Letting Go of the Wheel
Richmond is a town built on contradiction. We find scrappy college kids interacting with the city elite at Carytown Brasseries, NASCAR fans and Hip Hop fans sitting beside each other on community boards and in the case of this article, a business success story hiding under our noses in the form of an edgy, indie college coffee house.
I recently invited a stalwart of the Richmond coffee scene to share a drink and some conversation at Joe’s Inn in the Fan. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect from the meeting but I’ve wanted to profile the great indie coffee pros in town because I feel they get short shrift in a world of Starbucks Frappuccinos and McCafe’s. The two hours I spent across a booth table from Jeff Kroll, owner of Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream Morris Street gave me nothing short of pure inspiration.
Today, Jeff Kroll is a fit, happy and wildly energetic gay man standing ably and confidently at the helm of one of Richmond’s most tenured and beloved coffee houses. With one of the most poorly formed questions I’ve ever conceived I asked Jeff to tell me just where he came from, how he got here and where he wants to go as a businessman, a recently open member of the gay community and as a person in general. See? What a wretchedly vague question. Jeff, relatively un-phased, took it from the top.
As is so often the case, Jeff Kroll’s life changing journey began over a beer with good friends. After a successful but unfulfilling career with Capital One where they originally befriended Jeff, Will Herring and Olivia Patrick founded the now beloved Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream on Forest Hill Avenue—a concept that was well ahead of its time for Richmond in 2002 offering locally roasted Rostov’s Coffee and Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream in an edgy, hip environment. The business began by reclaiming a run-down service station and ended up reclaiming a neighborhood. Fast forward a few years to 2007 where Jeff finds himself across a table from friends Will and Olivia talking up the notion of growing the Crossroads concept to a second location; the course of events from that point forward, by his own account, flooded in like a summer romance.
Diving in head first, Jeff walked away from his lucrative career with Capital One to begin working for Crossroads to learn the ropes while searching for the perfect second location to call his own; enter the owner of World Cup on Morris Street who looked Will Herring in the eye from across the counter and said, “I’d like a sausage, egg and cheese—would you like to buy my shop?” That conversation took place in March 2007; they bought the space in April and opened in May.
Letting Go of the Wheel
After an hour of conversation and a second drink with Jeff Kroll I started to notice a recurring theme: letting go of the wheel. The trend started with walking away from the financial stability of a cushy job in the banking sector for a coffee house gig; but it came to its full fruition in the early days of Crossroads Morris Street. According to Kroll, he tried desperately to recreate the unique Crossroads Forest Hill vibe in his new VCU digs, but he soon found that vibe wasn’t something served up like a skim, no foam latte; it was the creation of folks like you and me walking through the door every morning for our muffin and coffee fix. With this realization Jeff put his hands in the air, let his customers and staff show him what they wanted their coffee house to be, and set about the task of pulling it all together in a space that is, as he puts it, “for people: their wants, tastes and desires.”
As anyone who has been to Crossroads Morris Street knows, the hands off approach not only works, it works exceptionally well. Naturally, the positive momentum of his shop’s success began to spill over into his personal life. This is where Jeff’s eyes truly began to light up. Prior to Crossroads Morris Street, Jeff was unhappy, or at least not himself. Letting go of the wheel worked so well as a business model, he decided to try it out as a model for his life. Jeff began by embracing his sexuality, though he jokingly states that “coming out is a young man’s sport,” not one for a man in his, well, we’ll let you decide. Platitudes aside, if coming out is a sport, then Jeff is a nimble athlete. In a relatively short period of time, he transformed himself from the coffee shop guy with witty tee-shirts to an athletic, attractive, charismatic business man out to live a full life through success and simple happiness. Don’t mistake this transformation for superficial change; Jeff is a walking, talking loud-speaker for the “good-life”, meaning the life we all hope to lead; the one that makes us happy.
What is Next?
My fondest memory of this interview was hearing Jeff talk about what he saw for his future. Here we have a man who, over the course of a few short years, has built a wildly successful business, transformed his life, body and general philosophy to create a happy, balanced human to present to the world. Most of us would stop at this point and relish in the fact that we accomplished the difficult task of figuring ourselves out. Jeff has far greater aspirations; he hopes to use his journey to inspire anyone who might find themselves asking the same questions he did so few years ago. Jeff has so much to offer to so many different types of people.
I feel the definition of true inspiration is the ability to transcend cultural or social definition. While it is true that he is a businessman who happens to be gay and has transformed himself into a fit, successful and socially active member of the community, Jeff is simply a person honestly in love with life. There are no more apt words than his own: “It isn’t scary; I’m surrounded by my people. I’m happy I’m allowed to create such an environment.”
Thinking again on the contradiction of Richmond, Jeff’s story could be called a story of contradiction but I feel we’d do him a disservice in that light. Jeff’s story is not a contradictory one; instead it is an inspiring one. This is the story of a person who opens his eyes and arms to anyone willing to do the same. The polarized sides of our culture’s greatest social arguments would do well to take a page from this man’s life and see what success we all can share beyond the argument of opinion, fear and bias.
In a bitter sweet turn of events, the Crossroads Coffee and Tea located near VCU’s Monroe Park Campus has shut its doors and Fan-area favorite Lamplight Roasting Company will move in its place in February. Not much is known beyond these few details, a message posted on Crossroads’ door is about all any local media [...]December 16, 2013
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