Gerald Caldwell Isn’t Your Typical Boss

Posted by Monica Hoel
But this coffee shop owner has found success in doing things differently.

Gerald Caldwell owns and operates a great little coffee and book shop…but he’s not running it like “other places.”

The Coffee Shelf (Espresso, Books and More) in Chapin, South Carolina, has the look and feel of a place that bibliophiles and java fanatics love: hardwood floors, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, shelves laden with books, and comfortable seating. But spend a little time with the website, and you’ll find a few surprises.

For starters, there’s a blog. Jerry shares thoughts about running a small business and also about topics he finds interesting. There are book recommendations, book reviews, and he offers a sales outlet for local writers. He has partnered with an audio book company that supports independent booksellers.  There’s even a “Coffee Professor” section that offers up a little tutorial on all those fancy coffees we’ve come to love. “At The Coffee Shelf, we consider it our job to teach you our menu, not your job to learn it.”

You’ll notice a thread of real pride and appreciation from Jerry about the people who work with him at the store. In one of his blog posts, he says the store consistently ranks high marks in customer service even though Jerry says, “I don’t recall the last time I discussed customer service with my employees.”  He tries to create a relaxed and fun atmosphere where his employees can engage with customers. And he’s not overly officious about things like arrival time or needing a minute to run to the bank, or even being on their smart phones (“if all work is complete and no customers are present”). He gives baristas the freedom to create new concoctions for customers to try (each one named after a literary character, like, for example, The White Witch Peppermint White Mocha that harkens to The Chronicles of Narnia). “The customer experience at The Coffee Shelf is above and beyond simply because our employees love their job. We encourage them to be part of the business, and we implement their good ideas.”

Some might think that Jerry’s more relaxed approach would create a lack of order. Just the opposite appears to be true: he seems to have created a team that is willing to go above and beyond to see the coffee shop succeed. And, he says, word is out that this is a great place to work because they are asked daily about openings. “It’s okay to hold your employees to standards. It’s okay to hold them accountable when they go off course. If you do this with love and caring, you will earn their trust and loyalty. And you will gain so much more. You will gain a larger family in the process.”

Even if you can’t go by for a coffee, check out the shop’s webpage and maybe even use their Amazon portal to order your next book!

  • Gerald Caldwell (E&H Class of '90) sipping coffee at The Coffee Shelf.
    Gerald Caldwell (E&H Class of '90) sipping coffee at The Coffee Shelf.
“If you do this with love and caring, you will earn trust and loyalty.”
Gerald Caldwell
E&H Class of 1990

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