We had the good fortune of connecting with Vanessa Brandon and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Vanessa, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunities to try my hand at most of my interests at some point in my life. What I have found is that through every trial if you continue to listen to your instincts and refocus or make changes when something doesn’t quite feel right, you will eventually be led to your true calling. Through multiple attempts in industries ranging from architecture, interior design, public health, communication, teaching, and hospitality, I have come to realize that I have somehow manifested a career that combines all of these interests, which is becoming a partner and operator of a coffee shop. This work has been the most trying of times for me, and my work/life balance has changed drastically since I started operating small businesses in hospitality. But I believe that work feels less like work when you’re truly enjoying it.

Prior to the last five years that I’ve been in hospitality, as a teacher, I had a lot more extra time on my hands than now, and my work/life balance was balanced. But I realized that I wasn’t living and breathing it and I wanted to find that something that I would wake up to every day wanting to do it over and over again. My brother encouraged me to help he and his partners open two restaurants and eventually my dream, a coffee shop. This opportunity allowed me to take a break on teaching, which I do hope to revisit someday. I went from having a good amount of time for myself outside of work to having almost no spare time at all.

Opening and operating a new restaurant is a challenging experience to say the least. From the construction, permits and planning, hiring, training, to the actual managing of daily operations and tasks, it can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. And now, just over one year after opening Rocketship Coffee one week before the pandemic-led lockdown, I can say that my work/life balance feels almost non-existent. At this stage in my life, my work is life and my life is work. As a new small business that opened during the pandemic and the unique layer of challenge that was put on all of us during this time, I am still paying my dues and will be for a while. This coffee shop can’t run itself; I have to be as involved as I can be every single day. And despite the fact that I feel like I can’t ever catch up or feel rested, I am happier doing this than doing anything else. A lot of my interests have become part of my work now. One of my favorite things to do is go to new coffee shops and try new restaurants. I’m always applying these experiences to my own work, taking in new spaces, learning new ways of doing things, researching and finding new ideas, and tasting everything I can. I love being around people and meeting new faces and making connections. I realized that I have been able to take all the tools from my toolbox and utilize them in a way that makes my everyday life fulfilled.

My background in public health resurfaced with our focus on building the beverage and food menu with real and healthful ingredients and bringing in products that support local businesses. Being a teacher of communication studies and studying architecture and design has also played into how I approach my work. I want to make people feel welcome and open, from my amazing team to our wonderful regulars and new guests alike. I have always been greatly affected by my surrounding environments and design elements as well, always being particular about what vibe and feeling a space creates. I have aspired to design and create a safe and welcoming environment where I can share some of my favorite things with new and familiar faces. Building relationships with my team and our regulars in the community has been such a beautiful experience. We have all been there for each other day in and day out through this crazy last year and I am so thankful to have such a wonderful support system.

I truly believe that work feels less like work when you’re truly enjoying it. If you find yourself always thinking about your craft and your passion, trying every day to nurture it, you’re probably doing the right thing. As with any passion or dream we have, it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Though the risk may be high going in, the reward is even greater; that alone makes it well worth to me. I remain grateful to have such an opportunity to continue to chase my dream and share it with others.

What should our readers know about your business?
At the end of the day, the goal of Rocketship Coffee is to share a welcoming, happy, safe, and open space with our community. We want to invite people into an environment that feels good to be in. We curate the space with an open and simple look, with great music always playing, and a team that is passionate about real products made with real ingredients that taste great. We look forward to building relationships with our guests and their dogs every day! We want to support local businesses by bringing in local products that we love. We are proud of the fact that people continuously tell us that we are their favorite coffee shop not just because of the quality of our products, but because they want to visit our team and support our vision. As soon as things open up more, we can’t wait to be a community space for small creative events, such as live music, comedy, poetry slams, art shows, and celebrations as well!

All of these beautiful aspects of our shop far outweigh the challenges we have faced. The main challenge was our impeccable timing of our opening, March 8, 2020. The lockdown began exactly 1 week later. We opened a business with no regulars, and what felt like an apocalypse with no one out on the streets. It was the longest soft open. But the local community came through one by one, our support system grew as the months went on. People were overwhelmingly generous and sweet, and we became a constant for so many of our wonderful regulars. We will continue to deal with the ramifications of this last year as most of us will. We can only hope that with things continuing to open up more and safely, that we will soon learn what our new normal is and will be around as long as we can. We are grateful for all the continued support of the community, our partners, our regulars, our neighbors, the many new faces, good friends, our families and all the adorable puppies we get to spend time with! It has been such a great experience getting to know our customers and new friends!

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?
Everything would revolve around food and coffee! I would plan the days by different areas in LA and start with where we are getting coffee, lunch, and dinner in each hood. The rest would be us doing as much outdoor as possible. I lived in Long Beach prior to East LA, and I would definitely hit my favorites there. I always make a point to go to Rose Park Coffee Roasters, get a juice at Salud, and then brunch at Wide Eyes Open Palms. Usually I take it all to go and hang out at the Bluff park that overlooks the ocean or down to Rosie’s Dog Beach. I also frequent Panxa Cocina, Ellie’s, Mezcalero, and Manaow Thai. Every day would include a beach. A couple favorite spots in the OC area are the beaches in Laguna and San Clemente.

As for LA proper, my go to spots on the west side are Hi-Ho burger, Kazunori Hand Roll bar, Wanderlust Creamery for the ube crunch ice cream, Demitasse and Good People Coffee Co. I always find time to bring my friends to our sister restaurant PBLC TRDE in Santa Monica. I would visit my girl at Violet Hour Skin, Natarsha Bimson, for any healthy skin needs. Getting a facial or massage is always on my to-do list. She is wonderful! I often catch the sunsets in Santa Monica when I can. The hikes in the Malibu mountains are so great and overlook the water. El Matador beach is my favorite, and a Lily’s burrito after the morning hike and beach can’t be beat.

East LA is incredible when it comes to food and vibes. I love the strip around Rocketship Coffee on Melrose with so many restaurants and fun shops. Probably the place I frequent the most is Melody Wine Bar, they have an incredible natural wine selection, amazing patio, and great pop-up chefs. Silverlake Wine and Bar Bandini are also up there, along with Lolo wine bar; beautiful patio there! Going to Griffith Park for a hike and finishing with a Maru Coffee and Courage Bagel is a good morning. Obet and Del’s is a lovely coffee shop too. On Sundays I try to find a farmer’s market. The closest one to me is the Larchmont Village one, and it is among so many cool shops on the main street. I also enjoy going to the Last Bookstore and the Grand Central Market downtown, then hitting a brewery in the area; there are so many! Highland Park is the coolest too, with the Highland Park Bowl, Hippo, Cafe Birdie and the bar Good Housekeeping, so many coffee shops, cool stores, and bars for days.

I could go on and on! LA is full of amazing gems with beautiful spaces, delicious food and drinks, and numerous parks, nearby hikes, and beaches that take your breath away!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to recognize my brother Chris Brandon who got me into this business and his hospitality group that helped pave the path for Rocketship Coffee to exist.

I’d also like to recognize the team at Rocketship Coffee; their hard work and dedication makes all of this possible everyday.

Last, the community that embraced us has been overwhelming! The reason we still stand today is because of them! Thank you!

Website: rocketshipcoffeela.com

Instagram: @rocketshipcoffee

Image Credits
Rebecca Yribe

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