We had the good fortune of connecting with Casey Wojtalewicz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Casey, what is the most important factor behind your success?
To the extent that I am responsible for the success of Canyon — for our success is truly a team effort with multiple, complementary skillsets — I credit three virtues I’ve held prominent for the last decade: patience, persistence and perseverance. Together, these three P’s define a mindset and approach I find as critical to my success today as when we started Canyon Coffee in 2016, my success as a musician before that, and as a community organizer before that. Patience, because I believe the quickest way for a business to fail is to grow too fast, and because the universe operates on its own timeline. Persistence, which invokes an amount of grit, because you’ll need it in the face of the myriad failures, let-downs, setbacks and “No thank you’s” you encounter along the way. Perseverance, which is a constant reminder to stay focused, remember your goals, and carry a sense of optimism at the vision of achieving success.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I started Canyon Coffee with my partner Ally Walsh in 2016. What began as a simple, mutual appreciation for good coffee turned into a steadily swelling passion as we dove into the industry through our work travels and fell in love the ritual of making pour overs at home. Before long, we were basing trips and travel itineraries on what coffee shops we could visit; our community started coming to us to ask any and all coffee questions; and I got my first job in the industry as a barista. We started Canyon because we wanted to share that feeling coffee gave to us on a daily basis, and the warmth it brought to our days. We felt that warmth was something missing from the specialty coffee industry; an industry more known for pretentious baristas, industrial shops and masculine ethos (i.e. motorcycles, axes and mustaches). We wanted to turn our friends and family onto premium quality coffee—almost without them realizing it—to make it approachable and accessible. And we wanted to be Certified Organic, because that is how we strive to eat. A few things that set us apart are that we opened with zero outside investment or capital expense. We did this because we first wanted to prove to ourselves that we could establish, run and grow a profitable business. We were able to do this because of our friend and now partner in Canyon Coffee, James Klapp, who was able to roast for us after-hours on his then-employers’ equipment. We also started without a coffee shop, which often surprises people when they’re new to us. We opted for this harder and slower-burn route because we wanted to spend our time trying different approaches to growth to establish sales volume and brand familiarity. It took longer, and required nearly three years of sweat (working as full-time volunteers, in other words), but I’m proud that we stuck to that plan and feel it has paid off. One last thing I’ll mention here that separates us is that we decided to make ourselves (Ally and I) the face of the company. This was an intentional decision that has enabled us an entire voice and approach to talking about coffee that’s more personable and enables a degree of authenticity that has defined our voice and established trust with our customers. It’s also enabled us to make other interests of ours (e.g. interviewing people we admire, travel and travel guides) a major component of our business. There have been countless lessons, of course, and our mindset to this day is that there’s always more to learn. It hasn’t been easy, but the heart of our mission — adding something special to people’s daily life — has kept us motivated from the beginning.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ah! Really tough. We’re so spoiled for food in LA. Let’s say this friend has never been to town before and we have one day. I’d want to introduce them to breakfast burritos, so I’d probably start our day at All-Time, Tacos Villa Corona or Guerrilla Café. Since we’re East, I’d polish with a black cup of Canyon from Botanica and take them to Griffith Park to walk the burrito off—parking by the Greek and going up from there. From there we’d hit Vermont Ave for Skylight books, maybe a matinee at old-school theater two doors down, a little peruse at High Mart and a smoothie from Punch Bowl. If we’re feeling lunch by then instead of smoothies, it’d be a toss up for Honey Hi or Amara Kitchen, with chocolate chip cookies for dessert from EITHER spot, no question. Afterwards, walk up to Elysian Park if Honey Hi, or the center for Self Realization on Mt. Washington if Amara. Go to Tilda, Lolo or Bandini for a glass of wine (in non-COVID times) or a bottle from one of the other growing list of amazing shops for a bottle on the Eastside… Vinovore, Silver Lake, Tilda, Lou, Wine & Eggs, Psychic. Hit Woon for dinner (who ALSO has amazing wine and beer—wow) doused in Mama Fong’s hot sauce. And in the beautiful post-COVID world that’s coming, cap the day with a show at the Echo, Zebulon, or The Lodge Room. Maybe post-show at Footsie’s in Highland Park. // Alternate morning: wake up early and hit Menotti’s in Venice for coffee, breakfast burrito from Holy Guacamole on Main Street, hike Temescal Canyon or walk the boardwalk on the beach, drive through Rustic Canyon to see the big trees and architecture, Take a dip in the ocean, and head back East for wine and dinner. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Too many! My ancestors, for the examples they set, and the comfort it gave me for following my own path and migrating to a new, foreign place. My parents, for the balance of thought, logic, warmth and love they gave me. Brother Dietrich Reinhardt, a late Benedictine monk and one-time President of my college, who opened me to the simple but profound concept of letting go of rigid plans and truly living each day to enjoy it (accompanied by reading the Tao of Pooh, Siddhartha and The Alchemist in short succession). Byron Gudiel, my first manager out of college, who encouraged me to [literally] turn down his offer at a promotion to pursue my dream of making a go at the music industry. My partner Ally, for supporting me always and being the energy behind countless adventures and experiences that have helped me grow and led to a richer existence. And finally, my business partners Ally (again!) and James; watching how all of our unique skills and experience have complemented and resulted in our success as a group gives me so much pride.
Anaïs & Dax Laura Dart Christopher Morley