasn't really new technology then. By that time, there were still a number of people in the company whom I hadn't yet met in person. But I sure got familiar really quickly with everyone via feedback on the new services—or, as they probably referred to them, the new headaches. Everyone eventually got around the learning curve with the new apps. And I had to quickly get around the learning curve of providing personalized, and often in-person, tech support for a whole organization, albeit a small organization. Nowadays, everyone's been collaborating via the core suite of apps for the past few years as naturally as though they'd been using them all along. Overall, it's been a big win for Irving Farm. So, I guess I don't mind the nickname.
If one of our coffees was your spirit animal which one would it be? Why? How is it prepared? Rainforest Foundation Project, just because it's a cool initiative. The blend was born out of a connection David has to the Foundation in the US, and the intention behind it is to draw attention and support to the protection of the environments from which the coffees in the blend come to us. The last time we were camping, we were drinking Rainforest Foundation Project brewed on a stainless Kalita dripper under a torrential downpour of rain and talking about jaguars in the Amazon—it was a very rain-themed camping trip.
Do you have a dream coffee job, at Irving Farm or in any other part of the coffee world? As confusing and challenging as it has been doing what I've been doing for the past couple years, I've only come to like it more and more. The only ways to make it better would be to have more resources and more of a team behind the technology side of the business. It's not that there's anything particular to coffee to which technology lends itself. Most small businesses that are trying to grow right now can definitely avail themselves of more technologies that can allow them to work more efficiently and less expensively. It would be great to have more time and resources to figure out really excellent solutions for a lot more of the work that goes on throughout the company. Those are things I like to solve—those seemingly small efficiency problems that add up to big gains. While I'm not very efficient with so many things around here—remember, you don't want me on an espresso machine in the middle of a rush—I really love observing the way everything works together and helping to improve processes wherever I can.
What's your favorite treat at the stores? I'm really happy we started carrying almond milk. I'm lactose intolerant, so I drink almond cappuccinos all the time now! We also have really great producers throughout the company. So it seems the cafes always have new treats to try that are made in-house. There's currently a tie for my favorite: it's between Faryl's spicy hot chocolate brownie, a relative newcomer, and the o.g. face-sized crispy rice treat. Pair either of those with a coffee, and I'm set!