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Hidden Gems: Meet Adam Monaghan of Succulent Coffee Roasters

Today we’d like to introduce you to Adam Monaghan.

Hi Adam, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I took a long and winding road to co-founding Succulent Coffee Roasters with my business partners in 2018…but I’m exactly where I didn’t know I wanted to be. First of all, I acknowledge the tremendous luck and privilege of my circumstances. I was born as a white male in the late 20th century United States to two hard-working, middle-class parents who provided a stable life for me and my brother. We always had a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food on the table, and access to quality education and healthcare. We never had to deal with the trials of being “othered” by society or made to feel that we didn’t belong. That allowed me to grow up in a safe space, believing that I could do anything I wanted to do. Given the difficult circumstances so many people around the world deal with, where I come from is a place of privilege. I didn’t choose it; rather I was born into it. So I have to acknowledge the role that that relative luck has played in my story. That said, I’ve always worked hard to master whatever challenge has been in front of me.

As soon as I was old enough to work, my parents made me get a job. I started bagging groceries at age 15 and haven’t stopped moving since. Whether I was bussing tables at a restaurant or substitute teaching in an elementary school, I’ve always given 100 percent. Of course, I’ve had bad days and I’ve quite a few jobs that didn’t suit me, but overall I’ve been a hard worker. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Theology from Boston College, I joined the Peace Corps and served as a volunteer for two years working with local government officials in a small, rural village in southwestern Honduras. That experience opened my eyes to the world and changed my life forever. I feel like I was able to accomplish some tangible professional achievements that positively impacted the people with whom I worked, but I always say that they taught me way more than I could ever teach them. I learned resilience, entrepreneurship, compassion, patience, and – most important, given my background – what it is like to be different. I learned to spend time with people, to listen, and to be ok with silence.

These are all skills that have served me well in the 15 years since I finished my service. After the Peace Corps, I co-founded a non-profit organization with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer. We created Project Wave of Optimism (WOO) to facilitate community-driven development in Latin American surf tourism destinations. I spent almost three years living in a small, rural fishing village on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua doing community organizing work. With a lot of help from the community members and a group of international donors, we launched the town’s first transportation service that increased access to education, healthcare, and commerce. Upon returning to the U.S. after spending five years living in Central America, I worked at a large international development consulting firm in Washington D.C., where I had the opportunity to work on a civilian-military reconstruction project to improve social and economic conditions in southern Afghanistan. It was the most logistically complex, high-stakes, and emotionally fraught professional experience I have ever had. Spending time living and working on military bases in an active combat zone in southern Afghanistan in 2010-2011, I gained tremendous respect for my Afghan colleagues as well as the U.S. and international service members with whom I worked.

After the project in Afghanistan ended, I moved to Los Angeles to earn a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. After graduating, I worked for almost five years doing a variety of project management jobs for housing developers, including land acquisition, building design coordination, securing building permits, and overseeing financing. It sounds like interesting work, but I was never truly happy doing it. It simply didn’t excite me. When I found out that a few of my friends were planning to start a coffee roasting company, I was immediately interested. I figured I could take all of the skills and experience I had acquired over the previous fifteen years and apply them to building a company around a product I love: coffee. I started helping them look for real estate for a coffee shop, I offered up my contacts from my international work to source coffee beans, and I used my finance skills to help build financial projections. Eventually, they saw how serious I was and asked me to join their team in 2018. I left my real estate job and haven’t looked back. We opened our roastery in South LA and launched our first café in Newport Beach simultaneously in May 2019. Since then, we’ve steadily grown the business to include a solid roster of wholesale clients, a direct to consumer subscription service, and we’re actively looking to open a second retail location along the Southern California coast.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I can think of countless examples of things that didn’t work out the way I thought they would. I wasn’t accepted by the Peace Corps the first time I applied, so I had to get more volunteer experience and reapply. I didn’t get into what I thought were my top choice universities for either my undergraduate or graduate degrees. When I was unhappy working in affordable housing development, I was sure I was going to be offered what I thought was my dream job at a different company, but despite many rounds of positive interviews and a great relationship with the hiring manager, the job offer never came. What makes life fun and interesting is that new challenges spring up all the time. While I think it is important to create a plan or an ideal scenario, it is equally important to allow for serendipity and accept the new circumstances when the plan falls apart. One key to entrepreneurship is having the resilience to make adjustments when your ideas don’t work. I don’t necessarily think of those circumstances as failures; they are just opportunities to learn lessons to be applied at some point in the future.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Succulent Coffee Roasters is a specialty coffee roasting company based in Southern California. We have a roastery in South L.A. that supports B2B wholesale, our direct to consumer e-commerce business, and our retail cafe in Newport Beach. We create meaningful connections with people to build thriving communities. We started Succulent Coffee Roasters knowing it could be a force for change in our industry, our community, and our world. We unite communities through cultural understanding, prioritize a sustainable supply chain, and work ethically and transparently for a just economy.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
For those of you just starting out, I think it’s important to remember a few things. Number one is to find something you love and do it. It’s a trite saying, but it’s 100 percent true. Working on something you want to be working on brings you joy. You then share that joy with those around you. When you love what you are doing, you are also more creative and you work harder.

Number two is that no matter what you do, you have to work hard and bring your “A” game every day. You’re not going to magically find what you love, and even if you do, you probably won’t be magically given an opportunity to do it. Even if you don’t like your current job, chances are you need it until you figure out your next move. And if you’re doing something, you might as well do the best you can do. You’ve got to put in the work and grind through the difficult moments, days, weeks, months, years. Also, you never know who is watching you. If you’re a hard worker and have a positive attitude, chances are good things will come your way.

Number three is to recognize serendipity and seize the moment. If you go through life on autopilot without a sense of wonder and gratitude for the world around you, you probably won’t recognize the opportunities life brings your way. And if you’re not working hard or if you have a bad attitude, you might not attract as many opportunities as you would otherwise. When opportunity does bounce your way, you’ve got to be ready to acknowledge your fear and insecurity and leap forward anyway. Don’t waste time thinking about the opportunity you missed out on when you could be on that adventure if only you knew it was calling you.

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Image Credits:

Matthew Wyman Tyler Olson Torsten Thorne

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