Ray’s breakfast club percolates with the rising sun before landscaping local estates

Ray's Landscaping breakfast club

On the surface, (the morning meeting) is about communication, but embedded within it are norms and values that are critical for organizations that must deal with difficult issues and adapt nimbly to new situations.”

— Marty Linsky, professor, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government

With the sun a mere memory from yesterday’s news, Ray Casarrubias, and his crew, meet at 6 a.m. sharp at Caffe Positano on Paseo Delicias in the heart of the Village of Rancho Santa Fe.

It’s a Rancho Santa Fe power breakfast with a bit of a twist.

Casarrubias calls his business Ray’s Landscaping. He, and a three-man morning crew, later joined by three part-timers, were prepping for a busy day ahead with their own version of the early morning meeting replete  with coffee and pastries. They’ve been doing this ever since the small street-side cafe opened several years ago.

“About six of us get together for coffee and to discuss the little things we will try to do with the day,” Casarrubias said. “We’re talking about work, how we’re going to trim the hedges, flowers, sometimes which broken lines to fix.

“I give them ideas,” continued Casarrubias, clutching a coffee, black, as the crew assumed appointed places around a small curbside table. “Then, we also talk about stories about Mexico, why we came here, what’s life like after jumping over the border.”

Casarrubias is a native of Michoacan de Ocampo, a southwestern Mexican state. On this particular day, he is joined initially by Jesse Reyes, also of Michoacan; Emilio Carello, of Puebla state, and Victor Benega of Oaxaca state.

Tim Cusac does the morning coffee pour. Cusac inherited Ray’s coffee klatch along with the cafe, and a nearby sandwich shop, he bought in May 2005.

“They are here every morning at six when I open up, seven on the weekend,” Cusac said. “Sometimes, they’re waiting across the street for me to arrive. They are the best wake-up crew anybody could have.”

Cusac makes croissants in the wee early hours as Casarrubias’ crew discusses the coming day. It’s still early, way too early, for the next wave of customers who often line up out the door at the village’s only coffee spot.

“Very early, I’ll get a handful of stockbrokers,” Cusac said. “Then, I’ll get all the folks who work at The Ranch or are on their way to work, a mix of high-tech, gardeners, laborers, executives, mostly men.”

Just past 7 a.m., on the road toward 8 a.m., Cusac gets some moms and some kids waiting for school rides. Other residents arrive around 9 a.m. when the late latte’ crush ensues.

But even as the day perks up, the earliest of birds consists of Casarrubias, and his peeps, lingering a bit as they prepare for the day’s challenges along the community’s well-appointed hedges. This is when the gossip gets going good, especially if you want to hear about lawns and dreams that grow in equal measure.

“I’ve been working around here almost 15 years,” Casarrubias said, “working with somebody else, working for somebody else with different people, doing the tree-trimming, maintenance services, irrigation.

“I was working on a big house on La Valle Plateada about three years ago when I decided to do my own business,” Casarrubias said. “My first house was Tony Rababy’s.”

Rababy is well known around town for his Mobile gasoline stations and Casarrubias is becoming well known, too, although maybe more by face and occupation, initially, rather than name. His business has grown in the last few years. He now employs four landscapers full-time and brings in as many more as required for a particular job.

The four-man main crew was at the main roundtable with several part-timers at an adjoining auxiliary table on this particular day.

“I work seven days a week sometimes,” Casarrubias said as the fellas chatted among themselves over “just regular” brew, they said.

“I have really good people and the people we work for are really friendly, and nice, too,” Casarrubias continued. “Some other places, people expect more than you are giving, but people in Rancho Santa Fe are really fair about the jobs.”

Casarrubias came across legally in 1991. He has a family now including wife Guadalupe, and two sons, Ray Jr., 8, and Daniel, 7. The family lives at Escondido, so he heads down Del Dios Highway each day for work.

“I’m meeting people all the time,” Casarrubias said. “I’m trying to grow my business as much as I can. I have two little trucks now, but I hope to have 10 to 15 trucks working for me some day.”

The early-morning get-together, daily business aside, also marks a relaxing way to start a strenuous day, according to Casarrubias, who added, “It’s really quiet.”

That was the view, too, from Reyes, who has been working with Casarrubias since Ray’s Landscaping became a local landscaping-mark.

“Having coffee like this is great,” Reyes said. “I like it. It’s nice and the people here are wonderful. We just chatter away here among ourselves starting at six and by seven we’re gone.”

Actually, Casarrubias, and his morning crew, may be on to some cutting-edge business thinking, at least according to one Harvard University professor.

Calling this type of interaction “the morning meeting” or “TMM,” Marty Linsky, co-founder and principal of Cambridge Leadership Associates and a longtime faculty member at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the effective morning meeting model has no pre-set agenda, but includes the top team members assembling around a conference table.

“On the surface, TMM is about communication,” Linsky said, “but embedded within it are norms and values that are critical for organizations that must deal with difficult issues and adapt nimbly to new situations.”

Successful meetings include “an openness to considering multiple perspectives, a willingness to share responsibility for finding creative solutions and the discipline to move consistently from strategy to execution,” Linsky said.

Add Linsky: “Having those conversations around the coffee machine sometimes feels safer than having them in a formal meeting.”

Sound in their plans then, coffee and conversation done, away Casarrubias, and company, go to meet the coming day.