10 Minutes With Kenny Smith

Kenny smoking a pipe at an outdoor work meeting.

Kenny Smith
Wholesale Lead
Sunergos Coffee
Louisville, Kentucky


What other coffee jobs have you had?
 
My first foray into the coffee industry began around 6 or 7 years ago at a small Starbucks within a hotel in downtown Louisville. Most days I would stop at Sunergos on my way downtown to enjoy their delicious sweet-iced beverages. I worked hard as a barista but was altogether unfulfilled, I knew there was more to the coffee world than the hulking superautomatic espresso machine that I worked behind could provide. Eventually, I was at a crossroads: I had been offered a supervisor position at the bux while simultaneously being offered a spot on the team at Sunergos. To be honest, I was very torn at the time over the decision, though in hindsight I had already made my decision even while feeling the tension of it.
Kenny, center, in 2nd place at Coffee Fest Chicago's Latte Art Competition. Kenny is one of the best competitors at these events.

Kenny, center, in 2nd place at Coffee Fest Chicago’s Latte Art Competition. Kenny is one of the best competitors at these events.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?
 
This is a tough one… There are so many aspects of it that I love!
 
When I began, it was the constant improvement of my own skills and the culture around me that drove me forward. My mind was always consumed by my next latte art pour, our next grinder upgrade—anything that wasn’t here yet was what I wanted. These things are still important and helpful, though my maturity has made me slightly more patient about future developments.
 
Today it is the people around me and the fellowship we share that is my greatest joy. Working alongside people who are amazing in our craft constantly sharpens me to continue growing in my coffee knowledge. My peers and superiors also help me to grow as a man, husband, and leader in my work. Being a part of the tight-knit coffee culture of Louisville is something I could not be more thankful for.
 
Outside of my city, I am always overwhelmed by the welcoming and kind friendship I find from my coffee friends from afar. Every trade show I visit has led to new friendships which remain long after the events themselves. All of that is to say, the people of the industry are what keep me so enamored and attached to my work!
Kenny and his wife, Kristyn.

Kenny and his wife, Kristyn.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?
 
In 10 years I hope to be cultivating my family first and foremost, if my wife and I are given children. I hope to be teaching them to love well and some basic latte art techniques :) 
 
Professionally I would love to see my current work continue to grow. Seeing my team continue to develop is a dream that seems within reach. We have a great trajectory at Sunergos in the realms of wholesale, roasting, and sourcing; where these areas will be 10 years from now is something I can’t wait to see! I also plan to keep competing and see where that road takes me.
Kenny smoking a pipe at an outdoor work meeting.

Kenny smoking a pipe at an outdoor work meeting.

Who and what inspires you?

 
My wife continually inspires me—she is one of the most motivated and honest people I know, and I love her for it! The people who are leaders in my life are a huge inspiration for me also; these include my bosses and other men and women who are older and wiser than I am. My faith permeates everything I do as well—being a Christian, I am constantly inspired by my church and the love, kindness, and depth of relationship that I have there.
Kenny loves fixing things. Here he is at work on a group head.

Kenny loves fixing things. Here he is at work on a group head.

What are you drinking right now? 

 
Literally at this moment I am drinking our Papua New Guinea Kunjin. It’s reminding me of cocoa nibs ground up with some savory spices. I am looking forward to some new crop samples of a natural Ethiopia Yirgacheffe that we will be getting soon from Keffa. At home, I have a aging bag of Intelli’s current Kenya. It’s tasty.

Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?
 
My most memorable coffee experience happened in several sessions over a period of about 2 years. Before marrying my bride, I lived in a huge house with six other guys. We would frequently have “coffee parties” which eventually developed into throwdowns and barista jams that Louisvillians often attend. We did so many ridiculous things back then—here are a few highlights:
• We once went through 4 to 5 gallons of milk pouring latte art, and we combined all of our wasted pours into a bowl in an attempt to create the “most massive and disgusting latte ever”
 
• I attempted to pour latte art into my roommate’s cupped hands (without cooling the espresso first)… I think he still lacks some feeling in his palms.
 
• In our basement, I brought an old Nuova Simonelli 2 group machine from death to life. During some attempted rigging, my roommate caught the heating element wiring on fire.
Kenny accepting first place honors at the United States Latte Art Exhibition in Boston in 2013.

Kenny accepting first place honors at the United States Latte Art Exhibition in Boston in 2013.

What you’re doing when you’re not doing coffee:
 
I’m a bit of a home-mechanic so I can often be found under cars or in friends’ garages. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not the guy putting crazy mods or body-kits on my car. I just enjoy the act of fixing something that’s broken. I own a 103-year-old house which keeps me quite busy. My favorite thing to do on an off day is hang out at home with my wife and dogs, cuddling the pups on the floor while playing old video games (I’m a closet classic RPG nerd).
 

About the Author

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