September 16, 2020

Coffee with Casey Wojtalewicz

The Co-Founder of Canyon Coffee + freelance writer and poet, shares what it’s like to run and operate an essential business in Los Angeles during a pandemic.

Casey guitar

Because Canyon is an essential business as a food producer, what has it been like actively being at your roaster/office during this time?

It was surreal in the beginning, to say the least. If you’ve ever experienced working late at night or very early in the morning, it felt similar to that, only, ominous. Even to comprehend that we were considered an “essential business” was strange to acknowledge. While there was a small element of disbelief, we also felt a deep gratitude to be able to continue working and keep our business going. Within a few days, we also realized how important it was for small businesses like ours to continue operating—when possible—because entire supply chains depend on it.

On the personal level, we reconfigured our roasting and production system to minimize contact between our small team, so that if anyone contracted the virus it wouldn’t jeopardize our entire operation. For me, this meant a lot of days working alone in our office, boxing up and shipping out coffee! I drank a lot of coffee and mostly listened to Bill Evans Trio every day.

 

How does it feel knowing Canyon is providing many people a ritual/piece of normalcy during this time?

It’s honestly the greatest feeling, and it makes our day every time we hear from someone that we’re adding something special to their mornings. Sharing that joy of the ritual has always been an impetus for what we do, but these days it’s become an even greater motivator. It’s become clear that these seemingly simple things can really make a difference in our daily lives. Hearing from people who say making their coffee is like a bright spot to start every day, doctors who bring Canyon Instant to share at the hospital as a pick-me-up treat, people setting up subscriptions for their moms, dads, sons, daughters. It feels good to be facilitating those kinds of moments.

 Casey side by side

 

You and your partner Ally co-founded Canyon together. We imagine you spend a lot of time together and regularly both as business/life partners. Has this experience changed that for you or taught you any new things about each other?

Oh yeah. We’re together ALL the time! I think we mostly had a grip on the business/life balance, as we’ve been building Canyon together for about four years at this point. Not that that balance doesn’t require checking in and evolving, but we’d already established some precedents. We’d learned the importance of getting alone time, established ON/OFF hours for work, and had clearly established lanes within our business. We have different work styles and different times of the day when we feel most productive, so we work separately for the most part (during quarantine, I usually work alone from the office, Ally usually works from home). We also always have our morning coffee together, and make dinner together every night, so we have these non-work rituals to anchor the start and end of our days.

There certainly have been changes, most noticeably that we get out of town way less. But I think we’ve both compensated for that exploratory time by devouring books.

 

How do you stay inspired as a writer during this time? Any special spots you frequent to write or unique practices you’ve picked up to keep inspiration flowing?

I’ve come to believe that we operate in cycles. There are times in the cycle when we feel inspired, times where we’re motivated to write, to create, and times where we’re not. While I dream of a day when I can do nothing but write, and experiment with different routines to keep a daily practice, I also believe that obstacles to creativity are part of the nature of creativity itself. That even in that idyllic state, of having no agenda but to write, one will (perhaps obviously) still encounter obstacles. So I accept the obstacles. For me, the obstacles these days have to do with creating the time and space outside of work. But I also acknowledge that, for all artists, our lived experience outside of creating is what informs the art. So even when we’re not creating, we’re always subconsciously gathering.

A more simple answer is that I feel most inspired to write after reading writers I love. Vonnegut, Tom Robbins. I’ve really been inspired by Jia Tolentino lately—her book, her articles, her interviews.

 Lex and Ally

 

The end of day wind-down is important to us. What does that look like for you?

It is certainly important, though that’s something it took me awhile to acknowledge! I usually wrap up my work day with a quick review and checking off of everything I accomplished, and a quick assessment of what will be the top priority the next morning. I close the computer, drive home (if I’m at the office), and do something to relax for even a few minutes. I typically meditate in the afternoons, but if I missed it, I’ll do that first thing when I’m home. Otherwise, I’ll read an article from one of our magazines, maybe have a glass of wine, or literally just sit outside on our patio and listen. Then we cook dinner.

Another thing I always recommend, if your schedule allows, is to take a break from work in the afternoon if that’s typically when you’re in your “low energy” trough. We all have a pattern to our circadian rhythms, and if your low energy point falls within the work day, it’s really a better use of your time to take a walk, a nap, or tune out than to try muscling through with work. You’re simply not going to be as productive during that time.

 Casey side by side - back

 

Anything you’re reading or watching that we need to add to our list?

For watching, I highly recommend 13th on Netflix. We’ve also been very into I May Destroy You, and Babylon Berlin. If you watch the latter, make sure to watch in German with English translation!

For reading, I enjoyed The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer earlier this year, which gives a detailed timeline of US policies and subsequent effects on Native American communities from the time of the Wounded Knee massacre to present day. It really helped to fill in a gap of history, which typically “ends” with Wounded Knee in secondary American history classes.

On the subject, I also have to recommend one of my favorite novels, The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden, which is set in the Great Lakes region in the early 1600s and follows a Huron warrior, a young Iroqouis girl, and a French Jesuit missionary.

I also can’t recommend The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin enough. It’s short and critical reading. I’ve also been enjoying The Fire This Time, which features poems and essays on race by contemporary voices.

Aside from that, some favorites from this year are Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino and How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. And I’m always making my way through the latest New Yorker and The Atlantic, and also subscribe to Truthout and Democray Now!