Cioffredi & Associates and Lucky’s Coffee Garage

Both Cioffredi & Associates and Lucky’s Coffee Garage give generously – in time and money – to local community organizations. However, if there’s one thing that unites these two companies in our first “Business as a Force for Good” segment, it’s the way they care for and invest in their teams of employees. Whatever’s on the menu – whether it’s coffee or physical therapy and wellness – the values and cultures developed within their respective businesses ripple outward, making a positive impact on the communities they serve.

Cioffredi & Associates

When Billy Cioffredi got his start in physical therapy more than four decades ago, the idea of being a “good boss” wasn’t exactly on his radar.

“From the start it was the people element that attracted me,” he says, explaining how he most highly valued the one-on-one connections he was making with the individuals served by his work. But as businesses grow, so do managerial responsibilities. After overcoming some struggles early on in his career, he now recognizes the importance of having someone whose job it is to invest in a team and to empower them to be their best, so they in turn are able to do more good for the community – and that investment is now paying off.

Kate Leiser, PT, with patient Becky Ackerman

Cioffredi initially worked at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital before forming a small private practice – one that grew quickly. Back then, he wasn’t equipped with the proper training to succeed on his own, and he found himself fulfilling a sort of “negative stereotype” of a businessman, he says. He remembers finding himself “busier and busier,” not working with patients but with the “headaches” inherent in managing his burgeoning workforce. At a certain point, Cioffredi says, he “had to make a decision…to learn to master this stuff or get out of it.” He chose the former and invested time and energy in executive training.

These days, Cioffredi mainly views his job as being a resource to help his team “shine” and to “be the best that they can be.” As gratifying as the one-on-one experience is – and he continues to engage with clients that way – putting in that managerial effort has been worth it: “as a group, we can do more good for more people,” he says.

Part of this commitment toward empowering his team of coworkers can be seen in the amount of professional development that takes place within and around the practice. Central to that development is Kate Leiser, Cioffredi & Associates’ clinical director. With a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and years of teaching in a university setting, what sets Leiser apart is her experience as an educator.

“Whenever we bring somebody on board,” she says – regardless of whether they’re more novice or well-seasoned in the profession – “they’re working with me one-on-one weekly to develop skills and problem solving.” In addition to monthly mentoring and time set aside for building team relationships, the practice also serves as a clinical site for physical therapy doctoral students and a residency site for post-doctorate physical therapists. It even provides internship opportunities for undergraduate students who have interest in joining the field.

From a more cynical perspective, these kinds of investments could be considered a risk: workers have a lot of power in today’s economy, so empowering them even further could lead them to set out on their own, as Cioffredi himself once did. But he and his colleagues don’t see it that way.

Burnout is a problem in the American workforce today, and the field of patient care is no exception, with many practices short-staffed and experiencing the kind of rapid turnover often referred to as “churn.” Rather than being a risk, Leiser sees ongoing education as a kind of antidote: the guided mentorship, professional collaboration, and a sense of shared values are all important aspects of the culture that helps the practice to train and retain its highly-skilled staff. There’s also a sense that even if team members leave the practice, there’s still a benefit being made to a wider community. “The investment in them really helps them to better help our patients and our community,” Leiser says.

These lines of thinking hint at a kind of “virtuous cycle,” where having a business that invests in its team and the surrounding community attracts potential team members with what Matt Goodell – Cioffredi & Associates’ director of marketing and public relations – calls a “base of shared values.” “Everybody goes about things a different way, but if there’s a situation where we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on something, we can come back to those values and, because we have this mutual respect for each other…we can come to some sort of resolution,” Goodell adds.

When it comes to the values that his practice espouses, Billy Cioffredi sums it up well: “For many people,” he says, “‘business’ has got a bit of a negative connotation that, in order to be successful, you have to be doing something a bit underhanded, or short-changing somebody… and it I think it’s quite the opposite. I think that the highly successful organizations are the ones that just really know how to get the most out of the people that they have…people that are thriving on feeling like, ‘I’m really doing good. I’m personally doing good, and I’m helping the whole organization do good.’”

Lucky’s Coffee Garage

Lucky’s Coffee Garage is a relatively new addition to Lebanon; nevertheless, in the roughly five years since it opened, it’s gathered a devoted following, weathered a global pandemic, and, of course, served plenty of great coffee, all while taking good care of its workers and giving tens of thousands of dollars to community organizations. At the heart of their success is the idea of “showing up” – not just for work, but for each other and for the community.

Back row: Christian, Jac, Camille, Izzy. Front row: Hayden, Gavin

After returning to the Upper Valley from a decade on the West Coast, owner Deb Shinnlinger noticed a lack of specialty coffee shops that had a “community feeling” – ones that served coffee, but also served as local community hubs. She resolved that if no one else had stepped in by the time her children were in high school, she would take on the task herself. When the time came and no one else had, in her words, “filled the void,” she started looking for a location. The way she tells it, it was as though the stars had aligned: after lucking into a lease on the old Gulf station (the building hadn’t even hit the real estate market yet) and assembling a team of old friends and new experts (their first “coffee expert” walked in as they were renovating the space and almost hired himself into the position), Lucky’s sold its first cup of coffee in December of 2017.

From that moment on, it was clear that Shinnlinger hadn’t been the only one feeling the absence of a community-centered coffee shop, and the business took off almost immediately. “It’s really been a lesson in how to scale up,” she says. They started with four or five people working part-time hours; today, Lucky’s team has fifteen or sixteen members, most of them full-time. That’s despite the pandemic and the widely-reported labor shortages, both of which have been especially difficult challenges for customer-facing businesses.

A random day in November when the crew matched in a fall color palette. Izzy, Alex, Autumn, Gavin, Hayden

According to Gavin Fischer, Lucky’s general manager, Shinnlinger’s dedication is why the coffee shop has thrived over the years and through challenging times. One of the reasons Lucky’s has continually been recognized as a center for community in Lebanon is because Shinnlinger consistently puts her team first, Fischer says.

When the Paycheck Protection Program began amidst the pandemic, Shinnlinger applied immediately, and when things got really dire, she personally coached the employees on how to apply for individual financial assistance. “People can tell we’re really well taken care of here,” Fischer says, “and that echoes out.” Shinnlinger herself sees it more as a matter of the culture and values held by the whole team. But, she admits, “we do make a lot of decisions based on what’s best for the crew, more than what’s best for the business.”

Megan (lead baker), Camille (kitchen crew), Ray (barista), Steen (a bit of everything), and Zach (kitchen crew)

And the members of that crew have a lot of say in the day-to-day operations of the business – to the point where Lucky’s could be described as an almost radically team-driven workplace. Christian Berkey, Lucky’s kitchen manager, says that even what’s on the menu can depend on what individual team members want to be making. He remembers a time when the kitchen staff no longer wanted to make a certain kind of sandwich. Rather than overriding the staff, they not only took it off the menu but asked what the staff would rather be cooking. Soup being the resounding answer, Berkey replied: “We’re going to make a soup, and we’ll sell soup.” Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “It didn’t dip the sales.”

Lucky’s care for their employees also travels up the supply chain. They take great care to purchase coffee from roasters who are transparent about where they get their beans and whether they’ve paid a fair price for them. “We don’t have the cheapest cup of coffee around,” Fischer says, “because we’re trying to make the supply chain pay for itself…so that small-scale farmers get a just price for their product.” In an industry that involves a lot of worker exploitation, it’s a small price to pay. “We’re not the cheapest cup of coffee,” Berkey agrees, “but we’re not that far off.”

Deb Shinnlinger, Emily, Izzy, Lindsey, Jessica, Catherine

What seems clear is that, for the people behind Lucky’s Coffee Garage, the care they put into their community is reflected back in the way the wider Lebanon community has embraced the local coffee shop. When it comes down to it, Shinnlinger says, “Our job is to make the most excellent product and show up for the people that we’re serving…It’s this beautiful circle that happens: if you’re here for us, we’re here for you.”