Humans of Cartel: Sebastian Maconi


Brittany Viar


If you haven’t had the privilege of meeting Sebastian, you’re missin’ out – he’s wonderful. Sebastian is our Guest Experience Coordinator here at Cartel, and we’re grateful to have him on our retail team. Let’s dive in and learn more about him.

What are a few interesting things about you?

I’m a classically-trained musician! I got my degree in Instrumental Music Education from ASU. I had to do a semester of every instrument in college, so I can play everything a little bit, but trumpet was my main instrument. Most of my musical time these days is spent playing guitar, which I’ve been teaching myself since I graduated – my wife is a very accomplished music therapist, so I’ve had a lot of help in that regard. I’ve made a lot of progress with it over the last couple of years. I somewhat recently learned to play a Jobim tune called Dindi pretty well, that was when I sort of had to accept that I’m a “guitarist” (and not just some goof who knows a couple chords). 

Music fills up an inordinate amount of my time and mental energy – I live for those moments of being completely overwhelmed by sound. I read a quote recently, I forget who it was from (real useful, right?) that said if it’s not as loud as a building falling down, why bother? That kind of sums it up for me – I love music that forces you into being a mindful, present listener. It can be anything at all, as long as it isn’t boring. I love a really wide range of artists – Low, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Shabazz Palaces, Gavin Bryars, Patsy Cline, Deerhoof, The Books, De La Soul, the list goes on and on and on. Once you get me started it’s hard to get me to shut up (as evidenced by how long I’m going on here). Not having live music during the pandemic was rough, to say the least. Nothing reminds you you’re alive quite like 100+db!

What else to even mention? I’m obsessed with cooking. I think the best way to begin to understand a culture is to look at what they like to eat. I will never know what it’s like to grow up somewhere outside of AZ, but I can get the tiniest little glimmer from things like garam masala, Sichuan peppercorn, palm vinegar, etc etc etc. Do it the hard way, that’s what makes it fun!

What brought you to Cartel?

Is it cheating to say coffee? Honestly, it was trying to figure out how to brew better at home and asking the baristas at Ash for advice. They always had answers to help me get closer to where I wanted to be. And the quality – if you’ve been visiting this place as long as I have (nearly ten years!), it’s hard not to notice that consistently at the forefront of the experience.

I’ve been here since March of 2021. I started as the store lead at the 5th Ave shop in Scottsdale, and I’ve been in the role of Guest Experience Coordinator since about October.

What’s your perspective on Cartel, your community, and the industry as a whole?

Well, bear in mind that my perspective on this industry is limited to my own experiences. That being said, I think the worst thing about specialty coffee in the time I’ve been paying attention is the gatekeeping – a lot of folks want to tell you exactly how you’re “allowed to” enjoy something, and that is seriously maddening. Nobody ever went from drinking Folgers to pulling shots of a high-altitude washed gesha on a fancy prosumer espresso machine overnight, so why has this industry wasted so much time shaming folks for being in between those two extremes?

Fortunately, it seems like we’re moving towards encouraging people to examine what brings them joy first and foremost, and putting that front-and-center in the context of what our purpose is. If you don’t believe me, I would like to remind you that you can go spend 35 minutes watching James Hoffmann taste every Nespresso pod on Youtube. Someone like him doing something like that even five years ago would’ve been unfathomable to me, and now it just…is. I think that’s wonderful. Again, nobody ever went from diner coffee to specialty coffee overnight. Is what we’re offering as an industry ten times better than what you’ll find in a diner? Sure, but if you’re not willing to acknowledge that both of those things (and lots in between!) can bring someone happiness, can satisfy someone’s wants, then you’re kind of missing the point of specialty coffee. We are here, first and foremost, to be ethical facilitators of a joyful experience. Yes, that means treating coffee as something special and unique. No, that is not a valid excuse to look down on anyone else. Like the buddhists say, life is suffering – so find what brings you joy, and cherish it unashamedly.

A lot of this, one could argue, comes down to the balance between quality and accessibility. One of many things I love about Cartel is how seamlessly we can put those two things together – the overwhelming majority of people who walk through our doors are going to find something they like, whether that’s black coffee or a dirty chai. Either way, we’ll make sure it’s done to the highest standard possible. 

As far as Cartel’s place in the community, if you spend a few minutes chatting with any of our regulars, you’ll get a pretty good sense of it. A person much smarter than me once pointed out to me that Cartel has never had any intention to abandon its desert roots. I think it’s easy to take for granted now that you can find a third-wave coffee shop in almost every major city in America, but there was a time when just getting people to accept that coffee could be special all on its own was not a given. If you were looking to have the surest chance of success, it probably would’ve been a lot easier to move to a more cosmopolitan destination to open a specialty coffee shop in 2008. Amy and Jason did no such thing; instead they believed in this community’s capacity to see the value in specialty coffee, to support something that is unique, interesting, and distinctly Arizonan. And they were right!

To put it another way: I had my first date with my wife at the Ash cafe, long before I worked here. I remember the date (April 19, 2013!), I remember what we ordered (a small cold brew and a cappuccino with a delightful tulip pattern on top), I remember where we sat, I remember what the air smelled like, how the light was, how the seats felt underneath us. I remember one of the baristas on shift at the time graciously handing me some napkins because of course I spilled my drink (thank you, first date jitters). I think that memory speaks to Cartel’s place in the community – it’s been a fixture here long enough that its roots intersect with the roots of some folks’ marriages. It’s endured all this time without compromising its values (if anything, it seems to have a stronger sense of those than ever before). It’s thrived because it offers something unique and distinct to the community that it serves. It’s hard to put into words, but, really – how do you not get romantic about that?!

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Undoubtedly, the people. I have seriously never worked with a group of folks who are more capable, more competent, more genuine, more compassionate or more interesting. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else! I’ll tell anyone who is willing to listen, there’s something really special happening here, and I’m honored just to be able to contribute however I can.

What are your aspirations for the future?

If you’ve ever heard of Igor Stravinsky, he wrote a ballet called The Rite of Spring. At its premiere in Paris, the crowd hated it so much they rioted. I’d like to move a crowd that much with music at least once in my life!

What is your favorite beverage?

If I’m not drinking a pourover, then definitely an espresso tonic!

Give Sebastian a socially distanced high-five next time you see him!



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