Beyond The Workweek: Marshall Steeves (Cafe Photographer)

[I first met Marshall Steeves while working as a barista in Portland, Oregon. He came through with a camera to take pictures of the cafe, and we got into talking about entrepreneurship and realized we had a lot in common. It’s been years since then, but I’ve watched Marshall continue to take photos of cafe interiors on his instagram @marshallsteeves which sits at 6.5k followers as of today. We sometimes discuss our respective approaches to coffee bloggery, but I also thought it would be interesting to see how he works and what his focuses are. Welcome to yet another post on my series Beyond The Workweek, which examines the kind of projects my peers spend their time on outside of their day jobs.]

CM: Good morning!

MS: Morning!

CM: How’s it going in PDX?

MS: Not bad!  A lot happening here – lots of changes too, which has been fun to observe.  Right now, the weather is overcast but not too cold – definitely a fan. How about Seattle?

CM: We’ve had lots of sun this week but today it feels more classic Seattle. Overcast and rain, a little bit cold.

MS: Ha – sounds about the same then!

CM: Last time we spoke in person (at JoLa) I think you were 18! What’s been going on since then? I remember you were working at Case Study.

MS: It’s been too long!  21 now. After Case Study, I joined a Mid Century Modern furniture shop called The Good Mod.  I ran their front of house, photography, social media channels, maintained the website, and managed incoming inquires, sales, etc.  Was an amazing experience and learned a lot through the process.

After that, I had a small stint at Tea Bar.  The owner (who I knew well) was looking for help to get the new cafe off the ground and I agreed to help.  I was there about 6 months.

Following that, I wanted to pursue my love for tech further and joined Simple, a fintech startup that offers an online checking account.  Was on our front end operations team for about a year, then in May of 2017, moved onto a more technical role and work to troubleshoot bugs / incidents with our engineers and am still in this position!

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CM: Wow! Very cool. I like your combined interest in cafes and tech. How did this start?

MS: I grew up fascinated with technology and design.  I spend a lot of my childhood making tech reviews for YouTube.  It was my way to combine my love for creating along with my love for tech.  I like to say I “grew up with a camera in my hand.” My cafe fascination started with the interiors.  I was blown away (due to my design interest) how beautiful so many of these shops were. From there, I set out to photograph as many as I could, focusing on the space and environment, rather than photos of the coffee itself.  Naturally, I fell in love with the coffee too.

CM: Nice! Can you tell me about your instagram? It seems to be the hub of where a lot of your interests overlap.

MS: Without a doubt, you have that right.

My Instagram started with that journey to capture all these beautiful spaces.  I wanted to hold myself accountable, so I made it public.

At first, it was simply an avenue to posts the photos I took of these places I fell in love with.  Slowly, as my following started to grow, I began to challenge myself and incorporate my love for writing in the captions.  Very much like my personal blog (of which, I write maybe 1-2 sentences of thoughts I have at the end of the day and have not missed a day in I think 4 years now?) I began to do the same with my Instagram captions.  Writing whatever was on my mind, but hoping to provide an uplifting short paragraph that might inspire someone that day.

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Coava Coffee on SE Grand Ave.

It’s been an incredible journey and it’s very much still a work in progress.  99% if the photos I post are only taken with my iPhone, as a way to push me to challenge myself creatively.  

I never market or advertise my Instagram, primarily due to my belief that natural growth is always the most genuine.

CM: I agree! Is there an end goal or big vision for what you’re doing on your instagram?

MS: I think my biggest hope / goal is simply to evolve it to reach a bigger audience.  I want to show the world just how beautiful the details in life can be. Something as simple as a coffee shop interior, but also work to do so through writing.

At the point that I can find a way to collaborate with others and potentially turn it into an income without having to give into advertising products that don’t fit with my aesthetic, I will feel successful.

CM: Nice! A lot of what I do with my blog is investigate how young people (like us) are using tools like social media to create a self-managed stream of income. If I may ask, how do you imagine yourself making this profitable?

MS: Something I’ve been working on trying to accomplish is growing my reach far enough while still keeping a consistent theme whereas the hope is that businesses will see value in paying me to not only photograph their space, but publish it to my own social media channels and give them an avenue to reach new perspective locals / tourists that might not have discovered their business prior.

CM: Very cool. That makes a lot of sense and seems very achievable.

MS: That’s definitely the hope!

CM: You appear to merge creativity, passion, and career together really well. What would be your advice for fellow young people looking to pursue profitable side-hustles?

MS: Such a great question!  It’s something I still personally struggle with, but here are my biggest recommendations:

  • Stick with what you love and are passionate about.  It’s so much easier to do a great job and place your all in it when it doesn’t feel like something you are simply doing for money.
  • Don’t give into what society may tell you is best.  For example, I see so many fellow influencers promote products / services just for the money when they don’t remotely fit into the aesthetic or feed they have established.  Again, don’t commit to anything just for the money. Make sure it agrees with your values.
  • Patience is key.  It can take months, even years to get to a point where you can realistically make money from your hobby / side hustle.  It’s a tough reality, but don’t give up on it. Especially in the instance that it’s a new idea, don’t give into the thought that it will remain a hobby forever.  Keep pushing at it and, when the right time comes, you’ll find that niche whereas an income will start to roll in.
  • Connect with likeminded others that will inspire you to keep pushing for what you love.  Relationships are key.
  • Finally, I live by a mantra known to many: “Less is more.”  Don’t do too many things or try to combine a plethora of interests into one.  For someone like myself that wants to do a bit of everything, it’s difficult to not want to spend my time doing balancing each small interest of mine.  However this quickly leads to burnout and perfection cannot come unless we are focused. Find that which you truly want to commit to, and commit.

CM: Ah such good advice! I know I fall into the trap of trying to do everything but I think I’m somehow making it work and finding my focus.

Last question! What is your favorite cafe or space? You and I have both been to A LOT of coffee shops so I am very curious which one is your top pick. To this day, I don’t think I’ve been to a coffee shop that I love more than Courier Coffee. What about you?

MS: Oh man, you’ve stumped me with this one.  It’s something I get asked all the time and I change my answer each time, ha.

I like each cafe for different reasons, but truly the one that I always recommend that people visit for a good taste of what Portland coffee is truly about are:

  • Coava on SE Grand.  The space is ridiculously gorgeous, full of custom bamboo, concrete, and the pour overs are to die for.
  • Never Coffee.  This small spaces captured my heart as soon as it opened.  It has a NYC vibe with its size, the baristas are incredibly kind and genuine here, the coffee is some of the best in Portland, and the art / murals in the space add a really special character.
  • Good Coffee on SE 12th.  The space is bright, full of light, intimate, and once again: the baristas are consistently some of the nicest in the city.
  • Heart on SW 12th.  The light roast coffee is to die for – and that white brick wall: my favorite corner in the city.

Sorry it’s more than one – I can’t help myself.

CM: Of course! I know that it would be near impossible to pick just one. I haven’t been to Never Coffee yet but it will be my next stop when I’m in PDX.

MS: It’s a must!  Always on the top of my list.

CM: Thanks so much for making time for this interview, man! This is great stuff and I could talk to you for hours about all of this.

MS: Of course man – thanks so much for reaching out and asking to interview – totally honored!


You can find more of Marshall Steeves’s work on his website at http://www.marshallsteeves.com/.

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