We love sharing the journeys of women leaders and business owners. We each have so much to learn from each other. When we see another woman do something brave or inspiring, it reminds us of what’s possible. We are excited to share Julia Mayer’s story. She’s a leader, an inspiration, and her words are golden nuggets.
Hello! My name is Julia Mayer, and I am the owner and President of Dune Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara. We started our company in 2009, during (what was ) the biggest economic downturn in my lifetime.
What is the biggest lesson you have taken away from starting a small business?
There is never a perfect time, the perfect amount of pre-work, the perfect amount of funding, or the perfect moment in the market to make your dreams happen. You just start. And you do the work. In a downturn economy, you have to be scrappy and operate lean, in times of high growth you have to work fast and make quick decisions. You will never be prepared for everything, and the world doesn’t work like that. At a certain point, you just have to trust your vision for your business and do the work. Be flexible in outcomes but rigid in your mission.
When you originally started your business how long did it take from you to go from having the idea, to opening your first shop? How many coffee shops does Dune operate now?
This is hard to answer! On paper, we were laid off from our jobs (mine in finance) in May 2009, and we were open July 14, 2009- that is barely 2 months from a full career change to opening a business! But the truth is that I have always worked in coffee and I have always wanted to open my own coffee shop. I ran coffee operations for major companies and small local businesses. All the while I was learning, refining my vision, and -as it happens- I made a career change into finance and let that dream fade. When I was laid off during the financial crisis, I moved back home to Santa Barbara to live with my parents. While applying for literally any job I could, I had a friend forward me the lease for our first store. The question became: “if not now, when.” And I knew that this was my choice to try to make my dream real or to let it go for some safer option. Once I made the decision, it coalesced in weeks! We grew that one coffee shop to three stores, a bakery and a coffee roastery over the course of the past 10 years.
Why coffee? I mean we love it so we aren’t questioning you ;)
For me, coffee is a gift: it has this way of changing people’s days, bringing strangers together. The coffee shop is truly a town square! To have the immense privilege of being part of our communities days in such a way, it is the best. I love service, I love hosting people in our spaces, finding ways of surprising and delighting them. It fills me all the way up. Coffee is a magical beverage that even on the worst days, it uplifts you. It is also delicious!
How does exercise fuel your business mindset and vice versa?
Exercise, and specifically running, allows me to get out of the driver’s seat and become a passenger in my own mind. I find the first mile I am really in my head, thinking about my to do list or shoulds, but somehow the physical work takes over and I find myself noticing things, trees, yards, birds. The exercise does the work. The running resets my operating system. I then find later when I am home, problems feel more solvable, and I have energy to face the lists. Running is also a miracle to me: travelling all over the place on just my legs makes me feel like a superhero: I am beholden to no rules. This is a mindset I take to work with me everyday. “We can do anything” is one of our company’s core values, and it is created in part from the feeling of freedom that I feel when running down a mountain trail or across town.
There is another thing, running is my time. As an owner and a boss of 50+ people and a mom of 2 small children and a daughter and a wife and a sister, my time is divided up for all these people all day. My time for running or exercise could easily be sacrificed up in service to everyone else, but I have learned that taking the hour or 2 to myself means I am able to give more quality to everyone. It turns out it is the least selfish decision I can make.
What has been your proudest moment in the last few weeks?
These past few weeks have been unbelievably hard. I take my role as a leader in my community very seriously, and I am really proud of how I show up for everyone every day. In 2017 Santa Barbara had a huge wildfire followed by a tragic mudslide that forced businesses to shut down temporarily and we lost 30 lives of our neighbors. In a lot of ways, I learned what a community needs from their leaders by going through that, and I feel it is a privilege to advocate for the needs of my neighbors and employees. Stepping into my power lifts others up. I am really proud that my community depends on me and trusts me.
What are some ways people can support small businesses during this challenging time that they might not have thought of?
Small businesses are struggling. The best ways folks can show up for their small business community is by buying things from them of course, but other ways you can support your community is to fight for them. Calling your representatives is critical: our legislators need to know that small businesses matter, and need help to get through this. As I am typing this, The New York Times has just reported the SBA is out of funds, and I don’t know any small business that received any loans. This can’t be the case. We need to fight for and protect the businesses we love and rely on. And another very simple way to help us is to reach out: folks have been leaving us cards telling us how they miss us and love us: that hope lasts a long time.
What parts of life during Shelter In Place do you want to carry over to post pandemic life?
I have been in a different kind of place, I am still working and so I am out in the community all the time (under a mask and very safely of course). What I keep telling myself and my community is this: we are being called upon to hold tight to the people who are being swept away by this storm and not allow them to drown. We will survive this together or not at all. This means we all need to protect what we love and what we want to be on the other side of this pandemic: artists, small businesses, bookstores, restaurants- who are the people and places you want to make up the fabric of your community? This kind of togetherness is born only from this shared crisis. I hope that we can remember this feeling forever.
Thank you Julia. You are an inspiration and we feel so grateful to share this space with you. If you are ever in Santa Barbara, check out one of their Dune Coffee locations (you won’t be disappointed) or visit them online.