Tacoma Community College (TCC) founded in 1965, recently released “Discover TCC!”, a promotion to help prospective students learn about Tacoma Community College.
If you are hip or want to be hip, then you need to know there is another TCC, in The Town of Steilacoom more commonly known as Topside Coffee Cabin which was founded in 2014.
I admit to being the guy who gave Topside Coffee Cabin the nickname, TCC. I did so because I thought the acronym, TCC, was witty, fun, and it provides some wholesome local inside humor.
The other day I invited my pal Jimmy Howe to meet me at TCC at 10:00a sharp. At 10:20a, he called me from the campus of Tacoma Community College asking where I was.
Because I am “hip,” I was at TCC (Topside Coffee Cabin) In Steilacoom, enjoying a savory espresso and tasty pastry.
Tacoma Community College’s advertised promotion, “Discover TCC!” also applies to the TCC in Steilacoom and here is why.
Just the other day I had an espresso with John and Niki O’Reilly, owners of Topside Bar & Grill and Topside Coffee Cabin. They, along with their coffee shop manager, Stacie Gensic, have caused the original coffee shop to explode in physical size in their effort to keep up with the coffee shop’s loyal and growing clientele.
Formerly a coffee shop called Two Teaspoons occupied the space. Before that, it was the Original Steilacoom Cafe.
The owners of Two Teaspoons had new life plans causing them to want to close their coffee shop.
John O’Reilly, owner of Topside Bar & Grill, saw potential to make use of the Two Teaspoon’s space, which was conveniently located in his building. John, being a creative guy visualized an expanded business plan. His restaurant, Topside Bar & Grill, was above the Two Teaspoons. Comically one of John’s key reasons for purchasing Two Teaspoons was because he coveted the Two Teaspoons’ ice machine. According to John, a restaurateur can’t have too much ice.
With a natural view of Puget Sound, various locations in the O’Reilly complex took on thematically related names similar to those you might find on an ocean-going ship.
John and Niki’s restaurant is called Topside Bar & Grill. Why, because the restaurant is in the same position as the top side of a ship.
The coffee shop is named Topside Coffee Cabin because, on a ship, the space below the top deck is the cabin.
The banquet room is called the Quarter Deck. Incidentally, if you gather enough friends to spend $500 on food and drink before tax and tip, the Quarter Deck room rental is free. It is a great entertainment or reception venue with a breathtaking Puget Sound view, private bar, and food service capability.
So, of course, I asked, “What do you call your office”? John and Niki blushed and admitted their office is the Poop Deck.
Let’s dive into some history, and then I would love to share with you what is going on right now at TCC before what is going on right now at TCC becomes more history.
It was around July of 2014 when John and Niki purchased the coffee shop. They ran it on a status quo basis for about two years.
While working 50 hours a week in her retail career, Niki spent about 15 hours a week helping John at the Topside Bar & Grill.
In April of 2015, Niki retired from retail clothing after a 20-year career which included experience opening and managing stores, recruiting staff, along with training managers and employees.
Niki spent her first retirement summer learning how Topside Cafe operated. After gaining a good grasp of the business, she became Operations Manager.
John and Niki are a great husband and wife team because it is obvious they love and respect each other and because they communicate successfully. John came to Niki and told her he was thinking of closing the coffee shop. It was not making money. In fact, it was losing money. John had some alternative business strategies for the space.
John is the big picture idea guy. Niki is the analyze options and details gal. For example, John might suggest, it would be fun to jump out of an airplane. Niki, might suggest, “You should pack a parachute”.
Niki asked John if he would give her a couple of months to see what she might be able to do with the coffee shop to make it work for their customers and their business plan.
Niki loves coffee shops. She recognized their customers might begin to enjoy TCC if she added delightful pastries, specialty coffees and fun barista personalities where like on the TV show, Cheers, “Everyone knows your name.” TCC baristas love talking to strangers and converting them into TCC friends.
From the customer viewpoint, Niki hit a home run. Every single barista hired by Niki is first, a wonderful human being. Being wonderful is where it starts for Niki. You can have all kinds of experience and training as a barista, but if you are grouchy and hate people, Niki does not want you touching her coffee beans, and that includes decaf. Niki can teach a new barista how to make coffee, but she cannot teach a barista applicant to be naturally kind.
TCC baristas remember customer names because they like their customers, and understand the O’Reilly customer-oriented business philosophy, which I call “The O’Reilly Factor.” The O’Reilly Factor promotes the concept that upbeat, positive, and supportive human relations comes first. Coffee comes second.
Niki started working her coffee shop dream with only one barista on the bar and less than 30 customers a day. By 2016 there were times where it was standing room only. Customers asked John and Niki to expand, but there was no place for more space. Then two opportunities came knocking simultaneously at the front door and the back door.
One option would have involved moving TCC to a nearby larger location in Steilacoom. John and Niki, who do an excellent job of listening to barista staff input, learned staff did not want to leave the current location. They saw value in having Topside Coffee Cabin close to Topside Bar & Grill, their wonderful outdoor patio, and the amazing Puget Sound, island, and mountain view.
The second opportunity arose July of 2017 when the corner grocery store owner, located next to TCC announced they were leaving.
Ultimately John and Niki realized TCC was a special place for customers, employees, and owners alike. Manager Stacie Gensic told me she loves TCC because TCC creates community culture. With those thoughts in mind, John and Niki decided to take the risk and accordingly expand the O’Reilly Factor.
The original TCC was about 800 square feet. The newly expanded TCC is approximately 1800 square feet.
Before the expansion, John and Niki had one banquet room. The barn door in the coffee shop allows for three banquet rooms of varying sizes and configurations.
If you want an education, go to TCC (Tacoma Community College). If you want an education, coffee, a tasty pastry and to hang out with some of the friendliest people in town, go to TCC (Topside Coffee Cabin) in Steilacoom.
Oh this just in. Tacoma Community College recently hired a new president, Dr. Ivan Harrell. Will someone please tell Dr. Harrell there are two TCC locations. He is welcome to visit TCC in Steilacoom, but if he wants to show up for work on time his first day, he needs to avoid being confused about which TCC pays his salary.