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The New Grind: Evolving from ‘Business First’ to Human First

TEMPE, Ariz. (Nov. 15, 2022) – We live in a divided country; who we vote for, who we love, and what we believe in are all topics being hurled into “right and wrong” categories with little to no room for common ground. How one must behave as an employer/employee is no stranger to this divide either. Workplace etiquette and the model employee have been up for debate since the global pandemic began in 2020. The Great Resignation, a term coined in the spring of 2021 as a record number of Americans voluntarily left their jobs, shows no sign of letting up, especially among millennials and Gen Z. While many of us have opinions on why this younger population does not “value work” like their predecessors, when asked, the number one reason these folks gave for leaving a job (despite the financial setback it would cause) was prioritizing their mental health and a lack of personal value in the workplace.

While this trend heavily affected corporate America, small businesses weren’t left out. That is why Brick Road Coffee co-owners Gabe Hagen and Jesse Shank knew when they opened their doors in Oct. 2021 that to create the safe space and sense of community they longed for, they had to start by cultivating a work environment centered around the health and happiness of their employees. For many, the global pandemic was a time to reflect on how time and energy are spent and what marks an individual will leave on their family and neighbors. This is why Hagen and Shank decided it was time to leave the corporate world and create a legacy born out of the desire to create and foster community.

One way they accomplished this was by ensuring all staff earned a living wage that allowed them to come to work and live securely without worry. They hired at $13/hr plus tips, a starting wage well above Arizona's current required minimum wage of $10.85/hr for tipped employees. And higher than most locally-owned coffee shops can afford. As 2022 ends, Hagen and Shank are again taking an opportunity to continue their mission and reinvest in their employees and as of November 1st, starting pay is $14/hr plus tips.

“We believe our business’s success is directly tied to the quality of life we provide for our employees. We are committed to ensuring the viability of our business and continuing to work toward providing a living wage to our employees.” - Gabe Hagen, Co-owner.

Most of the staff at Brick Road Coffee are Gen Z, the generation that not only wants better but isn’t afraid to ask for it. According to a recent report from Lever, 42% of Gen Zers would rather be at a company that gives them a sense of purpose than one that pays more. But the owners at Brick Road want to do both. Hagen and Shank have leaned into this by cultivating an inclusive, progressive culture that prioritizes mental health and provides a fair living wage. As an employee at their coffee shop, you are encouraged to be your authentic self, and compensation comes in the form of complete acceptance of who you are and a steady paycheck. What more could you ask for in a world where being yourself (especially in the workplace) can be intimidating?

It should go without saying that happy employees work harder, which benefits the business and positively impacts the economy. According to Forbes, thriving employees earning a livable wage spend more and give back to the community at a much higher rate than their less-than-thrilled counterparts.

Located in the heart of Tempe, on Rural Road and the U.S. 60, it’s safe to say Brick Road Coffee has become the heart and soul of the community they serve. Community is the foundation they are built on, and they have already proven that in several ways. They curated Coffee with the Candidates events where customers and neighbors can speak with local representatives and become more informed and empowered to use their voices to vote. Earlier this year, they raised over $500 for Aunt Rita’s Organization for their annual Aids Walk event to spread awareness of HIV and Aids prevention.

By setting the example that there is power in living authentically, they have allowed many others to do the same even when hatred is being hurled at them and those they love. When human reproductive freedom came under attack thanks to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they stepped up, along with the organization Arizona Reproductive Freedom, and became a hub for ballot signatures that would get an initiative for reproductive and voting rights on the ballot in Arizona in November. For nearly two weeks, they collected over 1200 signatures daily and provided forms for volunteers looking to canvass their neighborhoods to collect more signatures. According to several of their followers on social media, some residents drove over 30 miles one way to sign the petition and support the small business standing up for a person’s right to choose.

They host a monthly LGBTQ+ book club, Friend of Dorothy’s Book Club, in partnership with the Tempe Public Library. Drag Story Hour Az regularly host events in their space where a local drag performer reads an LGBTQ+ book and hosts an interactive experience that goes along with the book’s content. Their cozy cafe features an LGBTQ+ lending library featuring literature by queer authors and includes queer characters/storylines. In the hallway adjacent to the gender-neutral restrooms, one will find many LGBTQ+ resources and information on regular on-site HIV testing in partnership with the Southwest Center.

Starting a small business is no easy feat but equipped with business finance experience and a passion for making a difference, Gabe and Jesse succeeded in doing what they set out to do. Brick Road Coffee is a safe and sober space that openly welcomes the LGBTQ+ and sober/recovery communities. The support they receive from the community is given right back by investing in partnerships with other small business owners and community members.


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