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Meet CJ West

Today we’d like to introduce you to CJ West.

Hi CJ, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
My family moved here in the early 90s, I had a very unique opportunity to experience Austin for what it was back then, when the tallest building in the city was the One American Center. Riding my bike in the Austin fresh air is a memory that I hold very dear. My family briefly moved to Blanco, TX while I was in high school. There, I worked in a few different kitchens, washing dishes, and doing odd jobs in the back of house. In my free time, I used to attempt a bunch of BMX tricks on my bike in front of the old Real Ale Brewery on the square…sorry, not sorry, guys! I moved back to Austin in 2003 where I worked briefly in health services, answering phones and whatnot, which helped with a lot of my anxiety with verbal communication and organization. With those skills in hand, I was able to get back in the service industry, leaving the back of house and moving into the front of house. I started out at Red Lobster where I waited tables, spoke with customers, and mastered the art of helping rednecks propose to their girlfriends. Sometime later I somehow found myself on the opening staff of Uncle Billy’s Brewery and Smokehouse in 2007, which began my journey into craft beer. At that time I lived close enough that I rode my bike for everything: work, groceries, pleasure, etc. I quickly climbed the ranks at Uncle Billy’s and was able to gain some experience working in the brewery…for FREE! At the time, there used to be a small pecan grove behind Uncle Billy’s, and inside a little building there, someone would roast coffee pretty much daily. The smell of that coffee seeping into the brewery, I think, started my love for coffee. After winning a medal at Craft Brewers Conference in Chicago the wheels began turning for the brewers at Uncle Billy’s to start a new project, which I jumped in on the ground floor with. That project ended up being The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company a.k.a. The ABGB. While I was working there I started to come up with a concept of my own, something involving my love of the culture of beers, bikes, and coffee. So the original idea of Spokesman was to be a bike shop/coffee shop/beer bar. Having a place where someone could park their bike, have a shot of espresso and a pint of beer just made too much sense in my head. Long story short, after a few years of prepping, extensive research, and some help from some of the best staff I’ve known in the industry, Spokesman Coffee opened its doors in May of 2017.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Anyone who tells you that opening their own business is easy, has either done it wrong…or had everything in life handed to them on a silver platter. There were, are, and will always be daily challenges, from small details, like the positioning of tables and seats, to the larger challenges such as permits, branding, margins, etc. Don’t even get me started on the challenges we have had to face with things like, Zebra Mussels killing our water supply, winter storms shutting down the state for weeks, and little issues like a worldwide pandemic jeopardizing everything we’ve built.

The things that make it a little easier to deal with are what I’m most appreciative for. The community we’ve built around our business, the family we’ve built with our staff, and the relationships we’ve built locally with our customers and partners we work with, has made everything so much easier and valuable to me. It almost feels like we’re getting away with something.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I wear a lot of hats. Some fit me better than others.

What are your plans for the future?
As for the future, we just recently opened a second and third location during the pandemic…which was a struggle in itself. So currently, our top priority is getting the train moving at full throttle again, while simultaneously growing our brand and relationship in two new areas of Austin that may not be familiar with us. I look forward to building new relationships with new communities around Austin, and spreading the love and culture that we’ve built in South Austin.

As for big plans and future changes, you’ll just have to wait and see. We’re never content with where we are, growth is our game, but it must come naturally. Everything changes, and Spokesman is no different. We’ve learned in the last year and a half that we’re a very adaptive brand, and we plan on coming out of any situation, bigger, better, and more experienced than before. If you don’t adapt, you become boring…stagnant. You can call us whatever you want, but ‘boring’ or ‘stagnant’ are definitely not in our wheelhouse.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Personal Photo – Vaughn Luciano Credits: Mark Moore Kelly Stroda Bruce Malone Cinnamon Johnson All files have the names attached, all others belong to Spokesman

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