What can we do?

Yesterday we decided to donate 20 percent of today’s sales to the Tree of Life Synagogue Victims GoFundMe with a short post on our Instagram. We are able to donate $400 today from sales as well as a generous addition from one of our team members and a personal donation from us.


As we sat trying to figure out what to do, we decided that donating money is what we can do RIGHT NOW. Today.  It seems unsettling to say we will give money to something that can’t be righted by money because no amount can undue the tragedy. It wasn’t as if a natural disaster came and washed away some belongings that we can donate or purchase with the money, but I know nothing else to do RIGHT NOW!  I know things that I can do going forward: voting, speaking up when I am privy to hateful conversations and stopping it or reporting it, helping to do what I can to change laws. It’s also hard to go on each day as if nothing happened.  We started this business to make our corner of the world a little bit better but in reality most of what goes on is frivolous, but it does make the life that we are living more enjoyable. It feels unsettling to just wake up and pay bills and move through the day when people’s lives and the lives of their families are so affected.  There is probably an unread paper left on their kitchen table or dirty dishes in the sink because no one thought that these people wouldn't return. It wasn’t a neat exit from their home. There will be constant reminders for those who have to deal with a tragedy and it’s very unsettling to just go on and concern myself with the frivolity that is in my life.  Because all of it feels frivolous RIGHT NOW!

But I have learned from other tragedies that we have to move forward or the hate and the anger that caused this will win. We need to honor and pay tribute to these lives, but we also need to go on. We need to examine our own biases and hatreds that we may not know we have and work to remove those. We need to continue this feeling of love toward one another that we feel when struck by these tragedies and we need figure out what we can do moving forward including electing officials who can change laws.  I am a dreamer, a big big dreamer, who can imagine a lot so I tend to feel hopeless that I’m never doing enough in my mind, not living up to my full potential to be a helper. But I have realized that giving a little bit of money today is what I can do RIGHT NOW, and if I stay in that zone of doing and giving I will get to a place where the help is really big. So as we move through this and to the next few days, weeks and months, let's not lose that feeling of helping and spreading love and not allowing hateful acts to turn us into angry, hateful people. That is what we can do for the FUTURE!.

Our Strip District Location Will Close Sunday November 12th

Unfortunately we will be closing our Strip District location at 4pm Sunday November 12th.  We would like to thank all of our loyal customers and employees who have been a part of our business and have supported it since we opened on this street in 2006.

Our intention was to stay here for many years, but the building owner insisted on a substantial (40%) rent increase.  When we expressed concern that we would be unable to sustain our business at that level of rent, the building owner chose to find another local coffee business to take over this space.  This continues to be extremely disappointing to us and it has been a stressful two months as we try to figure out our next steps on such short notice.

A lot of you have asked if we have found a new location so that we could move.  We do have our eyes on another opportunity, but since we have not yet signed a lease we cannot give details at this time.  We can say however that our new location will not be in the Strip District.

Many of you are also customers of our Downtown Pittsburgh location at 225 Fifth Ave (3 PNC Plaza around the corner from PNC bank).  We hope to see you there Monday through Friday 7a-4:30p, and when we are able to announce our new location we’ll do so on our website and on social media.

Thanks again for your support over the years, and if you would like to get in touch please email us at info@21streetcoffee.com.

Yours in coffee,

Luke & Alexis Shaffer

We have to move our Strip District store

Some sad news.  Our lease at 2002 Smallman St. is up at the end of October. We had been trying to negotiate with the building owner since January as it was our intention to stay there for many years.  Unfortunately the building owner insisted on a 40% rent increase, which for a nearly 2000sf space is a lot of money.  When we explained that level of rent increase would not be sustainable for a specialty coffee business (margins are small), they stopped negotiating with us and instead started looking for a new tenant. 

We were told they received multiple offers for the space at more than double our current rent. The asking price for us to stay moved from a 40% increase to a 100% increase.  That is not something we feel comfortable doing, as we know what our business can support. We have always paid our rent (which has increased every year) and never asked for much from the building owner during our time.  We thought we had a good relationship with the building owner who assured us in 2012 that when it came time to renew he wouldn’t raise our rent much.  We agreed we were due for an increase, but what they asked for was so far above market rate that we were shocked. 

We started our business in the Strip in March of 2006, and it already survived one move due to similar circumstances.  We thought our move to 2002 Smallman would allow us to run our business in peace for many years, but it hasn’t worked out that way and it is extremely disappointing.  It took years of hard work to build up our regular customer base and we are walking away from this location very reluctantly.  We’ve asked the building owner for more time so we can execute a proper relocation. We weren’t making plans to leave when we learned they found a new tenant and we’re being kept in the dark.

To conclude we’re not sure if we’ll still be here November 1st.  Our Downtown location at 3 PNC Plaza is doing very well and will remain open.  We’re currently looking for a new space so we can move our equipment, reopen, and keep our folks working.  It may not be in the Strip.

If you have a tip on a potential new home somewhere in Pittsburgh or would like to know more, please email us at info@21streetcoffee.com.

Yours in coffee,

Luke & Alexis Shaffer

We're hiring!

We are looking to add a part-time or full-time person to our team!

The candidate does not need to have extensive experience in coffee but is…

  • very interested in coffee/tea and always learning more about it
  • both courteous and professional with customers as well as co-workers
  • a hard worker, timely, and is able to function very early in the morning
  • excited to work for a small business which often involves taking on many different roles
  • able to work weekends
  • able to work at both of our locations

If you are interested please email us! We will get you an application and then we can talk about the next steps. 

10 Years

As we celebrate this 10 year anniversary, I am re-reading my high school graduation speech and what it means to be successful.  I wanted to share a short excerpt from this speech because I feel that sometimes we all need to look at our 18 year old self or 16 year old self or 12 year old self (whatever age we actually had wisdom beyond our years, a peek into what life is really like before we were influenced by the stresses and pressures of getting and keeping a job, a house etc.). 

“Because all of us are unique, we must determine for ourselves what will give each one of us a sense of having succeeded in life.  Most of us, at this point in our lives have chosen careers for our future.  We will be nurses, teachers, engineers, mechanics, artist, secretaries (there were secretaries in the 90’s or at least it was ok to say “secretary” in the 90’s )  and the list goes on and on.   Attaining a career in a field of our choosing which provides us with financial security is a major accomplishment in life but will not necessarily guarantee our success.  Then what is success? Success is being truly happy.

Family and friends are certainly essential to the success of any individual.  Success means having caring, supportive family members, who will love us no matter what, and will always be there for us to fall back on.  They understand our faults and put up with us.  They may not always like us, but they will always love us. 

Success is also finding true friends, friends who do not like us for our material possession or status but for what is inside of us.  True friends let us cry when we need to and make us laugh so hard that our stomach hurts.  Even if we have one friend who understands us, who will always be totally honest with us, and who knows us so well that they know what we are thinking before we speak, then we will know the meaning of success.

Success also means actively trying to live life to its fullest.  It means overcoming obstacles in our lives, such as a fear.  Success could be overcoming a fear of heights by skydiving.  Or that obstacle could also be a grudge that we are holding against some person, and success might be learning to forgive that person and accept imperfections in others. 

Our success in life also will depend on our continuing to grow and encounter new experiences.  It may mean that a person, whose only interest in life has been law, suddenly realized that he has a talent to paint.  It may mean that a woman who dropped out of high school at 16 receives her college degree when she is 40. It may also mean leaving a high paying job which has grown stale to pursue a lifelong dream of opening a ski shop in Colorado (Again, the 90’s not really any coffee shops).  Success is always striving to become a better person.  It could mean that a person who has a pessimistic outlook on life attempts to change this attitude by trying to look at the brighter side of life.  It could also be that a person who is self-centered begins to think of others by giving food to the needy or volunteering at an old age home. 

The most important aspect that allows one to be successful, though, is to not take oneself too seriously.  We need to learn to put less emphasis on being on top.  If we allow ourselves to laugh at our failures and realize that every disappointment is not necessarily a crisis, we will be happier.  If we don’t dwell on our failures, then we will open ourselves to new opportunities for success.  We need to accept that not everyone is going to like us or approve of what we do.  We need to worry less about what others think of us.  We need to accept that we are unique human beings who above all must maintain our own integrity if we want to be truly successful. 

I would like to leave you with the poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson (later found out it was Bessie Stanley ) that served as the inspiration for my speech:

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.


We are on the eve of the party of our 10th year in business!  Each year as I re-read this speech, I take away a little more of how those words are so true.  By returning to that state of mind, we have turned our business into a true success. We have had rough times, we took a chance, we weathered the 2008 recession storm, and we finally are off the “I just started a business” mac’ n cheese diet.  We seem to like to cut through the brush, dig the dirt road and not take the paved road by any stretch of the imagination.    It isn’t easy but to look at our failures, the betrayals, the crazy roadblocks, and to be on the other side of that is one step toward success.  But what truly feels like we have arrived is not that we finally feel financially secure (and in a small business what I mean by that is that you no longer wake up in a cold sweat literally sweating the bills), but that we have a team current or past who totally support one another and feel like our second family.  They look at this business as if it is their own.  They care about our customers, about us, about our children, and each other.  When we first started, I wanted to be able to pay people enough so that they felt comfortable.  They could pay their bills and have fun along the way.  I wanted them to always feel good to come to work and not afraid to come to us with a problem.  I wanted them to feel empowered and that their ideas matter. I also wanted customers who came in regularly, who we got to know through the years, who met their spouse or good friend at the shop to think of our shop as a special place for them.  I don’t know if we are 100% there, because we can imagine so much more and want to do so much more, but for now we need to sit in our success.  To walk into our shop and know that our shop brings joy to many people, ourselves included.  When we finally got to the place where the business itself was our “heart” and was running smoothly as the way we had envisioned, it, there was an ease and fun to it. 

Success is when your employees gladly offer to cover a shift for their sick teammate. It’s when they smile when we come in.  For them to feel safe that we are out to help them to make money, have a comfortable job, hopefully learn something, and definitely teach us something and we’re not out to impose our way, catch them in some mistake or teach them a lesson, then I feel like I have truly succeeded.  Success is saying hi to “Bob” in the strip over the years and having him watch my puppy and kids grow up and know that he is our friend (so please leave my homeless friends alone because if you really stare into their sweet eyes you will see we are all just the same and are just a few paychecks away from not having our comfortable lives).

We have never been the cool kids.  The press often wouldn’t help us by talking about our passion that they mistook for pretension because they were too lazy to take more than a few minutes to understand. But being cool and accepted right away doesn’t pave the way to press forward to work harder to make it on our own merit.  We truly bootstrapped our business.  There were no investors.  Not until we were open over 5 years did anyone even give us a bank loan.  Peabody, our dog, had to at one point take a mortgage out on his little fluffy bed, I think ;)  Our path, our passion, and our purpose a few years ago were confusing.  But wonderful people both employees and customers found us and kept finding us and kept finding us and for that we are so thankful. 

As Napoleon Hill said:

“The greatest achievements of men, were at first, nothing but dreams of the minds of men who knew that dreams are the seedlings of all achievements. A burning desire, to be and to do, is the starting point, from which the dreamer must take off.”

Thank you all and we look forward to even better things to come!

21st Street Coffee and Tea is Hiring

We are looking to add a part time (potentially full time) person to our team.  If you are interested please email us! We will get you an application and then we can talk about the next steps. 

The candidate does not need to have extensive experience in coffee but is…

  • very interested in coffee/tea and always learning more about it (and drinking it of course)
  • both courteous and professional with customers as well as co-workers
  • a hard worker, timely, and is able to function very early in the morning
  • excited to work for a small business which often involves taking on many different roles
  • able to work at both our locations
  • must be able to work weekends!

The Worst Coffee Competition

When trying to come up with a unique event for Pittsburgh Specialty Coffee Week, we wanted to do something that would bring the local coffee community together for a good time.

This past Spring LA's Dinosaur Coffee hosted the first (to my knowledge) World's Worst Coffee Competition

This seemed like it could be a lot of fun, where anyone with an appreciation for good coffee and a sense of humor could "compete" on a level playing field.  Anyway we're going to give it a try- we've started with their basic premise but here are some rules to make things more official:

The WORST Coffee Competition

Saturday October 24th from 5-7p at 2002 Smallman St. in the Strip District

  • The drinks will be coffee (not espresso) based but if you need to steam milk you can use the espresso machine.
  • Competitors can bring any of their own brewing gear or use ours, hot water and ice will be available.  Competitors can also use our milk and coffee if needed.
  • Competitors can use any ingredient as long as it's edible/drinkable and follows good standards of food safety (they haven't put it in their own mouth, used dirty equipment etc.)
  • It's open to the public as well as coffee pros, but will limit competition to 10 people (free to enter).  Contact us to get on the list!
  • Each competitor will be given 8 minutes to complete their drink making
  • The judging of the drink will be of the following characteristics:
    • Aroma
    • Mouthfeel
    • Flavor
    • Aftertaste
    • Performance
    • Service Vessel
    • Outfit- can be creative with a costume

Anyone in attendance whether they participate or watch can enjoy complimentary small espresso shakes or cold brew that will not be the worst ever.

On the not-worst coffee front, we're doing a customer focused event during PSCW where you can get behind the bar for some hands on experience, and some great drink specials all week. 

Get behind the coffee bar!

During Pittsburgh Specialty Coffee Week we are going to allow you, our customers, to get behind the bar and get some hands on experience making coffee.  We're going to have a 30 minute window each day from the 19th-23rd.  Space will be limited so we're asking that you sign up (FREE) by emailing us from our contact form on the website.  


Downtown: Monday 10/19 and Friday 10/23; 10:30-11a (open to 2 people per day)

Strip District: Tuesday 10/20, Wednesday 10/21, and Thursday 10/22; 10:30-11a (open to up to 3 people per day)