Maria Szeklicka - Artisan Roast

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

Operations Manager – Artisan Roast - Edinburgh

What got you into coffee?

In the early days of her career, the restaurants where Maria worked didn’t use premium coffee. The first place she experienced coffee as any sort of priority was at a café supplied by Artisan Roast.

“As I worked at this café, I began focusing more on my palate - regarding food as well as coffee. I’d always been a foodie and had an interest in what you can get from different ingredients, and coffee was the same.”

Maria then moved on to a different café and tried to bring in speciality coffee. But she found she didn’t have enough decision-making power and so couldn’t do what she wanted to do. By that time, she’d become a friend of Artisan Roast and would go to events they held - so she developed a relationship with them as a customer.

“After a while it got to a point when I wanted to enjoy my work more, beyond just financially sustaining myself. I wanted to work with people I could have a good, respectful relationship with. We spend so much time at work after all, and it became more important for me to actually enjoy what I do. By that point I got along well with the Artisan Roast people and then I got a job with them - and then got more and more into speciality coffee.”

What do you love about being in speciality coffee?

Maria works behind the scenes, making sure Artisan has everything they need to run, grow, develop new ideas and organise and manage pop ups.

“I really enjoy supporting the business in the background. It gives me more freedom and time to prioritise things that are important in my role. I’m very interested in coffee, but in the beginning I thought I didn’t have the required expertise for the role. Nevertheless, I’ve kept developing and learning new skills and in the end I realised it is all about the entire team complementing each others’ skills and my part of the job is to make sure it happens.”

When Maria talks about ‘behind the scenes’, she means co-ordinating the effort required to make things happen. “Let’s say we’re thinking about a new store location or a pop up. I work to secure the premises, the people we need, machines, training and of course - the coffee… Everything that is needed to assure smooth operation of the business, including supporting a fun atmosphere at work and giving people space for personal development. We learn from each other a lot, not only about coffee.

Now, what do I love about this job? I work with cool, passionate and artistic people who are driven coffee professionals, interested in developing within their fields. Who would not love that? Our shops can be really busy at times but we like to balance the workload with a bit of fun. Our teams are our most important asset after all. People need to feel part of the company and that their input is important and equally valid. And, coming back to the subject of women in the coffee industry, half of our employees are female. Well, that is what I call a well-balanced team!“

What would tell someone who was considering a career in coffee?

“First, there are many sides to running a successful coffee business, so think about your strong points and find your angle, be it coffee roasting, working in a shop, acquiring corporate clients, developing as a barista and taking part in championships, working in logistics, accounting or operations. Or becoming a ‘coffee hunter’ on the lookout for the next ‘cup of excellence’ coffee. And there are also positions in marketing and product, website and brand design. 

If you’re interested in roasting, Maria’s advice is to work on your palate. “Ask your local speciality coffee shop about how they achieve what they do. Go to cuppings and don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn. Develop a relationship with coffee people. Being a customer is a good first step towards a successful business career.

Changing companies and coffee places is a way good too, it only adds to our personal and professional growth. Embrace opportunities. We see people who leave Artisan Roast and go on to roast for themselves or open their own shops. How amazing is that! Yes, we are competitors, but in the end, we are all small businesses and we’re on the same side. We remain friends and I can’t see it happening any other way.”

What’s it like being a woman in the coffee industry?

“I understand where this question is coming from” Maria starts. “It has taken so much effort to arrive where we are. And I really don’t take it for granted as a woman in the 21st century. Thinking of where we were as females in the past, we’ve achieved so much progress. As I mentioned before, we have a lot of women working in Artisan Roast. But, it’s not the gender that defines our employees. It’s the passion, focus and individual qualities that create the team.”

I asked whether her previous employers had created as good an environment as in Artisan Roast, and Maria felt the greatest contrast was based on not being British. “Oddly enough, it wasn’t my gender that stood in the way of my career, but rather the country that I came from. Coming from a different country you are very humble and sometimes it might be more difficult to stand up for yourself. At one restaurant I had to say to my employer that they needed to employ more women as being the only woman in the team was somewhat uncomfortable – and they did.

I’ve been lucky to have my mum as a role model. On International Women’s Day I actually called to thank her for being such a powerhouse and for making me understand how important it is to treat everyone equally. My mum was brave enough to think about possibilities rather than limitations. And I love her for that.”

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

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