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Behind the scenes at Seattle’s Top Coffee Co and the amazing company culture

Seattle Coffee

This IS Seattle’s top coffee

Seattle’s top coffee and an amazing company culture

This week’s blog is a glimpse behind the scenes at Seattle’s top coffee shop and how this company makes both a “Best Company” list and creates an amazing company culture. We all want to make this list, we all want to check the boxes but this post shows what it really takes.

Every week, I and Mrs. Nasty go to the local diner for some quality “us” time. The food is consistently great, the staff knows us and we always recognize friends. When I say “us” time, I mean we both sit down, Mrs. Nasty pulls out her phone and gets caught up on Facebook and I start banging away on my MacBook Air making last-minute edits on the week’s blog post. I finish up the post, flip the laptop to the Mrs. and she gives it a final looksy for punctuation and final edits. Yes, the older crowd looks at us with horror and gives us the stink eye. They are questioning our generation with cell phones and electronics at the dinner table and a complete lack of communication. For the record, we have no TV or electronics present when we eat at home. Thursday’s are working dinner dates.

This week was no different. We got to the diner about 8:30 PM (I usually get home around 8 every night) and there was a group of young women having dinner. Mrs. Nasty immediately recognizes a few folks at the table and it turns out it is a number of baristas’s from our favorite coffee stand. The coffee stand is Mercurys Coffee Co. and they have a total of 7 locations (5 drive-thru & 2 walk-in) 2 of which we frequent on a very regular basis.

HRNasty as a barista

To provide some background, I worked my last years in college as a barista in the late 80’s before espresso was as popular as it is. The stand I worked at had the first 4-group (LaMarzocco) machine in the United States and was pulling 500 coffees a day. No small feat considering coffee wasn’t yet mainstream. I loved that job and along the way became a coffee snob. To this day, I only frequent 2 coffee shops and 3 coffee stands because so many places don’t know WTF they are doing. The local big box McDonald’s of coffee serves its purpose but I only order drip coffee from The Man when networking or interviewing a candidate. There is an art to pulling espresso and not everyone can do it right let alone across their entire crew. I don’t take it lightly when I say Mercury Coffee Co. pulls Seattle’s top coffee.

Mrs. Nasty gets caught up with her espresso peeps and we sit down to dinner and electronics.

I am sitting 2 feet from the table of baristas and I can’t help but overhear bits of the conversation. Voices carry when a table full of women get excited. I hear:

  • The group sharing inspirational quotes on customer service
  • The group is giving each other advice on how to make the coffee stand more efficient at opening and closing.
  • My wife hears a story about how it was 5 minutes to closing and they were ready to shut it down when a customer pulls up. The barista is initially dismayed but explains how she perks up despite being ready to shut it down and offers the customer a coffee. Her attitude got her a $15.00 tip.
  • One of the baristas talks about her power to make someone’s day with a cup of coffee.

The power to make someone’s day with a cup of coffee? WHaaahhhh???

I want to turn around in disbelief but don’t want to stare or creep. Next time you say to your crew “No one is going to die, this isn’t open heart surgery” think again. These women pull coffee and I am stoked they take it as seriously as they do. No wonder they are Seattle’s top coffee shop. 

I am in mid-bite on my hamburger, look up to Mrs. Nasty and say “I wish I could take a picture of these guys and write a blog post on what I am hearing. Where else are you going to get this kind of employee engagement?”

The sharing of stories is all over the board, and even though my back is to the group, I can tell the entire table is fully engaged. The common theme is customer service and although they may not know it they are definitely talking company culture. This group of millennials is taking the initiative to meet and figure out ways to make their workplace better. You betta’ recognize!

Not just a J.O.B.

Readers know that I am passionate about company culture and have been fortunate enough to have made the usual Best Place to Work lists 10 times in the past 15 years including a number of #1 and #2 place finishes. Working in recruiting, I have always wondered where Mercury Coffee Co. recruits their talent and positive attitudes. It isn’t a J.O.B. to these folks, it is literally a lifestyle. I would pay a premium to have these attitudes on the teams I recruit for.

When I wait in line at Mercury Coffee Co., we can’t help but notice the signs of pride and props. This place has 6 top 5 finishes in the “Best of Western Washington” lists for “Best Coffee”. The feather in the cap is this is a streak of improvement and domination:

  • 6 top 5 finishes in the King 5 Evening Magazine “Best of Western Washington” over the past 6 years.
  • 4 years in a row from 2012 & 2013 & 2014 & 2015 this crew was voted #1 “Best Coffee Shop”
  • 2011 we were voted #2
  • 2010 we were voted #4

No small feat in a geographic area that has a coffee stand on every corner and Starbuck on every block. We are literally in the shadow of the Starbucks headquarters.

As an HR guy, I know that you don’t make these “Best of” lists if you don’t have a great company culture. As a customer, you won’t experience a great product if your employees don’t believe in what they are serving. You won’t experience great customer service is your employees don’t love and respect the leadership of the company. You don’t make the “Best of” lists if you don’t have the full package. These guys have it and I was seeing first hand the reasons why.

These baristas were a team, they were a tribe and they not only protected their company culture, they were nurtured and loved it.

Mrs. Nasty says I should talk with them. We see most of the crew on a regular basis but I didn’t want to interrupt their flow and I resist. I hear another person comment on how they appreciate a co-workers effort and I can’t take it anymore. I know I gotta’ blog about what I am hearing. For those of you who are picturing a bunch of naive Polly Anna’s that you want to punch in the face because they are too positive, think again. These women are as hip as they come. Tat’s, Snapback’s worn brim back, floppy knit hats, and killer smiles.

Some things I have noticed over the years:

Seattle's top coffee

More flair does not mean more pride

  • These women all rock the swag. They make the t-shirts and hats look sexy. Yes, they are all attractive, but they wear their logos with pride. There are plenty of attractive serving staff at your local chain steakhouse, but they don’t wear the “flair”, the flair wears them. The brand and the “flair” at your local steak joint is an edict that is straight from management and it comes through. At Mercury’s, you know this crew is proud of the brand.
  • When the lines are long, the baristas don’t know your order, they will run out to the cars and take order so your drink is ready when you pull up. When they recognize the car, the drink will be started as you drive up so it is ready when you get to the window. 
  • When I pull up, they confirm my drink with me. They may not know me as HRNasty, but they know I am a double ristretto Americano in a short cup with a raw sugar and splash of cream. Even as I was talking with the group at dinner, one of the baristas called me out by my drink.
  • They know our dog’s name, always asked me how Mrs. Nasty was doing when she was ill with cancer and take a genuine interest. Our dog looks forward to this place because she knows they will have a couple of doggie treat for her.

These are all small things, but the small things add up and the consistency of the experience week in and week output this place over the top.

Seattle's top coffee

Mercury’s Coffee Co crew of baristas protecting and building their culture

I don’t know what the leadership is doing at this place, but I gotta’ think this is the Berkshire Hathaway of coffee. This was a self-directed group and they were getting it done.

Next time you wonder if your company can have culture, passion, or pride, remember Mercury Coffee Co. and the individual coffee stands operated by only 2 -3 baristas at a time (one location has 6). Mercury Coffee Co. has figured out how to keep everyone connected and engaged across locations and these small teams are nurturing and taking pride in their company’s mission.

To the baristas at Mercury Coffee Co., I don’t know all of the voodoo you do to keep the magic alive, but please keep doing it and don’t sell out to the man with the green and white logo.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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