Small, local brands often have all the charm. They have a friendly look & feel, quirky names, are easy going, and have a really cute and stylish location. A big reason for the charm is their small size. Because local businesses are often owned by one or very few people, everyone involved in the business feels invested. They really care and want the business to be successful. Not just for themselves, but just as much for their clientele. This is strongly related to a strong business identity.
Whether it’s been officially developed, spoken out loud or not, every business has an identity. It’s how you would describe your business, much like you would a person, or yourself. It’s your business’ character, style, personality, statement. Everything, and a little more, combined. A strong business identity is reflected in the business through its people, service, atmosphere, product & services, and its customers. And that’s how, eventually, a great brand takes shape.
Here’s a prefect example where business identity meets the person behind the brand. And the glasses. Man Met Bril is the business persona of its owner, Paul Sharo. Everything about the business, and eventually, some about the brand, came naturally from him. Purpose, logo, name, product, service. The rest of the brand of course, came from his clients, and ultimately, faithful coffee drinkers.
I wanted to know more about this charming local brand. So I asked Paul for an interview. Yes, was his answer.
Story-style interview with Paul Sharo, creator and owner of Man Met Bril Koffie.
I walked into Paul’s stylish and roomy office and was greeted with a smile. Although the espresso machine not yet being warm did set a silent panic attack through my nerves, we sat down to start with the interview questions. We had water and plenty of good conversation ahead to keep us sharp.
A coffee bean grinds a long way.
It came from El Salvador, Indonesia, Columbia, and all kinds of warm, exotic farmlands… It found itself into the capable hands of a man who, a few years ago, – and despite being almost blind, hence the glasses – had a vision: To make good coffee.
That man with the glasses.
Customers he waited on called him that. Chefs and colleagues he worked with called him that. It was a blend of good service and charming clumsiness that got him the nickname that eventually became his brand. And why not, that’s who he was. And the thick-rimmed glasses logo he made looked so right… He wanted to manifest his personality into his own blend, and make the coffee just as personable. And obviously, someone who likes to doodle and make his own logo likes to have fun. So he threw in that element as well.
It’s friendly, happy and most importantly fun.
The coffee experience is for everyone. For the one who makes the coffee and the one(s) who drink it.
I can do this.
It wasn’t a ballsy move at all, to start his own shop. It was a logical one. He already had a lot of know-how in roasting coffee, knew what good coffee should taste like, and that a good cup of coffee was hard to come by. All the good ingredients to start his own business. It was up to him to make it happen.
The one who roasts. What’s he thinking?
This isn’t really the time to start dreaming. Roasting coffee is very technical and demanding. Getting all the variables right as the beans burn away slowly, takes a lot of concentration. But with concentration, come the curiosity and the occasional experimenting. What’s cool to do with coffee? What do people want to drink? How do I get rid of that small annoying factor I noticed from the previous batch? How do I make it even better?
Not really into clichés. Just happy with coffee.
Coffee as an experience, coffee as a ritual, changing the world one bean at a time. It’s not that pretentious. Sure, it’s about drinking great coffee. But the true wish is for people to simply start their day with a great cup of coffee made by Man Met Bril and make them happy.
Meet the locals.
Man Met Bril is from Rotterdam, for Rotterdam. .”When you want to do something well, you have to set your own boundaries,” says Paul. The business is this size because it’s manageable this way, and most importantly, because the coffee’s quality doesn’t need to be compromised. Clients can always be assured that the coffee will be good. Plus, the coffee scene changes all the time. You need to be constantly on the scene to maintain good quality. Easier done if you can physically be there.
Small things come in 500gr packages.
Everything down to the size of the bags. Whether the order is 2 KG or 18, coffee comes in small bags. They stay small so that once opened, the coffee is consumed at the pace it should, so that aroma and flavor don’t escape and get forever lost.
Do you feel certain camaraderie with small businesses as clients?
Yes, although I don’t kid myself into thinking I don’t need big businesses as well. As a business of any kind, you need to make money. So you can have all kinds of clients as long as you keep your own integrity. Ideally, you seek out what fits you best. And since I do like the mentality of small business I try working with them as much as I can.
What if Man Met Bril came out of a vending machine?
The idea of seeing my own coffee come out of a machine is somewhat of a small thrill. As if, there it is, my coffee! But in real life, absolutely not. All the elements for coffee should be calibrated for a good cup. It’s too difficult to control that with a vending machine.
Is the thick-rimmed glasses logo a statement about fashion, politics, globalization, intellectualism, all of the above, something else?
Nope. It’s just the glasses I wear.
So there you have it. A happy, friendly and fun guy, who manifests these traits through the coffee he makes. Everything about his business is in line with his brand. And you can taste it in every cup.
During the interview, the machine manifests its presence by making a few sporadic clicks. Is it warm yet? I wonder. Can I please, please have a cup?
Does it really take an hour to warm up? I ask, nonchalantly. Am curious, and admittedly, fishing a tiny bit for a coffee.
Ah yes, it’s ready, says Paul, picking up my hint with a laugh. Want a cup?
I watch in silent horror as Paul grinds coffee and throws it out repeatedly. Why is he throwing away fresh ground coffee? Why, WHY?
There’s residue coffee from a previous batch, he says. Better not to mix it.
I nod in resignation. We’re not seeing that coffee again.
Then, to my continued surprise, he puts the coffee in the beautiful coffee machine on the counter and lets it drip through and disa
ppear into the waste tray. Is it wrong to stick my hands under it and just sip?
The coffee is dripping too quickly. It should take at least 25 seconds to drip, he explains in a friendly tone. This one has a different, finer grind.
More nodding of acceptance.
I did get a coffee in the end. A cup just for me, made by the Man Met Bril. And it was absolutely great.