When Christopher Hall sits down to talk about his life as a coffee-roasting dad, he starts by talking about car trouble. After purchasing a used, sensible, family vehicle (minivan dads unite!) there came a burst of auto parts no one’s ever heard of failing, a tow-truck needed on the freeway outside Tacoma, and some hefty repair bills.
This is classic dad stuff. Minivans, mechanics, money. It’s all there. But then Christopher flashes a smile and says, ‘It’s been a bummer, but, ya know, the only other thing that can go is the transmission.’ This is the Christopher Hall Perspective. Things happen, sure. All the more reason to get out of bed and make things happen.
With a master’s degree in supply chain logistics, and an obsessive’s drive and palate for roasting consistently flavor-packed coffee, Christopher is one of the founders of Push X Pull, a roastery/cafe in SE Portland. Of course, Push X Pull’s website says otherwise: ‘Push Pull is not a coffee shop. It’s also not a coffee roasting company.’ You sorta have to experience the people who make Push X Pull what it is in order to get just how deeply true this kind of counterfactual is.
If you talk with Christopher for more than five minutes, you start to realize how much entering Push X Pull is like walking inside Christopher’s personality. He’ll straight up tell you, he wanted to create a neighborhood cafe built on the Cheers model: a place where you belong, where everybody knows your name. When you walk into the natural-light-saturated space, you’re struck with Push X Pull’s distinctive turquoise that’s been worked into a cafe that evokes the blue collar, small Michigan town of Christopher’s upbringing.
For the most part the cafe tends toward the clean, minimalist end of the spectrum, but it’s anchored by the purposeful chaos of the roasting corner. Bags of beans are stashed on the floor, waiting for Christopher to unlock their unique potential. Some days there’s a cupping setup at the end of the bar, the roaster humming with a life of its own. Often there’s someone back in the roasting area talking with Christopher, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that this person does not work there. They’re just hanging out, getting to know their local roaster.
But by this time one, or both, of the baristas behind the bar have captured your attention with, one is tempted to say, the warmest greeting ever received in a coffee shop. While cafe culture at large tries to disentangle itself from the cool aloofness so en vogue in the mid 2010s, Push X Pull inhabits a completely different planet. At this level of whatever it is they’re doing, you can’t really call it customer service anymore. It’s something much closer to, well, friendship.
In a world where a lot of relationships have been reduced to transactions, it can feel like you’re stuck trading off quality for personal warmth or vice-versa. But not here. Somehow Christopher, and the people he’s surrounded himself with, press into both simultaneously. You can see it in his eyes as he talks to you. There’s an intensity there that verges on uncomfortable, giving you a clear sense, this guy is not here to mess around. But you quickly realize that his intensity isn’t burning toward something as mundane as ‘success’ whatever that could even mean. Christopher isn’t going to be distracted from what matters. His intensity is actually an unfolding hunger to pierce through the facade of things into the reality, the substance underneath.
This hunger explains how he’s able to chat with a customer like an old friend–no, able to chat with a customer who has become an old friend–while pushing the envelope with some of the tastiest natural process coffees around.
But it’s not just a hunger related to work. Christopher and his family recently moved to West Seattle for a new work opportunity for his wife. For now, he’s splitting up his weeks with three days helming the roaster at Push X Pull, and four days dadding it up near Alki Beach with his son, Shiloh Bean.
The origin story of Christopher and his wife is fairy-tale perfect for a future cafe owner. She was a customer at the bakery/cafe where he was working, her drink (he remembers instantly) was a decaf americano with splenda. After a few years of Christopher roasting at home for friends and family, she can now tell within one sip if it’s coffee from some other roaster or his own handiwork.
When he talks about Shiloh, he does so with his characteristic honest intensity–’I keep thinking, we should’ve done this seven years ago, cuz I love hanging out with him.’ Fatherhood, he says, ‘it distills everything. Our lives aren’t drastically different, but it means so much more. The business means so much more…it’s propelled out to the 15-20 year range.’
Opening a cafe is something Christopher has wanted since he was 18. To teach himself to roast he ‘put beans in a roaster and turned the thing on.’ From there, his own drive to keep expanding his ability took over and he iterated until he was roasting coffee good enough to sell. When he tried natural process coffee for the first time, everything clicked into place. For years now Christopher has loved surprising people who think they don’t like coffee, when in reality they don’t like over-processed, over-roasted coffee. ‘They’ve been changed,’ he laughs.
As Push X Pull prepares to upgrade their roasting equipment, Christopher is eager to meet the future as he continues to hone his vision for his life as a whole: as a roaster, a business owner, a husband, a father. Emerging from the pandemic, he’s more committed than ever to building community and saying no to living out of fear. It’s not always easy dealing with customer expectations, especially when there’s anxiety in the water. But Christopher stays focused, ‘everybody has an idea and if you focus on other people’s ideas too much when you’re not supposed to, you’re dragged from your concentration.’
Of his drive to risk and work outside the typical 9-5 job, Christopher says, ‘I didn’t choose it.’ He has what he calls the ‘wild-eye’--an undefinable urge to live at the edge and see what’s possible. Cafe life? ‘It’s not that hard but it’s really difficult,’ he says. But, sometimes you gotta just ‘hop in the river’ as Christopher says. Stay wild-eyed, and keep drinking amazing coffee.