You know when you see somebody doing something so insanely awesome and genuinely good at heart that you instantly gravitate towards them and their efforts? That’s what happened to me with Cyrus Ausar, Founder of The Greatness Cafe in Masillon, Ohio.
Almost two years ago I saw something cross my feed about a new "mental health cafe" that was set to open just a few hours from my home. Curious as to what a mental health cafe even was, I immediately searched for and followed their social handles and have been following their journey ever since.
The Greatness Cafe serves nutritious food and smoothies with names like “I Am Great,” “I Am Original,” and "I Am Wise," so that customers have to start their visit by speaking positive affirmations about themselves. Cyrus himself specializes in areas such as depression and suicide prevention, so it's only natural he'd infuse his mental health wisdom into his business to further provide his community the proper sustenance for a happy life.
Last May, Cyrus and his cafe had been all over the news after sharing this post:
And people noticed. News channels shared his act of kindness, and donations poured in to help support his efforts, to the point where people were driving from out of state to pay a visit and donate.
I finally made the drive to Masillon myself last summer, and was grateful that Cyrus agreed to talk with me. The Greatness Cafe is the exact type of small business we can't get enough of. Not only is the entire business model rooted in positivity, their approach to social media largely follows what Goodera practices and advises on as well—value, transparency, and uplifting others. I couldn’t wait to get his perspective on making a positive impact in his community through his business.
After talking with Cyrus, it further solidified what I’d gathered as a mere follower on Instagram and LinkedIn—that his desire to help doesn’t come from a place of trying to get rich, get famous, or get donations. It comes from a place of simply being himself. When he saw a need, he did something about it—in a non-exploitative way, which isn't always the case this day and age.
Upon typing this up I initially started by paraphrasing our conversation, but Cyrus had so much valuable insight to share, I thought it best to share his word for word.
As fellow purpose-driven brands and small businesses, I hope that you’ll find my conversation with Cyrus as enlightening and inspiring as I did.
The Greatness Cafe could easily be just another cafe. How did you get the idea of merging the two—mental health and a cafe?
"Both of them are rooted into who I am naturally. I got started doing mental health—helping people with stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts—at 13. And that wasn’t initially the goal, it was really just getting my friends to read to kindergartners. And that wound up being a program, and under that program I started hearing about how people were being abused, or molestation, or whatever it may be I heard all these things, and it made me become a big brother to the community. So now it was constantly giving back—now I had a turkey giveaway, a backpack giveaway, coat drives, easter egg hunts, I had all that at 14 on up.
And the food component, well after 20 years later doing all that and still doing it, the food component was me understanding from a mental health standpoint you have to get the base. And a lot of people skip that. With mental health being a hot button topic, you have people that's genuine, and you have people that's in it to get a dollar. So the people that’s genuine understand you must start with a base—how much water are you drinking? How much sleep are you getting? What ways are you cutting your stress? It doesn’t just start with yoga, it doesn’t just start with 'let me get out and go run.' It’s a whole lot of things that you gotta do at a base level to ensure that you can have the proper mindset.
So me understanding that on my journey it’s like okay, so how can I give people the healthiest items, but also give them the mental state? So that’s why the menu is 'I Am Great,' 'I Am Smart,' 'I Am Wise,' to try and instill positive self-talk, but at the same time give them the base, the starting point. We know they like chicken sandwiches okay, so let’s give you the healthiest version possible, never frozen chicken, etcetera. Smoothies, okay we know a lot of people have made smoothies incorrectly, or they go to certain places where they’re using sugar and they're using pumps of syrup and we’re not gonna do that. But on an entry level how do you still make it sweet enough for somebody to want to consume? So we use orange juice, and we squeeze the oranges in the morning.
So all of this was a real deep thought on how to not only merge the two but be an introduction to a better lifestyle, not only from a mental standpoint but from a food standpoint.
I think it’s great that [mental health] is now being discussed. Unfortunately it is a hot button topic so people want to get finances out of it. So you still get those '10 Ways to…' blah blah blah blah blah. Coming from somebody that don't know nothing. Like it doesn’t work like that, you really gotta do the work. And that’s just anything. You can’t just overnight anything—you can’t just overnight depression, you can’t just overnight a diploma. It takes time. No matter what you do at first you’re typically terrible at it. It takes time to get good to a point where you can represent the mass’s thoughts."
As a small business owner, what can others take away from your experience as a business who’s actually making an impact in your community?
"One of the biggest lessons that I learned is sometimes you gotta slow down to move fast. We always thinking about oh we need to do this, as a small business I gotta do this, I gotta build my website, I gotta do this. It’s like wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Slow down and walk it out. If you wrote one page, you can create a book in one year. Just one page, you can do 365 pages in one year. So I had to teach myself sometimes you gotta slow down to move fast. And I had to also learn that 'yes' is expensive. Saying yes to people that’s expensive because that’s your time.
But as far as the impact, or trying to make an impact, I’m gonna be honest, that was never my goal. It was never like 'how can I impact' it was 'how can I represent myself in the purest form and share that purity with the world?' If I was really just saying 'Cyrus, make an impact,' then I would look at where’s the biggest problem, and I might look at heart disease or whatever it may be and I would focus on that. But I’m like, 'what is it that I like to do, what is authentic to Cyrus?' I truly like helping people with issues. People be always asking me, 'when do you take a break?' And I’m like, I enjoy this. I understand that you may think that this is difficult, because it is. But I enjoy it. I’m not burning out. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, this is easy. But I never made that attempt to say you know what I want to leave an impact. It’s like how can you be a purer version of yourself? Because no matter what, if I put—and this is coming from the Nation of Islam—if I put a clean glass of water and a dirty glass of water next to each other, and you ask someone to drink some, they’re gonna elect to drink the clean glass every single time. So that metaphor is representation of how we all operating in the world—are you operating out of purity or is your glass dirty? That’s up to you to determine, you gotta go to sleep with it.
So you talk about a job that you want to separate yourself from, you get tired of doing this monotonous thing, that’s an energy that someone possesses. So if you doing a job that you know you don’t like, that’s an energy you gonna carry, that’s what you gonna give to clients, that’s what you gonna give to employees, that’s what you gonna give to staff, that’s what you gonna give to family when you get home, your children. You practice how you play. How you do small things is how you do big things. So if you put yourself in the environment where you’re constantly doing something you don’t want to do, think about that it’s nine hours. You sleep another nine hours, so half your time you’re giving minimal effort not to get fired, what do that look like at home now? Now you don’t feel like making the kids snacks—you know what let me buy them a Lunchable—everything starts turning into that.
I’m more or less just saying you try to represent the purest version of yourself, and anybody that is able to be around that purity, not only is it a blessing to them but it’s a blessing for you to have the ability to share it. So I think we get in this habit of trying to please others all the time, and you leave yourself unhappy in order to do so, and then you understand that their cup will never get filled based upon you trying to please them, ever. So you gotta live for yourself and if it happens to help other people then it will do so.
Here’s another little story. The first concert I went to was an Earth Wind and Fire concert, and I went with my father. And I don’t know how much you follow but they had Bootsy Collins, he was playing the guitar that night, and I thought about it, Bootsy Collins loves playing the guitar as much as Earth Wind and Fire loves making music, as much as Kobe Bryant loves playing basketball. As much as... the list goes on and on. Have you ever been to a basketball game? I don’t think nobody in that gym was saying 'I gotta keep working 9 hours, 10 hours a day in the event Kim comes to my game,' you know what I mean? But they created an experience for whoever you went to the game with. Same with Earth Wind and Fire, they create the experience with me and my dad that I will never forget because they took the time out to perfect their music. Kobe Bryant created an experience between me and my father because he took his time out to be in the gym all the time. So you see that constantly go forward. When you represent the purest version of yourself, you’re able to give the world. And that's why I say purity because you can have ambition with no purity. You can be successful with ambition, you can be cutthroat, it’s unfortunate that you can be successful through that endeavor but it's just true."
Are there any challenges or have there been any hesitations towards putting yourself and your story out there? Or anything you’ve learned along that path of putting yourself out there?
"Be sensitive to whose stories intertwine with yours, because although it’s the truth, although it’s something that may help you grow, that person you may be talking about may have not moved on from that place. So you may be talking about your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, and how you grew from it, but the way you position your story make them look like crap. Or you might have a family member that’s on drugs and you talked about 'oh you know this is how I overcame...' and you still exposing them for being drug addicts. So that’s one thing that I learned is be mindful of who are the other stories that intertwine with yours, because you can do more damage than good. The objective is to build without destroying."
Is there anything at the moment that you feel you would like to tackle but you just don’t have the bandwidth or capacity to do? Or any extra areas you see a need, a different group of people, a particular issue? Anything that you wish you had more time to focus on a particular topic, but you just don’t have the capacity?
"I wish I had more time to help high schoolers get direction. Because I was doing that as well, you know I have a workbook for life and career choices. When I was in the schools heavily I realized that the schools may have 700-800 students and three guidance counselors. There’s no way to give them real attention. So I wish I had more time to aid that because that is almost a snowball effect to what’s going on with these generations. You got a kid that’s a junior, sophomore, senior, and they constantly get asked 'what is it that you want to do?' you know I don't know, I’m trying to figure it out. So what tends to happen is they make up something to have an answer, 'oh you know what I’m going to school for blasé...' whatever it may be. And it’s really their answer for when they’re unsure but they need a rebuttal for the pressure. I wish I had the time—I don’t want to say wish but I would love to have the time to help with more high school development."
What about all of this that you’ve created makes you the happiest?
"Being able to share the blessings that God gave me with the people I love.
You know my mom come in here and work. And gets green smoothies and whatnot. My friends is all on payroll. To put all your closest friends on payroll, and overpay them, that’s a great feeling. You see their children come in, to be able to do that is powerful, not only am I able to overpay them, I’m able to have engagement in a community amongst a group. So we’re still doing community service, we have a ton of different events—Alyssa has a women empowerment program. And then Bradley does a lot of things with cooking. That means everything to us to be able to extend ourselves in the ways that we love. You can ask somebody 'what do you do when you're bored…' you might say 'well I work on some dishes,' she gonna say you know 'I like doing some stuff for kids and empowerment, I love to do this.' Now you get a chance to do it, as regular life? Now imagine that attitude that they carry into the job and everything else. So we have zero problems, right now we have 5 stars on every single platform—Google, Yelp, DoorDash, Travelocity—why though? It’s because of those things like the Women Empowerment Program, it’s because the cooking, it’s the attitude that we have walking into it and the purity, even with the feeding the children. I didn’t know it was going to catch on like wildfire. I seen something, I said I’m gonna do something about it. I didn’t ask for no help. And now you know, now everybody donating and seeing how they can assist and that’s just a blessing. And that all comes from being the purest form of yourself. It doesn’t take effort to do that. You see something that you don’t like, you put effort to change it. And if somebody help you they do, if they don’t they don’t. You still gonna do it regardless."
Lastly, upon saying our goodbyes, Cyrus left me with some parting words of encouragement about building a small business:
"I know the journey, I know how difficult it is, and I know the self doubt—am I moving in the right direction, all those things. But you know you always get signs that you’re moving in the right direction. You always get signs and you never—I ain’t gonna say we aren’t supposed to doubt ourselves, you’re always gonna have some form of anxiety building a business, but what I’ve learned is it somehow always seems to work out."