The last time we interviewed a venue owner on this blog, it was some 3 years ago. Since then we haven’t come across too many venues that care just as much about their artists as they do their patrons. Just read “An Open Letter to Venues that Exploit Their Musicians” and you’ll see what we mean.
Burlap & Bean (just out of Philadelphia) however, is one-of-a-kind. They’re a venue that adopts a unique business and concert model that has ultimately made it a desired concert destination for music lovers and musicians alike. We took some time to asked Tara Endicott, one of the owners, how they’ve achieved this over the years. If you own, run, or book a venue, you’ll especially love this post.
1. Can you give readers a background on Burlap and Bean? How long has it been around? Was it always a concert venue or just a coffeehouse at first? What was the vision behind it?
Burlap and Bean opened November of 2006. The vision was conceived in early Spring of 2006. Our story in short: There are 4 owners. Christi and I married brothers, Brent and Ben Endicott. Brent was unhappy in his IT position and started to talk to me about wanting to start his own business. Brent and I shared our thoughts with his brother and wife over dinner one night and asked them if they would be interested in partnering with us. Ben and Christi were working for Young Life- Lake Champion at the time. I had always wanted to own a coffee house because I spent a large chunk of my youth in them. I shared my thoughts with Brent and he was very open to the idea. Christi was super excited about the idea too saying it was a passion/dream of hers as well.
We then decided to go on a cruise together, the four of us, to brainstorm and begin business planning. None of us had ever been self employed nor did we have coffee industry backgrounds other than Christi being a trained barista who worked for Panera and Starbucks in the past. What we had was ambition, drive, work ethic, and a firm foundation of faith. We each brought our own unique vision for the company to the table and saw ourselves as 4 legs of a chair. Brent presented the idea of roasting our own coffee to cut out the middle man. Ben was passionate about the idea of Fair Trade and wanted us to import Fair Trade Certified Coffee exclusively. We also decided to get our organic certification which limited the green market for us even further but it was important to us. When it comes to pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, coffee is the third most sprayed agricultural crop in the world behind cotton and tobacco? If you drink coffee every single day, choosing to drink organic coffee should be a high priority.
Christi had all the experience and know how with regard to being a barista. She trained all of us and also designed the layout of our espresso bars. She had the vision for Burlap and Bean to expand into the wholesale world and was instrumental in getting us into Whole Foods Markets. Our coffee is currently carried in 10 Whole Food Markets as well as 25 other accounts including White Dog Cafe. I am responsible for the artistic leg of the company and had the vision for us to be a respected listening venue, hoping to fill the void that The Point left when they closed their doors.
ALWAYS include a link to a video of a live performance that best represents how you are planning to present your performance at that venue. PLEASE! I beg of you. Don’t make me go searching on You Tube
2. One of the things i love about Burlap and Bean is the fact that it is outside of Philly, yet its considered one of Philly’s best listening rooms. Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve made B&B a destination for concert-goers over the years.
Honestly, so much credit goes to everyone but me. I had zero background in this industry and learned A LOT from my mistakes and from helpful passionate music lovers who were able to point me in the right direction as I fumbled my way through the dark. Kyle Swartzwelder is a HUGE aspect of what makes us great. Kyle came along Spring of 2007 asking if we had an open mic host. We did not at the time, although we did have an open mic which was somehow managing to run itself. Don’t ask! Ha! We did not have a budget for an open mic host and we were honest with Kyle about that. He said, “if you let me run your open mic, I will run it for free.” It was a very shocking offer but we took it and that turned into Kyle volunteering his time for 2 FULL YEARS. Kyle had a full-time job in the environmental science field and somehow managed to balance all of that plus his growing role in our company. He eventually started taking over running sound for us every weekend on top of the open mic.
The happy ending to all of this is that last year we were able to bring Kyle on full-time and he was able to walk away from the industry that he was eager to get out of. Kyle’s role at Burlap and Bean allows him to work at something he is passionate about, while balancing his career as a musician as well. It is the best of both worlds for Kyle and a win-win for all of us. You would be hard pressed to find a musician or a listener that did not say “Kyle” right after you said, “Burlap and Bean”. All of that said, I do all of the booking for Burlap and Bean. I book all of the music, the art that is exhibited on our walls each month and the other various events we host such as story hours for children and fund-raisers for local non-profits. It is an all consuming job but I love it and I would not trade it for anything in the world.
Most people would say that was a terrible business decision and I would not say they were wrong to think that but I would point out that it worked for us. Our venue’s reputation and level of talent has risen dramatically over the years.
3. As someone who has played at Burlap and Bean several times, I noticed that you have a lot of respect for your musicians and your patrons. Can you talk about some of the things your room does to make shows a win/win for both the artist and the audience?
The fact that we are a sustainable coffee house and roaster affords us the luxury of a unique business model that generously pays the musicians who play here. My vision has always been to find a way to sustain us doing what we love so that we could help sustain others who are doing what they love. I am insanely passionate about the arts and about people. I feel blessed beyond measure that I have a job that surrounds me with both. Respecting and loving the artists and the audience is the easiest aspect of my job. It flows out of me from a sincere place of Joy.
With regard to operations, Burlap and Bean took a huge step in the direction of the artists when we made the decision to close the coffee bar during performances. We had already implemented a listening room policy which Kyle gets on stage and cites each week but we wanted to take it a step further. Most people would say that was a terrible business decision and I would not say they were wrong to think that but I would point out that it worked for us. Our venue’s reputation and level of talent has risen dramatically over the years along with attendance. We also feed our musicians, typically a home cooked meal by me and provide over night lodging for national touring acts. All of these little gestures add up to a whole lotta love and that love spreads far and wide and fast. We constantly get emails from musicians saying, “I heard about you from so and so” and they are writing to me from as far away as Australia! I am always happily shocked by it.
4. If you could give venue owners and bookers a tip, what would you say?
Book with your heart and your soul first, your head last.
5. If you could give artists reading this one word of advice, what would that be?
ALWAYS include a link to a video of a live performance that best represents how you are planning to present your performance at that venue. PLEASE! I beg of you. Don’t make me go searching on You Tube playing the guessing game. Do my homework for me and I will pay attention!
6. What’s next for Burlap & Bean?
The winds of change are blowing so keep your nose to the wind.