Explaining my insane obsession with Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters (1/n)
It took me 3 days to articulate this post. It was extremely difficult to write about Corridor Seven as this is a brand for which any amount of words put together in the most fashionable of ways can never do justice. My friends know that I am heavily biased towards this brand. Well, I do have a dedicated highlight reserved for Corridor Seven if that means something.
Cut to 2017. Mithilesh Vazalwar wins the first India Aeropress Championship. He comes back home and decides to start an educated concept on the third wave of coffee. Lo and behold, Corridor Seven Coffee Roasters.
While this was just an idea, he chose to organise coffee brewing workshops to get a sense of the coffee scene in the city. I'm sure he was disappointed with the response he got. Because this city was Nagpur. But he had a vision in mind. He needed to build a roastery as an experience center. And Nagpur seemed perfect considering the logistical issues involved. Plus, he had a set of great friends by his side to support him in this crazy/almost impossible/this-won't-work-in-Nagpur idea.
Cut to my obsession (If you're interested in making a biopic on me, this is my origin story. Just in case). My coffee journey began when I attended Mithilesh's 2nd coffee workshop. I was too bored with life at the time and spent most evenings exploring different life skills. Coffee seemed apt as well given my dependency on caffeine to keep me motivated in work and life. Little did I know what was in store for me in the workshop. Crappy beans. Yes. Crappy beans. Mithilesh gave a presentation on the coffee industry, his journey and what specialty coffee meant. The point which captured my attention was how the commodity coffee industry worked. He shared images of the coffee that was traded regularly, and the several defects it had including fungus, rotten masses and things which are definitely not coffee. I had a flashback of all those cups of instant coffee that I'd devoured on the pretext of a caffeine kick and the amount of crap I had consumed as a result. I had to change. Change for the good. And then Mithilesh ended the workshop with a simple package of ground specialty beans. A window into the future.
Mithilesh told us at the workshop that he would keep us posted about his progress with the experience center. He also promised a discount coupon (which is why I think I stayed in touch with him, because oh god, specialty coffee is expensive for a newbie). It took him a while after that but a mail from him updating us about the roaster and his excitement was something. It probably meant nothing to anybody at the time. But it sure was Mithilesh's biggest day when the Probat roaster arrived. An even bigger achievement was getting it installed after a multitude of challenges. In a way, it was painting a picture that made sense after it was complete. What he had pulled off was something that nobody in their right minds would have dared to attempt.
Cut to 2018. Corridor Seven is picking up steam. They have a brilliant set of people behind the brand, working tirelessly. Obsessively. Karan Morey, a school friend, lies at the heart of this initiation that I had with Corridor Seven. He was the one who invited me to the roastery and introduced me to a whole new realm of coffees. I remember spending afternoons at the roastery in the sweltering heat, desperately trying to adjust the fins of the AC using an Aerobie, and running weird experiments on how different coffees performs with grind size, temperature, sprite, salt, fried wontons from Nanking and what not. Everything was haywire. Mithilesh was the only guy who was trying to make some sense of the situation. But I am sure that he was just trusting his gut with whatever form and shape his venture was taking. In all this chaos, a cafe was being planned to complement the roastery. And then in July, they opened their doors to the world.
Now, you might be wondering why am I so obsessed with Corridor Seven. The reason is that there was an investment of time. Not mine. But Mithilesh and his team invested a lot of time to create a personal connect with me. Not just me, but this select set of individuals who then became their initial base of customers. Here, his play seems that he wanted to create a single moon in a sky of a 1000 stars. I don't assume that this was an accident. It was purposeful. It was crafty. He understood the role of influencers in a business driven heavily on social status based consumption. Coffee has the connotation which enables virtue signaling and Corridor Seven needed to cultivate that initial critical mass to be able to justify its unit economics in the mid to long term. It was just a matter of time before it would all blow up. Layer this with a personalised approach from handwritten notes on coffee bags to developing a genuine connect with each and every customer. Show that you have invested in your customer. Make them feel special. And help them understand specialty coffee. This play creates a set of long-term loyal customers and on the other hand, drives a ton of aspirational customers to crave for their attention. Brilliant in theory. But the only brand I've witnessed execute it first-hand. This is the primary reason why Corridor Seven featured in 4 different case study projects I worked on at IIM Ahmedabad (drop me a message on Instagram to get these papers).
Now, you might be thinking: Is Mithilesh a marketing genius? Maybe. But is Mithilesh a coffee genius? Absolutely.
There is more to this. Soon.