The good thing about having a blog is that when you feel like you were, perhaps, in a bit of a snit when you wrote a particular piece or item or post, you can always go back and edit it later.
With that in mind, I’ve put the rest of this article after the jump. Several of my lovely friends and readers pointed out (both here and in private) that I don’t know Catalina’s side of the story and, anyway, this didn’t personally happen to me, so I really ought to chill out. Which…yeah. They’re right. Also? I’m thinking of instituting a new policy whereby I don’t write anything for 24 hours after having a wicked fight with someone, since my judgment seems to be a bit skewed afterwards. 🙂
So we’ll wait to hear Catalina’s side of things, if that ever happens. And until then, you can continue to read (and comment) below the cut.
…so why should you care about Catalina?
Let me preface this by saying that my mother is also a small-business owner. Through helping her with her business and listening to her many stories every single day, I, too, understand the need to “fire” clients or customers who are rude and/or abusive. But the reaction in this case is unnecessary and appalling.
Everyone in Houston knows Catalina Coffee. This coffee shop on Washington Avenue arguably serves the finest coffee in town. It’s not only my favorite coffee shop in town, I’d venture to guess that once someone goes to Catalina, it automatically becomes their favorite coffee shop too. The owner, Max Gonzalez, knows his stuff. Upside-down, backwards and sideways, the man is a coffee master. He not only sources the best beans, but roasts them to perfection and always serves the perfect cup of espresso or cappucino.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, when so many Houstonians are still without power and so many more without any way to get in touch with loved ones via email or conduct business on laptops that aren’t charged, it’s been heartening to see so many restaurants, malls, coffee shops, etc. allow customers to come in and charge their electronics while enjoying a hot meal.
The Houston restaurant community has been more than generous during these trying times, giving away free ice (such as Catalan Food & Wine and Thai Spice did), offering hefty discounts on meals (such as California Pizza Kitchen did) or simply allowing people to use their space as a charging station even if those people didn’t have the money to buy anything (as Panera Bread has been doing).
Catalina‘s snubbing of its customers is even more appalling in the face of all this generosity and the continued lack of power that most of its patrons are dealing with at home. I’ll allow Sean Stoner to explain in his own words, as he did in a blog post yesterday (emphasis is mine):
As many of my followers know, Catalina Coffee is one of my favorite coffee shops and hang outs. In my opinion, it epitomizes cafe culture (albeit a unique American variant) and has, bar none, the best coffee in Houston, period. In many cases, like many regulars there, I’ll make it by more than once in a day. I’m very sad to say, however, I had an extremely unpleasant experience today…
Though I’ve made a few appearances at Catalina after the storm for coffee, today I arrived with my fully discharged laptop needing to catch up on a couple of mundane tasks, including paying a few bills and moving utility services to my new residence (incidentally, my old place has power but no Internet; my new place has no power). I was surprised to see all the power outlets had metal plates over them. Suspecting this was a result of Ike-related water damage or some other such safety issue, I inquired when the outlets would be available again. Max (the proprietor) responded, “Never.”
After getting the “never” response from Max to my question about when we would expect to get the power outlets back (assuming this was a short term fix, even if it was extremely poor timing given the current situation post-Ike), I politely stated that I needed to get some things done on occasion, along with a subtle allusion to my regularity and largesse (not only do I spend lots of money on coffee and am always careful to not take up space unless I’m buying things along the way, but I tip extremely healthy and have referred lots of new people to the establishment). He said, “bring another battery.” I told him that wasn’t an acceptable solution (a) I don’t have another battery, and b) where am I supposed to have charged these batteries especially if I don’t have power?). His shocked response to that was, “Unacceptable? Are you fucking kidding me? Unacceptable. I can’t believe that.” I told him that especially after Ike in a time of crisis I thought he was betraying his customers’ trust. He stated that he was “tired of people abusing my space. Cafe culture is not sitting down at a coffee shop for three hours.” Really? Are you kidding me? I suppose you have never sat down in a Parisian cafe then. Incredulous and stunned to that response, I told him that I thought the defition of cafe culture was different for everyone and that one should err on the side of what your customers wanted it to be. His response? “Customers? I don’t care what customers want. What matters is what I want. I opened my own shop because of that.” I asked him if he had thought of better ways to address the problem. His very cavalier response was that he had solved the problem and wasn’t really interested in discussing the subject any further. I told him that he was curing cancer by killing cancer patients and there certainly were better ways of addressing the problem.
Way to show a little kindness, Max.
Please read Sean’s entire post (and the many comments that follow) here: Let’s Cure Disease By Killing Patients.
Sean asks his readers what they make of the situation, so I’ll give you my take: Catalina Coffee just lost me as a customer. The owner, Max, made it explicitly clear that he doesn’t care about his customers or what they want. So why should you care about him or his coffee shop?
This was an excellent opportunity for Catalina Coffee to engender goodwill and trust amongst its current customers — ensuring that Catalina would always be there for them, just as they’ve always been loyal and paying customers for Catalina — and an excellent opportunity to create an entirely new customer base out of people who’d perhaps never been to Catalina before, but ended up there due to power outage happenstance.
Instead, Max Gonzalez has simply angered an entire community of people and completely alienated his customer base. So he’s some kind of mad genius when it comes to coffee; good for him. But treating your customers that way is no way to run a business, and that kind of behavior can really come back to bite you in the ass. Being a coffee guru doesn’t ensure that your customers will return tomorrow; good customer service does. You’re no Soup Nazi, Max.
Until Catalina decides to remove the giant stick from their rectum and the enormous chip from off their shoulder, might I recommend seeking out another coffee shop? Agora? Empire Cafe? The Daily Grind? Antidote? Perhaps a bubble tea place or a friendly pub? Don’t patronize a place that treats you like shit; you deserve better, Houston.
p.s. Pardon my French, readers. It’s been a long weekend. 😉