Krystle Rodriguez, Barista-in-Chief, Hodgepodge Coffeehouse
Krystle Rodriguez, the owner of Hodgepodge Coffeehouse, started her venture into coffee six years ago. Armed with the idea of building an inclusive, comforting space for the East Atlanta community, Krystle founded Hodgepodge within the shell of a vacant car shop that was without electricity or plumbing.
“We wanted a space that was big, airy, open, with crevices where people could get together and big tables where people could group together with well-lit, bright windows,” Krystle explained as she gestured toward the space she’s built. And though the vision of her space has manifested, it didn’t come without long days, lots of hours, and hard work.
I sat down with Krystle one afternoon, in exactly one of those crevices at Hodgepodge. As one of Atlanta’s heavy May showers poured down the windows, Krystle’s smile and contagious laugh filled our little corner as she looked proudly across her shop and gallery.
Hodgepodge is a coffeehouse and art gallery that hosts a variety of pop-ups and events. Beyond serving customers Atlanta’s local Batdorf and Bronson coffee, local artists are encouraged to display and sell their artwork in Hodgepodge’s gallery space. Finding the right spot to hold these events was the most important piece of the puzzle when Krystle set out to build Hodgepodge six years ago. The Ormewood Park community had the exact vibe she was looking for.
After a year and half of bringing the building to City of Atlanta standards, Hodgepodge opened in January of 2012. Their first espresso machine, “Connie,” now proudly sits on display next to the front counter. She was found on Craigslist and purchased from someone who hadn’t used her in three years.
“She was still dirty from the last time they used her and we just cleaned her up, got someone to come in and check on her before we opened, and we just ran with it,” Krystle laughed.
For Krystle, Connie serves as a reminder of how she built her business. “You don’t have to start with the biggest or the best,” Krystle said, “One of the nicest things about Atlanta, especially for the longevity of the business, is that it’s about the quality and not the quantity. People here can see when you’re passionate and they’re excited to grow with you in this city.”
"You don’t have to start with the biggest or the best,” Krystle said, “One of the nicest things about Atlanta, especially for the longevity of the business, is that it’s about the quality and not the quantity."
Of course, ownership in a small business doesn’t come without “ebbs and flows,” Krystle explained, but she holds true to being hopeful and optimistic. “You’ll have one month that’s amazing where everything clicks and works, and the next 30 days will be absolute hell. But once you go through that cycle enough, you know that there’s something good on the other side.”
When Hodgepodge first opened, Krystle worked 12-hour days, five to six days per week. Oftentimes, she worked shifts alone until the business began taking off. As her team grew, she found that people management was one of the more challenging parts of her job.
“Human resources is really tough,” she said, “We have a great staff, and we have really low turnover, which is surprising in the foodservice industry. It’s amazing but at the same time, [we] had to kiss a lot of frogs in the beginning to find those princes and princesses.”
“I give you everything you need to do your job well-- that’s my job-- to make sure you have the education, the equipment, and everything you need to do well. And I want you to go out there and just kill it."
So how does Krystle maintain a passionate, tightly-knit team? First, by building a culture according to the “Golden Rule.” Fostering this culture of mutual respect goes beyond her team, though, as customers experience the same warmth the team’s found amongst themselves. On top of that, Krystle empowers her employees with the same passion she has for her community. She explains her management philosophy as, “I give you everything you need to do your job well-- that’s my job-- to make sure you have the education, the equipment, and everything you need to do well. And I want you to go out there and just kill it. “
With the fast pace of the craft coffee industry, it’s imperative that Krystle and her team are able to adapt quickly. The entire process of dosing, laying, tamping, and pulling shots has changed even since Hodgepodge opened in 2012. Krystle has trained her team to adjust, pivot, and “be the calm during the storm” as the coffee culture changes.
“Coffee culture is a male-dominated industry,” she explains, “and it’s usually white male dominated. Being able to bring in who you are as a person has helped us serve a lot of people in our community that other coffee shops don’t necessarily think about.”
“Fuck it. Do it. We opened when I was 27 years old, and my mentality was that if this thing fails, I can still say I owned a business before I was 30, and I have 60 years to figure out the rest of my life. Seriously, just do it.”
Her experience growing Hodgepodge into the Atlanta staple it is today was fueled by her mindset of pushing forward no matter what ups or downs came her way. When asked what advice she’d give someone who’s thinking of starting their own business, Krystle answered without hesitation, “Fuck it. Do it. We opened when I was 27 years old, and my mentality was that if this thing fails, I can still say I owned a business before I was 30, and I have 60 years to figure out the rest of my life. Seriously, just do it.”
To learn more about Krystle, her team, or about the inclusive community behind Hodgepodge, visit them online or check out their Instagram, @hodgepodgecoffee.