Zach Tesler

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Zach Tesler

Interview by: Melissa Cabat

Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: Community, small town, rural.

Q: Why would you choose these words/images?

A: Because its a rural, small town, but theres a real sense of community, or at least theres a wide range of people coming together and getting to know each other. Coming from an urban or suburban environment, compared to other towns

"At Oberlin, theres a real sense of communityand a wide rangeof people coming together and getting to know each other."

Q:Are you from this kind of environment originally?

A: No, Im from Seattle, from the burbs, so all of this was very new for me.

Q: So what brought you here?

A: College...

Q: That makes sense. Beyond going to college here, what prompted you to open your business here as opposed to somewhere else?

A: Seattle already had a lot of coffee shops, so part of it was actually wanting to create change. I felt like doing something here would be more valuable as a service than doing it in a place like Seattle where theyre already so saturated with coffee shops. It would be more about competing to help myself succeed as opposed to actually helping the community, which was our goal. Also, I didnt feel confident that I could beat out other experienced people doing it, but if it was here, where we had community support and a niche, I thought it would be more effective.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community?

A: Well, I have two coffee shops and how I perceive them functioning in the community is maybe different from how other people see them functioning in the community. Besides having good coffee, which seems to be a necessary drug for most people to operate on a regular basis, one of our main goals was just providing a public community space because outside of the College campus, there isnt really anywhere to be, especially in the winter when its not nice outside. Here, you can sort of meet and get together without having, like, a restaurant table. That just seemed like a huge void which I was able to fill business-wise in the community, and I think thats probably one of the main functions of my coffee shops for students, professors, and the whole community. They get a place to meet and have a common ground, which helps everyone.

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner?

A: Mostly, its just trying to run our business and have business practices that are consistent with the goals of the community, and that are beneficial to the community.Rather than being onlyabout a business and development project, it becomes about the improvement of the community and being conscious of our resource usage.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions? Why?

A: Yes, its definitely a factor. Sometimes and I assume this is true for lots of businesses its not the most important factor that sort of makes or breaks your decisions, but I think that its something that we always keep in mind as far as sourcing goes. If were sourcing something, we think about how far away the items are coming from, what the process of getting it here is, what kind of resources it uses, what kind of power or water it requires. Were a business that is notorious for its energy efficiency and its disposable waste and there are all of these things we can do to help that, but it also is sometimes in direct contradiction to our success as a business, which can be difficult.

Q: As an Oberlin alum, how has the College and the community changed since you have arrived?

A: I didnt have a good sense of the town when I was a student. I dont know if a lot of students feel this way or if I was just particularly not outgoing and unaware of the community that I was a part of; I didnt really understand the community and the relationship between the College and the community until I was on the other side of it. It totally changed my perspective. I get the feeling that, business-wise at least, the town is changing constantly. There have been some dramatic changes about how things are done on a sustainability level, and how the overall goals of the town and where their power comes from and how they use their water. Its hard to tell if there are a lot of changes being made, and sometimes I feel, with the various ways Ive tried to be involved in civic stuff, that its like running into a brick wall and that theres not a lot thats changed. I dont know what it was like 10 years ago, it may very well be that its night-and-day better now than it was back then.

Q: What would you like to see change 20 years from now? What would you like to remain the same?

A: One really big thing, something Ive been working on, is bike-commuting, which is something I know is a big issue on many levels. For a place that has so much space and open land, parking has been and is perceived as a major problem and it creates traffic. Additionally, improving bike parking and adding more bike paths, and stuff like that are things that on a sustainability level and for the community would be really good. Economically, I think it would also be good for downtown and its businesses. It might also be good for the college, to add that extra level of accessibility for the students and the community. Thats one thing that it would be great to see develop more and be put into action: to find some long-term solutions regarding the number of cars and the problems with traffic, parking, and the way that those things operate within the town. As far as utilities and general resource use, I dont really know. Business-wise, Im not really sure what exactly could change. I dont know what the biggest issues are that people are striving for from the city, if there are things that are inefficient in terms of their energy usage.

Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives?

A: I dont know that Im the best person to be giving advice. I mean, I think every business is really different and just when making a decision, try to be aware of what impact your decision has. Thats all we can do. Its hard to know as much as we could or should, and probably everyone is in that same position, but its important to at least try to think about it before you make a decision: consider the impact, and thatll be a good step.

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