Noticing Neighbors with TJ Roberts
Stepping into TJ’s Financial Services Office, he holds up one finger to show me he’s on the phone and wrapping up. I immediately hear the clinging of a puppy collar running up to me, and look down to see the sweetest little face looking back. I pull out a conference chair to lift Oppie into my lap and am impressed at how—in less than a minute—this fluorescent office space already has a warm, welcoming feeling to it.
Part of that is due to the lobby’s coffee bar set up. It’s a cheery corner with red mugs and a “help yourself” sign, but the pour-over station is a dead giveaway that there’s more coffee knowledge to this financial planner than you might think.
What’s funny about that observation is that I actually met TJ coming from the exact opposite direction. A couple of weeks prior to this interview, I went to The Roasterie in Woodside for a quiet space to work. I met TJ because he was working his barista job and was genuinely making every single person’s day that came in through the coffee shop doors. Each conversation at the counter had so much intention and thoughtfulness, that even while I sat working, I noticed more laughs and smiles in the room than I had seen out in public in a while. Things really do feel lighter when you can see the smile behind the masks. So I sat with Oppie until TJ’s phone call was done, and since this financial planning office had been a complete surprise, I was ready to see wherever the conversation could go next. Hayley:
How would you describe yourself?
I would say that I'm an entrepreneur. Hayley: Financial planning business, and a barista at The Roasterie. So entrepreneur, slash coffee expert?
TJ: I like to break it down that I'm a person who puts people first, who just happens to do business. You know, and I love coffee.
Hayley: Those are good priorities. How does that play out?
I’m always looking for ways to learn leadership and dive into the local community. One way I can do that is by being generous with my financial office space. If I hear someone needs a place to meet with a client or needs a place to have an event, I offer up my space.
I've had board meetings come in here from friends that run boards and chambers. I always tell them that if they’re getting charged for having meetings and events at a venue, please let me know because this is always available. Hayley: I bet you’ve met a lot of people! TJ: It would be hard not to meet people around here. I’ve loved being on Johnson Drive, because there’s something very unique about the neighborhood feel of our street. This area is called the Mission Business District, and it’s this little pocket of small businesses where all the owners are supportive of each other. Hayley: I love how that might not be what people expect from business. Can you please shout them out? Who do I need to know here? TJ: A couple doors down from me is Jenny, the owner of Lulu’s Boutique. She just won Best Consignment Shop in The Pitch. And then across the street from her business, is the #1 small brewery in Kansas City.
Hayley: What's it called?
Rockcreek Brewing Company. Another you need to try: KC’s best donut shop at Fluffy Fresh Donuts. They make fresh donut holes every day, which is just fire. I love Jim and his wife and all they do. Hayley: Do you have a donut recommendation? TJ: Coming from both Jim and me, their best donuts are the yellow cake with chocolate icing. You can quote me on that if you order one. Jim is in there early every day making them from scratch—they’ve been open about 35 years and he told me he still has one every morning. He saw they were my favorite too and got a good kick out of it. Hayley: This is so fun. Can I get a few more? TJ:
Let’s see. Brian’s Bakery & Eatery has great coffee. Then what goes great with that are their cookies. They have an amazing deal if you're buying cookies in bulk: one dozen for $4. Hayley: You’re kidding. TJ: I’m not kidding, I go in on that deal on Fridays! That’s when I go out to our vendors and people that bring us business to pass out cookies and say thank you.
Mack True Value is such a cornerstone business, they’ve been around for so long and the community is so loyal to them. During the home renovation boom, they kept their staff policy of loading customer’s mulch bags into their cars. Watching that kindness out of my office window gave me hope that we were going to pull through this together. My barber The Barber’s Den is also right down the street. I walk past a couple of storefronts, then take a right on Beverly. I get to see Pablo, the owner, and all the guys who work there. They’re in their twenties and thirties, all authentic dads and husbands. They put their best into everything they do, and I appreciate that. I mean, look at my hair! Hayley: Ha! Okay okay, I’m convinced! This area is a hidden gem, I’m excited to go try all these places. With all of the community support on Johnson Drive, are there any special events you’ve gotten to host in your office space? TJ: Yes, absolutely. People definitely show up to support. I hosted an event back in August for National Nonprofit Day. I got to sponsor Wesley Hamilton’s organization called Disabled But Not Really. Wesley is the gentleman in the wheelchair from Queer Eye on Netflix, he’s a really great guy and a great friend. He works with a lot of kids who are living with disabilities, and gives them self confidence and mentoring. I love what he does. Hayley: What did the event look like?
TJ: We got a charcuterie board from Ad Astra down the street. Jennie from Lulu’s Boutique is an artist, so she brought some pieces to sell and also donated 20% of her boutique sales that day to Wesley’s organization. Hayley: That’s a big percentage! TJ: Oh exactly, not 5 or 10 cents, it’s a real sizable amount. Then I also recruited Taylar Sanders, a local African-American artist to come sell her paintings. I found her on Facebook and really respect her work. It’s so beautifully made. So when I reached out, she said, “No doubt. 20 percent, I’m in.”
Then I was able to invite Kendra Scott, who provided a nationwide access code for the whole day that sent 20% of sales to Wesley’s organization. Plus, they came in and did a pop up shop here with us.
I also got Joey and Buck from Ulah, the guys next to The Roasterie in Woodside, to come do a pop-up with their men’s apparel. They also donated 20% to Wesley’s organization. Hayley: And this was all in your space? Seriously! TJ: Yeah! I know! It was so dope. We raised a couple thousand dollars that night for the organization, and it was such an honor to host and get to serve in this way.
I also wanted to tell you about this event because that’s how I view my time working at The Roasterie. When I go in for my 1-8 shift, that’s my time in the day to host and be a good steward by serving people. I hope that the people I serve in coffee know that they are valued and that they matter. Hayley: Your job at The Roasterie is the reason I met you! I had no clue about your business or any of this other work that you’re doing. The thing that stood out to me was how you treated every single person that came in, because we’re all wearing masks and distanced— TJ: Gotta smile with your eyes, Hayley! Hayley:
I mean for real! Connection is so important, and what you were doing stood out as so intentional because every single person that left after ordering was lit up from talking to you. TJ: Thank you. I mean, that is cool. The way I look at that part of my life is: what a fun job.
Hayley: Right? TJ: Just what a fun job! I mean it. I get to meet people where they are. No assumptions, just genuinely asking how they are.
I'm not God. I'm not expecting to reach everyone. But I'm open to the good ripples that can happen from each person, whether they impact me or I affect them.
That being said, it’s surprising how often that moment at the counter can strike a nerve when someone needs it. I was making a latté for a woman a few months back, and when I genuinely asked about her day she broke down crying right then and there at the counter. So we talked for a moment, and then she left a tip with a note that said: Thank you so much for your kindness, especially during these times. I really appreciated that today. Hayley: What is one habit that you use to help people feel valued at work? TJ:
I really make it a point to get someone’s name. I like being able to get their drink to them directly, and properly serve it. That way no one’s grabbing their own drinks. And since I wrote their name on the cup, why shouldn’t I use it? It’s a little thing, but I know what it can do. Hayley: It’s always the little things, isn’t it? TJ: It's about putting people first. Always.