As frequent customers of the Green Cup Café, Robert Podgorski and his girlfriend, Jennifer Carbajal, used to joke with the owner that they’d be interested if she ever wanted to sell the business. When they rode their bikes by at the start of the pandemic and saw a sign saying the downtown Fort Myers café was closed for business, the time had come to put their words into action.
The two reopened Green Cup Café later in 2020, adding more vegan food options to the menu of smoothies and acai bowls. It was a challenging time to start a business venture, but it came with benefits.
“Our youth and confidence really pushed us through,” says Podgorski, who has bartended and worked in breweries in the past. “And being new business owners, we were super grateful to not have a period where we were super busy. It was a great period for us to learn and reintroduce ourselves to the community, and to figure out what the identity of Green Cup wanted to be.”
Customers have responded to the reinvigorated business, which saw 68% year-over-year revenue growth in the past year alone. “We’re really running off a lot of passion,” Podgorski says. “We saw a hole in our community that we really felt needed to be filled. Every city should have a really good local gathering café that’s focused on serving healthy things.”
There’s potential for additional locations down the road. “We really just want to grow into a couple of small efficient cafés and have a clean, sustainable business program that operates in a tight-knit local community,” he says.
Podgorski feels as if he’s learned something from every boss and teacher he’s had, and his parents have also been influential. “My father taught me patience, to keep your head down and know the good in the world, and that things are coming the way they’re meant to be,” he says. “My mother has been a great person to show how you can really learn anything.”
The topsy-turvy restaurant business can be a good, yet challenging place to utilize those lessons. “The biggest challenges aren’t the one you’ll know about,” says Podgorski. “You don’t know what day your garbage disposal is going to go down, or when someone will call out sick. You just try your best and let go of some of the expectations that you might think exist.”
One way he likes to blow off steam? Playing paintball. “I’ve played competitively for most of my life,” he says. “There are so many life metaphors I find in it: patience and timing and aggressiveness and passiveness. It’s so much fun to just get out there in the open air and bring out the warrior inside you.”
City of Residence: Fort Myers
Birthplace: Charleston, South Carolina
Years in the area: 30
Marital Status/Children: Single no kids
Alma Mater/Degree: FGCU dropped out senior year to play paintball in Ecuador
What community group or organization are you most involved with? Martinez Family Mission
Are you working from the company office, home office or hybrid? Hybrid mostly at the cafe.
What's the weirdest job you've ever had? Or the weirdest task you've ever been assigned? Played professional paintball for a Ecuadorian paintball team known as Ecuador Evolution. Hosted paintball clinics in Ecuador and played competitively for a living. Had a temporary home in our teams Hometown Guayaquil.
What's your top tip for being productive? Having confidence as you venture into the unknown. Knowing that you may not know the answer. I feel people often get stuck because of the fear of failure or the fear that they don't know what to do. But instead to embrace the failure and know your learn from it. Trial and error. To just dive in. Buy the ticket and take the ride. Nobody knows everything but anyone can learn anything. Just make sure you just enjoy the process and the things you're doing. I feel often people are afraid to ask questions or ask others for help when they get stuck and more likely to quit things right when they are getting good. The tunnel is always the darkest right before you see the light, so you gotta make sure you finish.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? Slinging paintball guns
What's your favorite off-hours activity? Playing paintball
What's the most significant item on your life bucket list — and what's keeping you from completing it? Own my own Professional Paintball Team
What's your favorite podcast? At the moment I'm on a Paul Stamets kick.
At what percentage on your phone do you start to get Low Battery Anxiety? 1%
What are the top three apps used on your smartphone? Gmail, my Notes and Freshpoint mobile
What books are you reading now? Fantastic Fungi by Paul Stamets
What's your go-to music genre, band or act to be inspired? Atmosphere or Brother Ali
Who would play you in the movie of your life? Jim Carrey
Where is your happy place? Either the cafe or the paintball field.
Describe yourself in three words: Committed. Genuine. Passionate.
Who is your mentor for your career and why? My dad. Because he is the man who taught me patience and how to love life.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned from your mentor? That life is meant to be enjoyed. That you should find love in the people and experiences around you. That the destination isn't nearly as important as the journey. That if you align yourself with something you enjoy. Your passions will guide you. And success will find itself.