I first met Chris Deferio in Madison Square Park at the original Shake Shack kiosk. I had just arrived in New York with my friend Kenny Smith to compete in the World Latte Art Open Championship at CoffeeFest. It was a cold and rainy March evening, but we thought a cheeseburger would help calm our nerves before the competition. As we huddled under an awning we looked over and noticed one other person crazy enough to brave the icy rain for a Shack burger. “I think that’s Chris Deferio,” said Kenny.
Since that chance meeting, Chris has become a friend and even a sort of mentor in the coffee industry for me. For younger baristas who don’t know their OGs, I like to mention that Chris had a Latte Art instructional DVD out before I even drank coffee. Chris is now a full-time podcaster and consultant, sharing his rich coffee and managerial experience on Keys to the Shop. I recently caught up with Chris over Zoom to learn more about his production process, and what it’s like to have more than 400 episodes out. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
I’m curious, what was the first coffee shop you had keys to?
I guess it was my first coffee job — the one I got fired from. It was a location of a company called Arsaga’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s not an Arsaga’s anymore. That particular location has since switched hands. It was bittersweet. I deserved to be fired, I’m not going to deny it. I learned a lot from that though, and obviously, kept going in coffee. I believe that was 1999.
I’m amazed by your creative output. How many episodes are you releasing these days?
The average is nine episodes a month. Tuesdays, which are full-length, Shift Break on Thursdays, and Founder Friday, which is the last Friday of the month.
The show kind of grew a life of its own. When I started I just wanted to do a show a week. I wanted the show to be a resource that was focused on supplying tools and great, actionable take-aways. …