Adam Torres and Mark A. Thiede discuss starting a coffee shop after leaving the corporate world.
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Starting a successful coffee shop in the competitive coffee space is no easy task. In this episode, Adam Torres and Mark A. Thiede, Owner of Two Wrasslin’ Cats Coffee House, explore the Two Wrasslin’ Cats Coffee House story and book Mark will be launching with Mission Matters.
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Let no one be confused about the values Two Wrasslin’ Cats operates under. Thiede, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry, and is retired from a career at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, opened the cafe in May 2013 and has for four years been building that sense of community through breakfast, lunch, coffee, ice cream and conversation. “My main goal was to set up a place that would be open to the community to do their own things,” he says.
There is local art on the walls from the East Haddam Art League, the cafe sponsors a local baseball team, and Two Wrasslin’ Cats has recently begun hosting a Narcotics Anonymous meeting on Tuesday nights. “We’ve always been open to supporting the general idea of kindness,” says Thiede.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and if you’d like to apply to be a guest in the show, just head on over to mission matters.com and click on BR Guest to apply. All right, so today’s a special episode. I have Mark. Thee on the line and he is owner of two wrestling Cats Coffee House and also the the Champion for the best graphics so far on the show.
With him with that big beautiful coffee cup mark. Hey, I just wanna say welcome to the show. Thank you very much, Adam. I really appreciate the opportunity and look forward to talking with you. Oh man, mark. So as we’ve, as I’ve gotten to know you more through this interview process, and also a spoiler alert for everyone listening, mark is going to be a featured author in one of our upcoming books, which we’ll talk about that a little bit more today.
But I’ll tell you, mark, since I’ve gotten to know more about your story and how you, you know, had a, had a great career in corporate America, but decided at some point you wanted to do something a little bit different, a little bit more, Started two Rasing Cats’ Coffee House, and I’m excited to get into the journey today.
What that took the twists and turns. Opening a business is never easy, but I know people wait in line for your coffee and to come into your coffee shop. So excited to get into this, but we’ll start this episode mark. The way that we start them all with our mission matters. So Mark, we at Mission Matters, we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts.
That’s our mission. Mark, what mission matters to you? So in my taking early retirement and all, I was looking for getting the magic back in and ex in my early days of experimentation. So I decided that I would take early retirement and open up a coffee shop, but in, in, in this case, I was going to in, in intertwine.
My value system, and I was going to include things such as love, inclusion, kindness, charity, and, and bring this forward in, in a way that people would wanna come into the shop. And so the reason that Two Wrestling Cats mission matters is that today’s world is a little rough. And if I can offer folks a few minutes, a couple of hours of sitting around and enjoying themselves, And then they leave with some joy.
I feel that my mission has been accomplished. I, I love it, mark. And you fit right into our community and it’s, it’s great to have you as part of our Mission matters community of other mission-based entrepreneurs and business leaders. And I guess just to get us going, your your background, I mean, molecular biology chemistry Not coffee.
I mean, you work with Pfizer, some other big companies. Maybe tell us a little bit more about, about where you started, because I think that transition’s interesting. Oh yeah. So I started actually in graduate school in 19, in 1979 and at the University of Connecticut, I in the molecular biology program.
So anyway. I’m an old clr as I call myself to my, my customers. And that means actually, you know, I used to clone individual genes. Mm-hmm. And, and that was an art form. And nowadays, you know, if you watch any forensic file program, there’s computer programs that have everybody’s d n a in them and the ancestry program.
But I, I then I left and I post at mer. Sharpened dome labs in Pennsylvania. That was a great experience. But I moved, moved from cloning and all that to more applied research I’d used. I did pharmacology. I worked in the areas of bone biology, inflammation research. I then, I left Pfizer in 1994 after a four year stent there and went into stem cells.
And so we did actually, I, I put together the program that. Delivered the first clinically approved set of mesenchymal stem cells into patients as a safety study which was f d a approved, and that was back in the late 1990s, at which time I was traveling back and forth. To Seattle where we were working with the folks at Frederick Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and I got attracted to the coffee industry.
Mm-hmm. And I spent the next 10 de 10 years working through various acquisitions and stuff in the, in the pharmaceutical industry. And I, I left Pfizer in 2012, taking an early. And so one of the reasons why I wanted you to, you know, elaborate on, on your career is because you were, you were happy in corporate America.
I mean, you did. Well, we’ve talked before. You did well in terms of, like, you, you had satisfaction in the work you were doing. You, and you did meaningful work. But at some point you decided to make that transition to coffee, which not everybody. Kind of may understand that it first glanced, but tell us a little bit more about maybe how that, how that transition took place.
Yeah. So the transition, the seed for that was actually planted back right when I got outta grad school. Yeah. After I got outta grad school, I realized that, you know, this is a, a very interesting, and I love the creative environment, but I think I probably spent about 15 years in it. So my time with corporate America, I worked, like I say, I worked for Merck, I worked for Pfizer, I worked for serious therapeutics.
It was great. But at 45, I was sort of ready to do something different, but I had three young kids, so then I decided I had to, I just would stay, I would, I would work as hard as I could. They were very generous. I just felt that I needed to do something different. And so when the opportunity arose, I grabbed it.
Yeah. And so, you know, there’s a lot of people that have watched this now, now, and into the future, and they have, you know, great careers in corporate America as well. And they, or they, and they maybe at some point decide that, you know, they wanna do something a little bit more, whether it’s maybe open a coffee shop, but it could be opening a lot of other businesses or chasing other dreams that they’ve had.
Or maybe they, they had to put on the shelf for a bit while they were, you know, moving through. Phases in their life, what kind of things would you tell them, like with the benefit of hindsight and you kind of making that leap because that that is a. So, yes. So quite a leap. And I think that a, you really have financial considerations mm-hmm.
At all. I mean, I, I don’t make money like I did back then, but I found that money wasn’t the thing that was driving me in, in the industry. Mm-hmm. I stayed in the industry because I could make money and that I knew I could use it at a later date. So I think that’s it. I think that you have to have your priorities around your finances and, and how you’re going to use them in the later date.
And then, I, I think be ready. You have to be ready emotionally. I think that although I thought I’d be out in 15 years, I had three young kids, and you have those considerations. And I actually, in 1998, incorporated a business called Molecular foods with a, a, a lawyer neighbor of mine. And it was around science education through food products.
And it was a S corporation. We were gonna do it, but. My kids were very young, and I realized, and I think everybody thought that I was a little bit maybe premature in, in my getting out of corporate America. And so I stayed and I, I, I, I enjoyed the time. Yeah. And so now you have this idea, you may, you decide I’m going to, you know, I’m gonna launch a coffee shop.
Yeah. Where did this come about? Like, like the, like how did you actually do it? Be, or like, cuz did you know exactly where you were going? Or did, was there a little bit of searching phase there? Yeah, so that, that’s a, that’s a good question because I happened to be in, in working for Pfizer in, in Groton, Connecticut, live and living in Niantic, Connecticut, which is on the coast.
And I wanted to go to an area that had an unmet need. Mm-hmm. So I looked around a little bit and my local, like Niantic new London, those all had plenty of coffee shop. And I, I approached Economic development commissioner at in in East Hadam. And there, lo and behold, they really had a need to, had the Good Speed theater.
They didn’t have any coffee shops that could serve patrons. Wow. And they thought that it would be a really. Really good fit. So I looked around a little bit and lo and behold, and here comes one of my cats, here comes an sorry ans I, I told her that maybe she would make some kind of a cameo, but she, I knew she would, she was going to, no thanks.
And and so I found this place in east Hatham and I’ve just simply enjoyed this stay, enjoyed the community, and tried to build my business around. Now you, you were very educated in obviously your previous career to be able to do the work you did. Now, how did you get the education piece when it came to launching a coffee house?
Because you didn’t just, you know, open the doors and say, and start pouring, like there was an education side of things. Oh, yes, I did a lot of educating myself. I, I went on the internet and I found a book that said, so you wanna be a a, a coffee house owner or so, and it, and it was, you know, like a 200 page paperback.
And it gave me a sense, I went read through and I said, I can do this. Yes, I can, I can really do this. And and it wasn’t ex exhaust. Theirs was like a cookie cutter. Mm-hmm. But I, I just had the sense of what I needed to do and it gave me enough guidance. And then I just did some more reading. I, I met up with a local coffee shop owner out of old lime or lime.
And she was very helpful in equipment issues. Mm-hmm. And then I went to a coffee school out in. In Portland, Oregon on Pfizer’s dime, they, they had a, a re-skilling grant of $5,000 and I went out to the American Barista and Coffee School, Portland, Oregon in 2012. And it was at that time that I realized that.
You know, they, they had convinced me that I could probably pull this off if I had enough resources, like fi you know, really the financial resource and also, yeah, and that’s all the education, everything else has been learned on the job. Alright girl, let’s so so she knows we’re talking about her.
That’s what it is. She knows, and cats were important. Oh yeah. So you, you go to school, go to coffee school. Mm-hmm. You, you obviously are making this transition and you, you’re, you’re tooling yourself by reading, doing other things. Did you do anything on the business side of things, like, on how to actually run and operate a business?
Because I feel like many individuals, when they go out and they become entrepreneurs for the first time, they’re not always equipped with that piece. Yeah, I think that I probably could have used a little bit more. I, as could we all, by the way. Yeah. It’s not easy, it seems like There are, there are really a lot of con, fortunately, I was able to pull, pull everything together on my own.
Yeah. Cause I had some time, I had, I had a, a good year that I, I did this, so I met up with folks that could do my bookkeeping. I, I had a tax accountant. I had you know, I just actually, I, I. Come on, come on now. I had, I had enough wherewithal and I, I, I didn’t have a big enough, such a big ego that I couldn’t ask people.
Mm-hmm. I think you had to seek it out and all yeah. No tax issues. I had to get a, I had the local economic development com coordinator help me tie in with the. Connecticut public. Mm-hmm. Department of Public Health because I had a, an artesian well that had to be used as my water source, and there were a lot of issues around that.
Mm-hmm. And so there, you know, it’s really about making sure that you get out there and talk to the people and, and, and find the experts and all. Mm-hmm. And you’ll be surprised how many people will help you very easily, you know? Yeah. Very, very. I’m a big fan of that and I, and I always like to bring that out, especially when individuals are leaving corporate America and, and getting into the entrepreneurial space because even though they may have been highly educated, really, you know, in their, in their particular field, like when you move from one field to another, you’re not supposed to have it all figured out at first.
Like, especially running a business like you may have. I’ve, I’ve talked to entrepreneurs and I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs that were responsible for you. Billion dollar profit centers in these huge corporations, but when they went out and started running their own p l their own business, like it is different.
Right. It, yeah, I’m, I’m quite sure that it’s quite different. I mean, this is my, this is my first experience. I look back, you know, I think of, I think of somebody coming up to me at the end of year one and saying, Hey, congratulations. You made it through year one. And I said, well, I didn’t know that that was such a big deal that wasn’t going anywhere.
You know, that is a thing, mark, you know? And now when I tell people that I’ve made it through 10 years, yeah. It’s people like, wow. You know, and I, I say, wow. And I, I still enjoy it very much. Mm-hmm. And you not only made, you, not only made it, you’ve made a difference. You’ve made a difference in your community.
I can tell by the way, cuz I follow you on social media, on Facebook, I’ve seen the website and you really are making a difference and impact in your community and really providing a great service. And you can tell like, so even some of the things that you’re, you’re doing around inclusion, around diversity, and then around creating a.
Experience with overall with the Coffee house. So maybe let’s start with going a little bit into the main event. So two RAs than Cats Coffee House. Tell us a little bit more about the concept and and how it was launched. So again I didn’t, I was making some homemade beer and I was on the phone with my nephew and he was making beer up in North York.
I looked down and I said, you know, I wanna put a, a, a fake brewery name on this. And, and I said, how about two wrestling cats? My two kittens were on the floor wrestling, Brun, Bruno and Larry. And so they, he said that was a good name. So I put a label on the beer and never made any more beer. And there we go.
Bruno and Larry became my co-founders. Yeah. And so I decided to use the name two Raslan Katz Coffee House instead. And actually, that’s all trademarked now too. I actually got, went through all the, the paperwork and I have my certificate. And so that was the basis of it. And then when I started, I had just a.
Very basic menu. I had some coffee, I’d learned how to make coffee, drink espresso drinks from the school. And I ended up going to the lengths of making different chicken salads during the summer, my first summer. We essentially put the menu together. In motion. And then we essentially that menu has been there for about nine years now.
You know, the menu that I have hasn’t changed for nine years. Wow. And I think it’s amazing. It’s a real testament to what we do. Well, you know, people come in and ask for specials and we, you know, everything’s special. I tell ’em everything’s special. Yeah. But anyway, so then I got, I, I made my contacts about coffee.
Coffee equipment I brought in that I had to work with the folks from the planning and zoning. I had a fellow that worked out the essentially the property. I had picked up an extra acre and a quarter so I could put a parking lot in. And I just, and then I also wanted to paint the house blue.
Mm-hmm. And so that was one of the most important things I think that I, that’s decision I ever made was to make sure that I brought the colors out. And so, I have actually a little funny story and I’m actually, I’m gonna use this opportunity if I can. Can, yeah. When I was doing paint selection, I had a my wife and I went up to the Home Depot and we picked up a light blue and a lime green.
Mm-hmm. And so I wanted to think a, about using the combination, well, we put painted. The lime light of light blue and the lime green on some back slats. Mm-hmm. And the next day, Mike will call him the contractor. The major contractor says to me, mark, you don’t wanna, you don’t want to use that blue. And, and I said, I said, why?
He said, well, no contractor’s gonna come in here. And the guy that was running the big. Truck out on the parking lot. I said, yeah, yeah. You know, we’re, we’re not gonna come in here if it’s blue. And I said, wow. And so I went on and the rest of the day, and at the end of the day he comes into the house and I was living there at the time with the cast.
Mm-hmm. And he says, you know, mark, you know there’s blue. And I said, well, well, why he said, because no contractor will come in here. And I said, why is that? And he said, because they’ll think it’s a gay house. Oh, how about that? Wow. And so from that point on, I said, well, this community is not gonna drive me into making decisions based on their insecurities and their concerns.
I went to the down to the first selectmen. I talked with him and he said, yeah, you know, you have this, this sort of division and within the community and which still exists. But I said, okay, well, at least I understand it a little bit more, but. Now it’s blue, green, purple, yellow. I have, I have a green deck.
I have 11 colors on the rails. On my back deck. Yeah. I support the L G B T community and diversity. I have an anti-racism banner on the front of my building. Mm-hmm. And I think that actually was a very defining moment for me. Actually say, and I told my new staff at the time, I said, everybody’s coming in here.
Yeah. This is a prevailing sort of attitude with some people. That’s okay. Mm-hmm. They don’t. Mm-hmm. They don’t need to come. And I, and so that’s helped build where we are today. How about that? Wow. What, what a blessing and how these, how sometimes these people are putting in our lives to teach us lessons and to give us inspiration.
And sometimes you know, the right way to go. And like even to the paint selection when you’re really painting, then sometimes you just get these winks. Absolutely. My architect wanted to, well she thought, well, maybe you wanna use like a, a colonial gray. And I’m like, nah, I’m not gonna use Colonial gray. I was looking about orange maybe.
But the blue turned out to be perfect, you know, and it’s really, and people recognize it. And it’s one of these things that, you know, you could drive down the street. It’s a, it’s a busy intersection for a busy intersection in East had. And people say, I, I came in here because I had to see what this building was about, you know?
Mm-hmm. And I said, so it’d been somewhat intentional, but you know, we were gonna do these colors regardless of how people felt. And the cat theme. The cat theme, it started with the name, but then it kind of, from what I see in the pictures or, and from our conversations, it kind of took on a life of its own.
Right. Great segue into why it’s, it is really become a a cat haven. We have, I have been so blessed with the customer base that I have, that they have essentially decorated the interior of the place with cat catch. Pictures and I went from having art shows when I first opened to taking those down and putting cat pictures up because I just didn’t have enough room for, for all my cat stuff.
So now it’s a community collectives and people come in and I think they’re a little overwhelmed. I don’t notice it anymore, but, But it’s kind of fun because people take pictures from the outside, from the inside all the time, and we have quite a collection of cat stuff. And it’s been, it’s just grown organically and through the community.
And you’ve taken it a step further with the new wrestling cats lounge, right? Absolutely. Yeah. The, the staff, I just met with them this morning. I have five beautiful sibling cats, three boys, two girls, and they’re, they’re, they’ve been there since April, and they’re there for people’s enjoyment. A chance for people to get in and visit with cats if they don’t have cats.
I’ve had, you know, the cat bereavement where people have just lost their cats, so they get to go in local. Folks come in all the time and I have people come from far away that are looking to go and visit with the cats. My goal is to actually utilize the space as a support center for. People with mental disabilities, things like dementia and all, and have an outlet for people to come in with their, their relatives and all to essentially spend some time as well as I have a a, a new incoming drug recovery center and ha, that’s coming into hav ’em and I plan on you working with them to do some animal.
Mm, it’s amazing. And I know that as you said, people keep coming back and to the tune of even waiting in line. And this is a big one. So we’re out in LA so I have to bring this up cuz when I heard this I’m like, what? I can’t claim I’ve done the same. But if I was there, I’m sure I would waiting outside in the cold in line, waiting to get in the coffee house.
Like, like there’s demand for what you’re doing and for the community, you’re. I, I’m very humbled by it all. Actually, covid changed things for us a bit. You know, we went from closure inside to having some ti some people inside to now having our plexiglass down. But I maintained a, a essentially a protocol that I just want four people in the front at any given time.
Mm-hmm. It’s for their health. It makes for better also interaction with people. And people don’t feel that people are breathing down their necks, so people do wait outside. And it’s really remarkable. We had something recently that got a little too cold, so I took the sign down and people packed in and I, I tried to get people to go to the back of the room house and, and wait, wait inside.
But people were still. When it was really cold, I just recently got a, a, a review on goo on Google. It dinged me a little bit. It was a good review, but it dinged me because I didn’t, I, cuz she had to wait outside. And I explained to her in my response that, you know, it is that way. People can wait outside or they can leave.
I’m not, you know, I’m stay with my principal. I mean, you can stay there. And there’s a sign that explicitly says that we just have four inside. And some people come and there’s, you know, we don’t have anybody inside, and they will stand outside because one of the line says we’ll let you know when you can come in, because during real busy times, this is what we do.
You know? Mm-hmm. And so it’s, it’s interesting that somebody would take issue with. Because they have to stand outside. But it’s okay. I can take my licks. Hmm. Rather, that’s a great people comfortable. Hmm. It, it’s a great story. I mean, it’s a great success story and I, I love bringing these types of stories to, to our audience and it’s one of the reasons why we selected you to be a author in our upcoming book.
Just for everybody watching this and listening in just so you know. We’re not going to do a deep dive into the book today. Mm-hmm. Or what Mark will be writing and presenting. And that’s intentional because we’re, we will be bringing Mark back onto the show for part two of this interview once the book is actually live, and there’ll be links in the show notes and all that good stuff so you can pick up a copy.
But Mark, keeping it kind of high level today, again, I know we’re in editing, we’re still refining the content, but high level. Mm-hmm. What are some of the kind of things that you plan to present in the upcoming. Well, I think that a little bit of my journey is, is part of that book about some of the inspiration that I had from my parents from my experiences.
And I think I speak a little, I got this cat over here who’s going to turn, he’s, she’s gonna turn the button on, on, on the top of this thing off. And I think just again, how I used my value system to drive a, a, a business that I had no idea how it was gonna turn out. But essentially I think it’s about just, you know, staying with your, staying with your values, staying with your ideas of what could work.
Taking, making changes when you need to. Just like I did when I was an experimenter and, and moving in the right direction and all. Yeah, no, it’s great. And now I’m gonna, I’m gonna cut you off there. Pause that because we will do a full, again, full interview once the book is actually live and what, we’ll go further into it.
But for today, mark I just had first off, it’s been great having you on the show. I just have to ask what’s next? I mean, what’s next for you? What’s next for two Wrestling cats? Coffee? Well, I think that one of the things that I plan on doing is getting my calendar open active for the new Rasen Cat lounge.
Yeah. I have a plan to, in the front of the shop remove some of the clutter that I have here at the Catlett and put in a boutique. Which essentially would be shelves of cat related items and that sort of thing. Mm-hmm. I have talked to a woman about doing some sp private labeled cat food. Mm. You know, I, I’m thinking of doing that.
And also just real cat centric items, new t-shirts jewelry, maybe pictures of Anaya scis. Oh, for sure. You know, and, and just real so the front of the store will be the new Rasen cat. Boutique. And so that’s going to be sort of a project plan I’m bringing through the spring. Oh, man. That, that’s fun.
And I will say that like building the brand, it it’s, it’s the next step. I love it. And it’s gonna be fun to watch it happen. And I, I’ll, I’ll tell you my, my first. And all wishes. I can’t wait till you have a book in your hand. And I want a picture of you TAs. I want the, the book in there and the wrestling cats in the back cuz I cannot, and the, the whole, the whole house in there so I can show people and I can’t wait to post that one on, on social media.
Cause it, it’s gonna be a classic and it’s, it’s just fun. I mean, for everybody that. That is not familiar with the coffee house and this is the first time they’re being introduced to it. What’s the best way Mark that they can check it out and and obviously visit in person, but also check it out online cuz they, they have to see it.
It’s something, it’s a site. Yeah. I think the Google does a really nice job of having a compilation of. Pictures. Mm-hmm. I have an Instagram page if you wanna check in on the, the status of the, the anything that’s going on plus cats growing up in the the lounge. And my, you know my Facebook page is what I’m doing.
I’m actually redoing my web website. I have somebody that’s working on that right now, so that, that will become a, a, a little bit more interactive in all that, in the, in the future. And what’s the website addressed? To Raslan cats.com. Yeah, great. And we’ll put, and we’ll put that in the we’ll put that in the show notes so that our audience can just click on the links and head right on over and check it out again to rassling cats.com.
And speaking of two Rassling Cats and, and the audience, if this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging in an episode or connecting with the platform, we’re all about bringing on business owners entrepreneurs, executives, and hearing their stories. You know, the ups, the downs, everything in between.
And the idea. For us all to learn and grow together from that content. If that is the type of information that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to, we welcome you hit that subscribe button because we have many more mission-based individuals coming up on the line, and we don’t want you to miss a thing.
And Mark until the next time. It was a pleasure working with you today. Can’t wait till the next time I get to have you on the show. Yeah. Well, thank you very much Adam. And I wanna put out to the audience as well that I have been incredibly impressed by you, your staff and the mission matters I guess franchise a beautiful work you do and I appreciate it.
Oh, very kind. Thank you, mark.