March 8, 2014

Updates: The Trident Café & Booksellers: Mike Smith & End of an Era?

trident cafe boulder

Photo: @waylonlewis on Instagram, today.

Update: A lot of good has come out of this hard, but open dialogue over the last 10 days. Tons of love for the Trident and Mike have come forward, and only a few people have been jerks or negative to Noah, whom we all like and hope can lead us forward.

Just had a long, open, honest, fun, friendly meeting with Mike and Noah and three fellow Trident Booksellers and Cafe community members. Things seem to be heading in a good direction. No news as of yet. Mike is still here, helping with training or transition, no one’s sure, yet. But things feel good.

Update: Via Carolanne:

Hello Folks,

Thank you so much for contributing your gentle and passionate reminders on the value of Mike Smith at the Trident Cafe. Some of us had a meeting tonight with the current owners, Ashkon and Noah. Since the meeting was rather sudden, Mike was not there. We plan on meeting with Mike in the near future. Noah will take up the role as general manager in a weeks time. Mike will be working in the Trident this week. Please drop by and say hello to Mike. Ann has a community journal in progress behind the book desk.

As Ashkon and Noah explained it, despite the respect that all of these men share for one another they

could not come to an agreement on the direction of the Trident into the future. Noah and Ashkon feel that the Trident’s economic survival is dependent on Noah and Ashkon implementing their ideas with out Mike who seems resistant to them. Both Ashkon and Noah seem very hopeful and willing that Mike come back to the Trident in some capacity in the future.

We all wish that there was a way that Mike would be able to remain in place at the Trident. That is not going to happen. I look forward to speaking with Mike to understand his thinking on the

trident cafe boulder "no cell phones"change.

Noah, Shawhin (he has the contacts for younger Trident folks)  and I will keep in touch as the Trident moves forward. Your emails made a huge difference to both Ashkon and Noah in re enforcing our desire to keep Mike as an active force in the Trident. Unfortunately, Noah did receive some counter productive hateful emails, but the ones focused on our support of Mike shone through.

Please forward this on to anyone who has been involved in this process.

I hope we all can show our spirit of generosity to Ashkon and particularly, Noah in hopes that he proves to be a welcome addition to Mike’s continuing contribution.

~ Carolanne


Via my discussion with Daniel Gritz (finally, someone willing to go on record), another perspective to round things out more.

“Waylon: not to be a hater, but there is some significant factors in the Trident sale that seem to have been overlooked in perspective. Trident has an opportunity to be a Phoenix—same bird, new life.

I appreciate all sentiments in favor of Mike Smith. He has run that joint for a long time. Nearly all his employees would admit he has been something of a father figure, including myself.
One thing that is [relevant] is the fact that a handful of employees in the business have been there 15 years without ever seeing a raise. While it is not public information as to who will be taking a leadership role in the business, it would appear that some people are finally going to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication.
Also, the ownership of that company has never been able to agree on one thing in over 15 years. I feel like the stubbornness of too many strongly opinionated owners has prevented any positive development in the Trident.
While one of the greatest things about the Trident is that its never changes, it will have to to compete in the downtown marketplace. I feel confident that the ownership and future management will appreciate the balance between respecting the Trident as the age-old icon it is, and blowing a fresh gust through the place in a way everyone knows is right.
Let’s be clear, we all love Mike Smith and have a tremendous amount of respect for him, but if he can’t come to terms with handing over the reins to his children/heirs then why did he lead in the first place?”
Via Mike’s stepson, whom he raised, Robert, a best friend of mine:
“Hey brother. I know there has been some mixed feelings around the Mike/Trident situation. These are my thoughts if you feel they may ease some people.I was lucky enough to grow up with Mike and call him my father. I’m 33 years old and Mike has worked at the Trident for 32 of those years…He raised me in his house. He raised my older brother, and he is the blood father to my sister.
I spent my enter childhood being taught right from wrong by this man. Over the years, one of the lovely things I’ve heard from many people who worked at the Trident was how Mike was (and still is) like a father they never had. Being his live-in, day-in and day-out son through my teens, I always took pride in knowing that his teachings and wisdom had a proper place to be given beyond our doors. Our family comes from a lineage of students and teachers.The Trident has always been a beautiful place for people to work, earn money, and has had a wonderful elder at the ship’s head, guiding people to be mindful, direct, and most importantly kind.
With that said, the hardship of the situation is painful, to say the least. This is clearly a strange time and some adjusting will need to take place. I know people in the community are sad right now. I know this is a change that will affect the community and that is obviously sad.
But I think it’s important to say that in all the wonderful teachings I’ve received from my father Mike, it is most imperative in this time that we all walk with grace. Hold our minds. Be polite. Smile if you have to.
This is where we are. We have a choice to be kind even in the darkest of times. Yes, this is unarguably an end of an era.
But it’s also the opening for a new one. We as a community know how to take care of one another. Let’s remember to do that.
To all of the people who have expressed their love and sorrows for the situation and have shared stories; as one of Mike’s three children I’d like to thank you.
Mike is an amazing person, teacher, poet, father… And I, among many others, will always be grateful for the amazing time at the Trident he taught, worked, joked, played, philosophized, and then joked some more. And I promise, as his son, Mike will be just fine.
Long live the Trident! It will always be a great place.” ~ Robert Mann


Update: Petition! “I hereby request that Noah, who’s a smart, capable guy, do the right thing and re-partner with Mike Smith, the longtime heart and spine of the Trident Booksellers and Cafe, allowing Mike to captain the ship day to day, and that Mike allow Noah as general to make needed improvements to help Trident compete and improve long-term in a crowded cafe and rapidly evolving bookstore business environment.

The Trident is more than a business—it’s a community center for Boulder and all those who love Boulder. It is our role to help make this right.

We will do our part by patronizing and supporting the Trident for years to come. Do the right thing.”

Share this on your Wall, like this, or best email Noah (a brother who I’ve grown up with, good guy) a respectful note (no aggression, which is counter-productive) to Trident Cafe & Booksellers <trident @ indra . com>

Do you have a friend who loves the Trident but doesn’t use FB? Get them this email address.

NOTE: All shares and emails need to happen in the next three days. The idea for this peaceful fun campaign is not mine, but that of several of the many who would like to see the Trident continue to embody community for another generation. ~ Waylon Lewis


Note: I’m still talking with members of the Trident, and learning more. So this story is not as accurate as it could and should be. Mark Inman, in particular, and I have been trying to connect for a few days. It’s important that this story come out in a constructive way. It’s wrong, how Mike is leaving. But Noah, the new principal owner, is skilled and caring and has done his mindful best in every way other than with Mike, and that’s a tough situation–again, no new owner can tell Mike what to do in the Trident. This article will be updated as I get more information.


Update: add a comment below for Mike, or the Trident generally, or leave a favorite memory or anecdote of a moment at the Trident that changed your life. I think it’d mean something to Mike. ~ ed.

Mike Smith is Trident, she said, today.

He’s leaving. He asked me to say nothing publicly a few days back, and I have respected his wishes, but the news broke this evening, so I’ll report. When we talked the other day he bowed his head and cried. To see a strong gentleman like Mike cry in defeat, as he incorrectly called it, is heartbreaking.

I say incorrectly because he has served with honor, and neither victory nor defeat can touch true service with honor.

It’s deeply sad: the Trident is one of the legacy cafes of America. It goes back 35 years. It served espresso to a nation that drank old black lukewarm coffee. It has a big beautiful new and used book store. The baristas are friends, the bright spot of my day. It hosts events, poetry, movies. It’s been the vortex for love affairs, breakups, business connections…it’s been far more to connecting people than Facebook ever could be. It’s a pilgrimage spot for those who have left Boulder.

The Trident was sold five years ago, and though I had no money I do have connections and was able to help two investment groups organize, which helped save it from a brokerage that promised to fire the staff and Mike “first thing.” My friends put offers out there and delayed the process to the point where ownership instead transitioned to three new owners, two of them also Buddhist (not that it matters, but the place is connected to lineage, it is more than a retail shop), who joined Mike in ownership.

And so Mike continued to run the place, day to day, with humor, an urgent sense of tough love, a love for tea and decorum, networking me and countless patrons, clearing tables and dusting in spare moments, talking and listening…his precision and odd caring for all of us…he’s been a father to me. And many others, I know.

I heard a rumor a few months ago it was on the block, again. I immediately emailed the owner who was thinking of selling, and said I’d be happy to once again put together a group to offer to purchase and protect and improve the Trident, and keep Mike’s role there, as this place is a living institution, the heart of my Boulder, and many others. The owner denied any interest in selling.

Since Ozo cafe moved in, a block away, money has been tight. Profits and patrons leaked away. The Trident still did well, breaking even. It had fought of 30 years of cafes, chains, indie shop moving in close by.

Since hearing the news of the sale of Trident and forced departure of Mike, I’ve met with 1) Mike, 2) the former owner who just sold, and 3) the new owner, a Dharma Brother who has all the right ideas and understandably doesn’t fancy the idea of telling Mike what to do. No one could, least of all inside of the Trident.

So Mike’s gone. At 60, bought out and out of a job. He needs a break–he’s taken 3 days off in 30 years, or something. So that’s good. But the manner of his departure is heart-breaking–it’s akin to seeing a still-mighty buck downed by young bucks. The Trident, which stands for tradition, will change. It will improve. It needs to improve. The women’s bathroom should be moved. Storage could be moved downstairs. The bar could be sped up considerably, which would bring the profits back. The patio could be among the best in Boulder.

But it also needs to remain the same, for that is part of what is special about it.


The Trident as we know it has just died. Mike was and is the Trident, as one of his loyal employees said to me today. The last time I saw the employee, a few days ago, this employee was crying. I learned why the next day and said nothing until now. I tried within minutes to organize a new purchasing group—several came forward immediately—this community wants to protect the Trident—and we still may invest if invited to do so. I’d be happy to pay somewhat more than it’s worth for the whole thing (I would make sure my investors got their money back, and then some). But if not, either way, I’d like to be a part of the Trident’s next generation. I don’t want to fall out of love with it. I can’t function without it. My job is incredibly anti-social; I stare at screens 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, that’s horrible. But I do so in the Trident, often, and the baristas, community, friends there uplift me out of my own stress. I am just one of many who feels such gratitude: The Trident has this kind of central role in many people’s lives, here.

I’m so grateful to Mike, and his family. I grew up having dinner with them–his sons were my best friends.

Mike deserves far better than this. I’ve reached out without his knowing or asking, because he wouldn’t want me to, he’s so proud and modest, simultaneously–to find him a job that uses his incredible community leadership skills. I’ve offered him one, too, and I mean it and elephant needs it. The Trident has birthed and maintained elephantjournal.com and what we’ve become through 11 long, hard, sad, joyful years.

Many of us are so sad right now.

Mike Smith Kyudo

 Mike practicing kyudo, or meditation in action.


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