Beyond the Beans: Meet Mike Lilly
By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee
This week we sat down with Tustin coffeehouse shift lead, “Coach” Mike Lilly. Since he started working with Kéan Coffee, Mike has become a senior barista and also a new dad! We talk about his coffee experience, what it’s like to be a coach in the coffeehouse and on the field, and more.
How long have you worked with Kean Coffee and what is your position?
I am a senior barista and shift lead. I have been working at Kean Coffee since 2016. I grew up in Tustin/Santa Ana and went to Tustin High School, so I’m a local guy. I remember seeing the Kéan Coffee sign when driving around town.
What was your first experience with specialty coffee? Have you always been a coffee drinker?
Not really. I didn’t really start drinking coffee until I started working at Kéan Coffee. I started drinking a little coffee here and there, would stop for a while, but then really started trying coffee again. It was definitely an acquired taste for me, especially espresso. I remember my Roastery training and that was fun: We learned a lot about the beans, Kéan Coffee history and how to pour great latte art.
What is your favorite part of coming to work?
My favorite part of coming to work at the coffeehouse is getting to hang out with my friends and make great drinks. Our drinks definitely look a lot prettier when poured into ceramics, so I’m excited to see those come back. We’re actually doing an in-house latte art competition right now, which is pretty fun. There are only good vibes at the Tustin coffeehouse, which makes being at work a really good time.
What is your go-to drink at the coffeehouse?
Right now my go-to drink is the Napoli or a cortado with white chocolate. A Napoli is one of our specialty lattes with white chocolate and hazelnut syrup, good iced and hot. It’s definitely a favorite amongst staff and guests.
People call you “Coach”! How long have you been coaching and what do you coach? Would you say it is a passion of yours?
I coach football at Santa Ana College. I never really counted the years, but I have been playing since I was in fourth grade. I’m 27 right now, so maybe around 18 years. I have been around the game for a really long time. Yeah, it’s definitely an environment I like to be around and a game I love to teach to the kids so maybe they can get to the skill level that I’m at one day.
How did you become a coach?
I was at junior college before I transferred to university, and had played football there. I came back to California after finishing playing for the University of South Dakota, and an old coach of mine from Santa Ana College asked if I wanted to be a part of the staff and still be around the game of football. I agreed and I have been coaching since then. South Dakota is so different that California in culture and in weather. I got to visit Mount Rushmore when I was out there and experience the cold in snow, but I probably wouldn’t want to live there again. Good experience, but not again *laughs*.
What is the most challenging part of being a shift lead? Do you feel your role as coach impacts you as a leader at the coffeehouse?
I think the most challenging part of being a shift lead is managing everyone when the coffeehouse gets really busy, but you still have to make sure people are still getting their breaks and we’re being the most efficient we can with our time. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and as the morning crew it is our responsibility, and respecting our team to prepare the night crew the best we can for their shift. My favorite part of being a shift lead is having a sense of control over the coffeehouse situation and being a leader to my team. I’m always trying to set a good example for everyone. My role as a coach has definitely impacted me as a leader at the coffeehouse. As a coach, everyone looks up to me as a role model and needing me for guidance and answers. I have to make sure to exemplify good behavior and make smart decisions for my team. This includes explaining the whys and follow through to be successful in your actions. There’s always a reason for why we do things a certain way.
Your two children, Bronx and King, are beautiful! Your dog Gucci is pretty cute too. How is being dad to two little ones? Do you see them playing sports as they get older?
It is crazy. Luckily I am a father to two little ones that are close in age so they are going to grow up together and be each other’s best friends and do the same “life things” close to the same time: like potty training and getting them on a sleep schedule. They do a lot together. It makes it a lot easier on me and my wife. Bronx is the oldest and she is 21 months old. She’ll be 2 in July. King is 8 months and turns 1 in September. They’re not too far apart. I’m one of 6 siblings and the second to youngest. One of them has a girl, who is two months, so the cousin gets to grow up with King and Bronx too. I see both Bronx and King playing sports when they get older. I see Bronx playing basketball and maybe soccer when she gets older. King, I don’t think he will play football. I understand there are a lot of injuries that come with it and my wife isn’t a fan of that. I’m right there with her. I am lucky in that I was able to play for as long as I did injury-free. I think he’s going to play baseball and basketball. I’m excited for when that time comes!
What’s the best advice anyone has even given you? What is your greatest inspiration?
Enjoy life to the fullest. My kids and my wife, my family keeps me going. Working hard and providing them with things I didn’t have growing up is important to me. Being a father and a husband and setting an example for my family is important to me—I might be one of the youngest of my siblings, but I’m also one of the siblings who is getting a head start on “life” things already. I’m lucky to experience things now that I know people want and won’t get to experience until later in life and hopefully it comes to them, but it’s great to be living this life now and show people it’s possible to do. I’ve been ready to be a parent for a while. My wife and I lost our first child, but we didn’t give up on something we really wanted so badly. We had to keep going and knew that God would find a way. We did it and popped out two kids in two years. It’s a great way to keep moving forward and keeping God first.
Thank you, Mike for being such a great role model to every one of our staff, our guests, and those you have coached through the years. Your spirit and optimism in life shine through and is inspiring to anyone who gets to interact with you. Also, Mike is pouring some awesome latte art—so have him pour you his best and I’m sure you can catch up on all things football with Coach Mike. We’re so glad to have you on our team.
Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie, April 29th, 2021