We talked to founder and host Chris Deferio about the popular show’s impact and longevity.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Chris Deferio
In early January 2017, Chris Deferio posted the first episode of Keys to the Shop. The abbreviated, 12-minute installment presented his vision for the new podcast: Inspired by leadership and coaching podcasts and books from outside of the coffee world, he would interview different specialty-coffee professionals to gather insights and tools for other coffee workers wanting to start or strengthen their careers in retail coffee.
What a difference five years make: What started as a germ of an idea for Chris has grown into a dependable resource for the specialty-coffee community. This month, Keys to the Shop celebrates its five-year anniversary; in that time, the podcast has released 560 episodes and received nearly 2 million downloads from listeners around the world.
Throughout the show’s run, Chris has drawn on his nearly two decades of work in coffee—which have included time as a barista, trainer, and café manager, as well as a barista and latte art competitor and judge—and has purposely focused on the retail setting of coffee. “I believe that coffee shops are key to the success of all we do in the industry,” he says. “They are not just the place where the coffee reaches its final expression, but where customers form their opinions and worldview towards specialty coffee.”
Chris says he has selected guests for Keys to the Shop through equal parts planning and opportunity—he has a broad network to draw from through his time in coffee, but he also sometimes accepts pitched guests. “When I consider a topic, I will figure out if I know someone who has a great perspective in that subject and then make sure their work backs it up,” he says. ”I also look back at the catalog of content now to determine if we have missed a subject related to coffee shops that would be really useful, or if there is a unique take on an already covered topic. In all of it I try to make sure the show is a source of positivity, even if we cover topics that are difficult.”
As he’s interviewed hundreds of specialty-coffee pros to glean their insights, Chris has found the members of our community to be both humble and forthcoming. “I see us all seeking after something deep and meaningful in our daily work, but we rarely afford ourselves the time and space to see it,” he says. “I frequently hear people say something like, ’Wow we have done a lot! We don’t ever get to talk about it in depth like this.’”
Reflecting on Five Years
Now that Keys to the Shop has reached the five-year mark, Chris says the milestone is significant to him. “It means a great deal to have been able to amass so many episodes,” he says, “mainly because each episode has a unique contribution to make—either through guests’ stories and expert advice, or me getting to share insights from my own experience with successes and failures in the industry. I am blown away by the sheer amount of collected wisdom and stories that 500+ episodes represent.”
Keys to the Shop has been Chris’ full-time job since November 2020—fittingly, his last role in the coffee realm was the same one he had at the start of his career: part-time barista. While specialty coffee is an ever-evolving industry, Chris’ experience has allowed him to draw on fundamental truths that remain relevant. “You notice patterns as you go in coffee, and solutions emerge from accumulated wisdom and observation,” he says. “The barista and operator of today is not experiencing something so fundamentally different than the barista and operator of 10-20 years ago, and I love that Keys to the Shop so often touches on foundational elements of success that can apply to both a brand-new barista and a seasoned veteran.”
To celebrate Keys to the Shop’s five-year anniversary, Chris recorded a special episode with his wife, Lynnsy, interviewing him about the podcast’s journey; you can listen to it here. The complete archives of Keys to the Shop are available at the podcast’s website here.