Joe Sloboda, Press & Grind Cafe
November 11, 2020
Diner kid turned restaurateur
Joe Sloboda grew up in the restaurant industry. “My grandparents immigrated here from Europe and opened a diner. From the time I was a small child I was in the kitchen. I worked a register, bar backed, washed dishes. I did my homework in that diner, we ate holiday dinners in the kitchen. When I went to college, I swore that I would never work in the restaurant industry again. My first semester I worked at a bar & restaurant, and by my second semester I was managing it.” Today, Joe owns Press & Grind Cafe in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The inspiration behind Press & Grind
“I was vacationing in Europe when I first saw a cafe that was a combination of pressed juice and coffee. It had a cool vibe, seemed like a nice place to hang out. Throughout the next few days, I started noticing more of these cafe/juice bars. They were always near a coffee chain, and they were always outperforming them like crazy. I noticed that this concept was working so well because of the quality of the coffee, and the combination coffee/juice concept. It’s not a new idea in the sense that a coffeehouse might serve smoothies, but not the best smoothies. Juice places might have a coffee machine, but they don’t make great coffee. Creating a concept that combines great juice and great coffee lets people not have to make multiple stops. On the flight home, I literally sketched out what would become the Press & Grind space. Today we serve the Fort Lauderdale community high quality coffee and juice, all made by hand, at two locations.”
Building a community through cold brew and fresh-pressed juice
Joe doesn’t just own Press & Grind, he works in one of his two locations 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 363 days a year, “the only days I take off are Thanksgiving and Christmas.” And as much as he loves fresh pressed juice, and locally roasted specialty coffee, it’s not the quality cuisine that motivates him. It’s the people.
“I work in one of my cafes everyday because I love engaging with our guests. We ask everyone that comes through that door what their name is, we don’t misspell it on their drink. The next time they come in, we’re going to greet you by your name. We’ll ask about your family, pets and job. That level of connection is a lost art. It might sound cliche, but I truly believe we’re making a difference in people’s lives one cup at a time.”
“While Press & Grind is a key part of the Fort Lauderdale community, it’s also created a community in its own right. “We’ve had Press & Grind relationships where two people met in the cafe. We’ve seen people do business with people they’ve met in the cafe. It makes me feel good seeing how comfortable people are in the space. We have certain customers who work from Press & Grind so often that it’s practically their office. I love it, and I mean, I’ve already paid for the wifi!”
What makes the Press & Grind community particularly special isn’t just how at home people feel in the cafe, it’s also the level of emotional openness Joe and his team have created within the space. “We have such a diverse group of guests here. Both far ends of the political spectrum, a range of sexualities, races, creeds, religions. I was looking around a couple Saturdays back and thinking, ‘there is nowhere else in this town where this many different types of people would be together, at the same time, and all smiling and enjoying each others company.’”
Creating the sense of community Joe wishes he had
While Joe says his passions have changed a lot over the years, his consistent motivation is connection – with his family, his customers, his employees, and his community. When you meet thoughtful, selfless people like this, it’s hard not to wonder where exactly they learned their values. For Joe, his passion for community is likely more influenced by what was missing from his own life than what he experienced. “I grew up in New Jersey. When my parents split up, my mom moved us down to South Florida. She was working three jobs with two small kids, just to make sure we were alright. I watched her pull herself up by her bootstraps, and 10 years later, I became the first person in my family to go to and graduate college. My dad passed away three years later, and I was instantly thrust into adulthood. I didn’t really have anyone to fall back on. So now, when I see people in need, I automatically find a way to support them. Whether that’s through a job, donation, or connection. Caring about others is how you bring a community together. It’s something I wish I’d experienced when I was younger, but now I can do it for others.”
Giving back and navigating Press & Grind’s way through COVID-19
When COVID-19 hit, Joe saw his community was in need, and immediately started working on a plan that eventually fed over 3,500 first responders & frontline workers, all driven through donations by his customers. But while Joe and the Press & Grind team were finding ways to give back to the Fort Lauderdale community, their community was also struggling. “When we had to close for indoor dining, I was thinking about my regulars. People whose routine involves Press & Grind. We’re a part of their day. During the beginning of the pandemic when everything was out of whack, our customers were craving that sense of normalcy that routine. We knew we needed to find ways to continue being a constant in chaotic times.
“We were actually in the process of getting on multiple delivery platforms before the pandemic. And it was terrible. We had five tablets, cords everywhere. We knew we needed to be on multiple platforms to serve our people, but it was extremely complicated.”
Pre-COVID, about 12-15% of Press & Grind’s daily sales came from third party delivery. During the pandemic, Joe has seen that number jump as high as 50% on some days. He knew he needed to find a way to make the experience of delivery optimal for both his team and his customers.
Press & Grind x Otter
“A friend of mine recommended (a competitor). I started using that platform, but there were major hiccups, completely hit and miss. So I began searching for an alternative. I found Otter, spoke to an Account Executive, and loved the way it sounded. But I needed to see it for myself. I got a demo, and began beta testing it at a single location. It was seamless. Immediately. All five of our delivery services were integrated onto a single screen. The unified performance data was also key. Before Otter, I had to go into every platform, download a spreadsheet, and look through endless raw data. I’m 52 years old, trying to remember all these logins and sift through tons of numbers. I can barely remember my phone number. It’s been so useful to look at Otter’s single dashboard of data to find insights. We use our performance data to make optimizations and run specials on certain items.”
Unsurprisingly, outside of the platform’s features, Joe and Press & Grind like Otter because of the people, “Everybody I’ve talked to at Otter has genuinely cared, been spot on about my needs, and able to find an answer when I have questions.”
Joe’s recommendations? “The breakfast croissant sandwich, it’s our number one seller. Our avocado toast is also great. Alongside that, you’ve got to try our fresh cold brew coffee, or one of our fresh pressed juices."
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