September 16, 2018

A Conversation with Barb & Doug Garrott from OE Hand Grinders

I’m not sure what I like best about Barb & Doug Garrott

On the surface, it should be the coffee grinders they make.  These things are almost exactly what I look for in a piece of kit: A slightly odd device that requires manual labor to operate, does one thing exceptionally well, has that killing heftiness largely coming from industrial grade components, and is simple to take apart for maintenance.

Nik & the Pharos coffee grinder

Measured by those, the Pharos (the coffee grinder I have) is a perfect fit.  Very few things measure up perfectly to my peculiar standards, and this grinder is one of them.  Still, this thing that they’ve made is not what I like best about the Garrotts.

You might think, knowing that I’m a weirdo magnet (said in the kindest possible way), that I like their weirdness best.  I mean, who else do you know lets another person bid for "first choice" on a theodolite at an auction just so they can get second choice and buy a box full of electronic things for 25 bucks?

Now, it’s not the fact that that particular decision earned them $12,000 ($11,975 minus eBay fees, to be more precise), or that they’ve bought an entire dental lab complete with 500,000 teeth at auction and sold ALL of those teeth, or the time that they bought a US Army dogsled at auction and then had to figure out how to ship it to an eBay buyer.

While those are precious little vignettes, they’re not the central core of what I like best about these two Idahoans.  That special admiration is reserved for one of my all-time favorite characteristics in people: A combination of curiosity and the pursuit of excellence.

There’s probably a 200 letter word in the German language referring to this combination, and if there is I’d love for my readers to enlighten me on it, but it’s the single most fascinating quality I think a person can have.

This combination of curiosity and pursuit of excellence represents the best thing we humans can strive for.  Given that we can achieve damn near anything (we’re built to be the most versatile species so far discovered), far too many of us blow our blessings on mundane things.

Barb & Doug decided a long time ago that the mundane wasn’t for them.  They were going to follow their intuition using the experience they’d gained through the vagaries of life.  For both of them, they’d developed a sense of what quality looked like. 

They didn’t have to be experts in the subject matter; they could glance at a recruiting poster from World War I and know with that "fingertip quality sense" that it was worth 10 to 20 times what it was being sold for.  To them it represented undiscovered (so far) quality, and they made their living by recognizing quality faster and better than anyone else around them.

Join the Navy, World War I recruiting poster

They could see coffee cups made in Czechoslovakia, or espresso machines from Italy, or furniture made in the middle of America, and immediately have a feel for the level of quality in a thing.  It’s not magic, it’s just a huge amount of experience in looking at and being around and using “things”. 

Most of us find a thing we like and stick with it because it’s good enough, even with the “buts” attached to it.  Barb & Doug were never satisfied with leaving any “buts”.

They were also intensely curious about what a “thing” was, what it was made for, and whether it did its job well.  This led them from working as auctioneers to repairing old espresso machines (they did this via the Orphan Espresso website, not a brick and mortar storefront!), repairing old coffee grinders, and finally, when they couldn’t find what they wanted, to building coffee grinders that satisfied their desires.

I suppose what is also fascinating to me is that we live in a time where meeting people like Barb & Doug, or at least finding out about them, is easier than ever. 

You can Google any thing, or service, or, hell, animal you’re interested in, and if you read enough of the clunky websites built by people more interested in the topic than UX (user experience, the holy grail of online marketing & Silicone Valley, and vastly overrated if the underlying product or service is crap) and you dive deep enough, you’ll find these people pursuing both their curiosity and excellence to the utmost.

To my lifelong joy, there is no end of these people to discover, talk to, learn their story, and share it with the world.  If you’d like to hear the rest of the Garrott’s story, or 58 other stories about people similar to them in their curiosity and pursuit of excellence, I’d love for you to join me on this journey of discovery and listen in to my podcast dedicated to this quest.

As you may notice if you've listened to the podcast before, I've changed the name (from the Paleo Treats Podcast to the Nik Hawks Show) and am super stoked to make this way less confusing for those of you who are podcast aficonados.  Yes, I read the iTunes reviews.  :)

The Nik Hawks Show on Patreon, a Podcast dedicated to exploring the pursuit of excellence

As always, if you’d like to experience one company’s pursuit of excellence in the form of dessert, head on over to our store and pick out something that looks good to you; I recommend starting with the Samplers and at least the Small Stack.

To curiosity, the pursuit of excellence, and the endless quest to discover that combination in action!


Nik @ PT

Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

Too much reading...
How about dessert?

Too Much Reading...How About Dessert?

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