Here we return to our series The Monkey Loooves – stories about some of our favourite places in Berlin doing things their own way.
Last week we met with Steve Morris at R/D, the coffee shop and bar on Chauseestrasse of which he is manager and co-owner. While specialty coffee and craft beer are hardly revolutionary in Berlin right now, what makes it interesting to talk to Steve is that it’s clear there’s more behind his thinking than just operating a place to get a drink.
Steve started out working at sister cafe OSLO in 2014 after interviewing Kristian Moldskred – the owner – for his coffee blog. Aside from realizing that he had found another music fanatic in Kristian, he was drawn to the way he talked about running a company in a way that Steve had never come across before.
After Kristian was offered the chance to open a cafe at the Nordic Embassies in Berlin, Steve took over management of OSLO. Eventually Kristian returned to Norway to open another cafe, and Steve took over operational management of the two Berlin venues.
“I used to be an angsty bass player. At one point I realized that going into business didn’t have to equate to a purely capitalist exercise. Of course I want to be financially stable but I can only feel comfortable with that if I can make things stable for others too. I guess in that regard I still do stick to my rock n roll anti-capitalist mind set!” Steve says. “It would be magical if this funny little coffee game could turn into my career.”
Across the three venues they are fortunate to have very committed employees. That’s not just down to luck and so we asked Steve why he thinks that is. “Because we treat people well and we don’t really have any rules except turn up to work on time and be nice.”
“People appreciate that room to breathe – if they want to go on tour with their band, they should do that. If they’re super keen to further their knowledge of coffee, maybe we can facilitate that. I’m a musician and my passions are music and coffee. I know what it feels like when there’s a time when you need to focus on music.” Steve dislikes owners and managers who automatically resort to ruling with an iron fist. “It’s good to appreciate that we’re all essentially the same and we’d all like to be treated like family.” At R/D and the other cafe bars, they pay above minimum wage. “Paying the minimum wage says that we expect the minimum in return. We ask more – that the staff should be personable. They give it their all and customers soak up the vibe.”
The guys from Silicon Allee – a start up community and a name synonymous with that world in Berlin – were regulars of OSLO and approached Steve and Kristian about opening a cafe / bar in their new space. Both parties had the same desire and focus – quality product, a fair work place, an association with music and for it to have a different identity to OSLO. Steve felt that as long as the opportunity was coming from people who shared the same vision, then it shouldn’t be turned down.
“We would bring what we know about coffee and service and they would bring what they know about tech.” So R/D has very fast internet and technology is embraced for everyday operations. With Steve and Kristian being music geeks and the Silicon Allee guys being tech geeks, Steve says it made sense to invest in an ultra high end sound system too! (Naim HiFi system and Focal speakers).
Steve’s wish is to have an ever evolving music program at R/D. They won’t charge an entrance fee, but rather establish it as a place where people can walk in and discover somebody playing records.
Equal care is taken on the beverage side of things. R/D works with 32Cup – coffee merchants and purveyors of sourcing beans which are paid for fairly. Steve is confident that with this company there is no exploitation and “no weak link where people’s work is undervalued”. Justin Miles does all the roasting exclusively for R/D and OSLO. The quality of the beans they receive is very high and Justin and Steve have a clear idea of what sort of coffee they want to sell – “something familiar yet pleasantly surprising” says Steve.
Beer is just as important as coffee at R/D. Hops are grown locally and so for Steve it makes sense to source mostly locally produced beers. Of course quality is also a crucial factor, but Steve says he finds the two usually go hand in hand. They order beer from ‘Gypsy brewers’ – individuals who hire brewing facilities for short periods to produce their own beer. Steve says the small size of these projects is reflected in how much time and energy the brewers invest. “They’re really good at creating a story. You can really tell that this person gave a shit!”
Officially, R/D is the abbreviation of Razzle Dazzle – meaning both something flashy and theatrical, but also a term used to refer to a type of black and white camouflage (which you can spot on some of the signage in the cafe / bar).
Steve and Kristian have an eye for Norwegian design, and “find it hard to look past wood”. However they didn’t want the room to be overtly ‘Norwegian’. An obsession with Blade Runner and a fascination with Japanese architecture and design (“it inspires focus”, says Steve) led to them trying to create a garden atmosphere within the space. “The Japanese take great care with aesthetics but there’s always serious thought about it’s functionality and how the design should enhance the activities which take place in the environment.”
Steve appears to be always looking at how R/D as a business and a place of work can constantly evolve and reinvent. He admits this makes it hard to always make a profit, but, he says “If everyone is doing a good job, getting paid and there’s a positive future in sight for the business, then that’s great isn’t it?”