THURSDAY THOUGHTS: Challenging Change

During the pandemic, we used to joke if we had to pivot one more time, we were going to screw ourselves into the ground. Ha. Well, the pandemic is mostly over, at least the pandemic part, though we do still have folks getting sick (Sometimes quite sick, WTH?) and for one reason or another, we still seem to have to keep pivoting. It may not be as frequent or for the same reasons, but it would seem change and adaptation is pretty much here to stay.

I remember having conversations with folks back in the PPE (Pre-Pandemic Era) about how things change all the time and we always have to adapt. So really, aside from perhaps the pace of change, nothing has changed. (Don’t they say the more things change, the more they stay the same?)

The ironic part is we have always adapted what we do and how we do it since we started Port City Java. The Pandemic temporarily changed some aspects of our operations and presented challenges for staffing, supply chain, regulations, and keeping folks safe, but it also changed some things on a more permanent basis by accelerating trends that were already happening into full blown new “normals”.

One is that the requirements for physical distance and separation during Covid simply sped up what was already a trend towards speed and convenience. Skip the line (But if everyone skips the line, aren’t you still just in another line? Asking for a friend)… more use of drive throughs instead of inside service. Order ahead… delivery from a business model like DoorDash, GrubHub, Uber Eats that sucks 30% of profits from your restaurant.

Then, the pendulum swings, and now we see a trend on campuses, where we have a number of cafes, seeking to create spaces where students can connect and build relationships. Huh, whodathunk we would need those places? Isn’t everyone demanding more work from home? Aren’t there more ways for us to communicate with each other than ever before?

Then why are we so bad at it?

We have had to adapt our training back to basics like “smile and say good morning”. Because so many of us were robbed of personal interaction and socialization, we now need to be “trained” to provide the most basic hospitality because it doesn’t always come naturally any more. We talk about the mental health crisis, but in too many cases, don’t put in the one-on-one time people actually need.

That’s right- I said it, they need it, and so do I.

Like oxygen, food and a good sitcom now and again. (And maybe a really good cup of coffee, but that might seem self-serving) can we really be “rediscovering” the need for social interaction with friends family and co-workers? Did that change that much, or did we just convince ourselves that it did? Can a new social contract emerge where we start as companies, taking care of our employees like they matter, and can we as workers put in a good days work?

Here’s the thing, you can’t stop or prevent change. You can ignore it, delay it, but it’s happening whether you embrace it or not. The way you can deal with the inevitable is to never stop learning yourself, and maybe it will help open your eyes to change being an opportunity, not a road block.

I was given a bit of advice from the first chef I ever worked for over 39 years ago. He said “Everyone here, from the dishwashers, busboys, front of the house, and back of the house staff, know something you don’t. Learn what it is, and incorporate it into what you do. That’s how you get better” I have always tried to remember that as I have traveled on my journey. I know a lot, but I DON’T know a whole lot more, and there are folks out there that can teach me; someone has the answer, even if I don’t. (And Pssst, you don’t know who that may be, so be open no matter where the idea comes from.) I have learned (Slowly- this took time) to try to not react initially with what “I” know to be true. Because I may just be wrong.(shocker!)

One of the other things I was taught was to try, even if you think the odds aren’t great, and you may not succeed; it is totally fine to fail. I have embraced that sometimes I get knocked down, but I always get up.

I read a blog on this page from Brittany Joy Fountain called “do it anyway” and that kind of sums it up for me. (If you haven’t read it yet, go do so.) She does a better job that I could of explaining why, even when you feel uncomfortable, you will be better off for having done it anyway.

All you have to change is your mindset, and things get a whole lot easier to flow; because you will be flowing, you won’t get so tired swimming against. When I first became CEO of this company, I was the anti-networking guy. I just thought all folks wanted to do was sell me something, and if I was interested, I would call them. I have learned how amazingly wrong I was. It’s one of the BEST things about being in business; it’s the best part of my business because even just meeting with guests, co-workers, associates, or folks who’s businesses have nothing to do with mine just might lead to the next amazing idea. The phrase that keeps ringing out to me when it comes to networking is “You never know” where it might lead. The good news is- you don’t have to know. You just have to be open to learn.


Steve Schnitzler has been CEO of Port City Java since 2008 and has been with the company for over 26 years. Prior to entering the coffee industry, Steve graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with Honors in 1989, and worked as an Executive Chef for a little over 8 years, including being the opening Chef for The Front St Brewery in 1995.

Steve has been a guest lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, NC State University, NC Wesleyan, UNC Chapel Hill and Cape Fear Community College. He has also been a Keynote Speaker for UNCW’s Coastal Entrepreneurial Council annual awards banquet. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Full Belly Project as well as the board of Wilmington Health Access for Teens, and Carousel Child Advocacy Center. In 2010 he was recognized as one of the New Hanover County Volunteers of the Year by the
Cape Fear Volunteer Center, and received the NC Governors award for Volunteerism in the Corporate Volunteer Category.

He has recently celebrated his 32nd wedding anniversary with his wife Lisa, a retired and now un-retired teacher of over 30 years. He is the proud dad to two grown daughters (GO PACK and GDTBATH!)