Community Curator :: Union
Hometown: New Jersey
Mike Baughman never dreamed of moving to Texas until he fell in love with a Texan and then fell in love with the city of Dallas. Mike is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and father of four kids. He attended Duke University for undergraduate work (which turned him into a die-hard College Basketball fan) and Princeton Seminary for graduate work. When he's not hanging out at Union, he can be found looking for the best pizza places in Dallas. You can find more out about Mike's work and publications at mikebaughman.com.
AHD: There's an awful lot of chatter surrounding UNION's start. Tell us a bit about this extraordinary coffeehouse.
MB: We are all about strengthening our neighborhood through three key things: outstanding coffee, robust community and essential causes. We brew outstanding coffee from beans that are beyond fair trade. People love our beverages and our food because they aren’t just tasty, they’re socially responsible. We’re working hard at building up robust community. Union seeks to be a catalyst to bridge the gap between the University and surrounding community, non-profit and small business world, religious community and local culture. Our story-telling stage on Friday nights has been a great place where amazing and diverse story-tellers have helped to break down the boundaries in our communities. With 3,850 square feet, there is plenty of space to meet, talk, play, study or work. We adopt three causes a year for which we raise funds, awareness and engagement. Union presents a choice: do you want the money you spend on coffee to benefit non-profit agencies or multinational corporations?
AHD: Hardly a half-mile from SMU, you've said you want UNION to be the best study place in Dallas. Why the focus on young folk?
MB: Above all else, we want to be good neighbors who take care of the needs of the people and organizations around us. We sit in one of the youngest zip codes in Dallas, surrounded by SMU, Art Institute and the Village Apartments. We focus on young people because they are our neighbors. (We like taking care of middle age and older people too, by the way).
AHD: This past fall semester UNION gifted 10% of its proceeds to a local non-profit to feed the hungry. How did you settle on hunger, and what kinds of causes do you anticipate emphasizing in semesters to come?
MB: We thought Hunger was a good place to start because it’s an easy need to identify with. We all know that hunger is a problem and nobody objects to finding ways to feed people who are hungry. By choosing a cause that we all care about, we hoped to build union (pun intended). In February, we will shift our focus to Disaster Relief with 10% of all revenue going to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Future causes will be recommended by our team of baristas and decided upon by our operations board.
AHD: You also make it easy for your customers to get involved in projects that benefit your chosen cause. Why is it so important for UNION to be aware of and responsible for the needs in the local community?
MB: We’ve heard from so many people, ‘I want to do good things, but I’m not sure how to get involved.’ We want to be the catalyst to connect members of our community with organizations that are making a positive difference. Because we are connected to so many non-profit organizations, small businesses, churches and the SMU campus, we are able to identify needs and connect the people who can help. We’re also hoping to enlist local artists to get involved by helping us to raise awareness. We want to hang art from local artists that reflect the cause we’ve adopted—however they interpret that. We’re happy to display and sell their art so long as they are willing to allow a portion of the sales to benefit the adopted cause.
AHD: What is a Community Curator, and how will your Dyer Street venue, complete with conference rooms, stage and patio, play a role in your curatorial duties?
MB: My role is similar to a curator in an art museum who takes diverse artwork and puts the collection together in a way that strengthens each piece. As the Community Curator at Union, my role is to get to know the different members of our community and connect them in ways that benefits everyone. Our conference rooms, Naked Stage and patio are ways to get people in the same place so that our staff at Union can get to know them and then introduce people to one another. There have already been some cool partnerships that have launched simply because we connected people from different organizations who happened to come to Union.
AHD: While UNION baristas are trained to connect with customers and tend to their needs, even the best intentions can't cover for a less than stellar cup of coffee. How do you ensure an excellent customer experience, both for the soul and the stomach?
MB: We use outstanding ingredients and train our staff well. We’re also pushing the envelope on innovation for both our drink and food menu. We encourage our baristas to develop new ideas. Before we put anything on the menu, we recruit our guests to sample and give us feedback. We feature experimental items and, if it sticks, then we put it on our permanent menu. Some things we’re experimenting with now (all developed by our baristas): White Truffle Lattes, Peppy Cheese Sticks and a hot Nutella Bacon drink.
AHD: In three years you hope to be ready to birth a couple of new coffeehouses modeled after UNION. Any ideas where?
MB: We’ve got our eyes on a couple places that could really benefit from a place like Union. At least one of our next starts will likely follow the Union model pretty closely. We’ve also kicked around the idea of a ‘pay-as-you-can’ restaurant that plays off the Union model without copying it directly.
AHD: How can we learn more about UNION, follow your progress, and buy a bold cup of coffee?
MB: You can keep up with us on facebook at facebook.com/uniondallas. We’re still developing our website, but you can find that at uniondallas.net. We’re also on Twitter, instagram, foursquare, yelp and just about everywhere else under the name @uniondallas. We have events during the week too – on January 13th, Art House is hosting their new “Artful Living Series” with Bruce Herman and Makoto Fujimura for a conversation about Culture Care and opening it up for connecting with likeminded folks from all backgrounds. I hope that you will stop by and visit us at 5622 Dyer St in Dallas, just one block north of SMU Blvd., between Greenville and 75.