College of Liberal Arts Alumnus of the Year
If it’s difficult to process how someone who studied experimental psychology in college could jump into the business world and open a string of successful Latin-inspired, coffee-based restaurants, you’re not alone. There was a time when Josh Molina couldn’t process it, either — even as he was going through it.
“In the beginning, I didn’t fully understand how my studies at UNLV could or would be beneficial in my entrepreneurial pursuits,” said Molina, co-founder of Makers & Finders, a gourmet coffeehouse that opened in Las Vegas' Arts District in 2014. “But as my professional path developed, so did the connection between owning coffeehouses and my learnings in psychology. Ultimately, food and beverage is a people business, and managing teams in multiple outlets requires an ability to understand personalities and the dynamics of professional relationships within a bustling environment.”
As he navigated the challenges inherent in the restaurant world — in particular, the high turnover rate among staff — Molina found himself turning to his psychology textbooks, searching for tips that would help him boost employee morale and create a rewarding work environment that his staff would feel invested in. “That’s when I realized that studying psychology at UNLV had prepared me for this moment,” he said. “I am grateful to have spent time studying human behavior because I rely on these skills daily to become a better leader and listener.”
Whereas many business owners would be inclined to keep those learned skills under lock and key, Molina is the exception. Not only is he a mentor with the College of Liberal Arts, but the first-generation Colombian American recently began offering internship opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students at both Makers & Finders and its sister concept, Take It Easy, a Colombian-themed bakery and coffee shop in Chinatown.
What’s the biggest personal or professional challenge that you’ve had to overcome?
Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to affect all facets of my personal and professional life. I invested my everything into Makers & Finders, and as recently as early last year I thought I had gained enough professional experience to combat any obstacle — I figured there wasn’t a single challenge that would deter me from nurturing my business and continuing to thrive.
Enter COVID. Everything I thought I knew about operating a business became obsolete overnight. Laying off 85 percent of our staff was heart-wrenching, and for once in my optimistic life, the future seemed hopeless.
Thankfully, the struggle unlocked parts of my entrepreneurial spirit only accessible through these experiences. It is built into our brand character as Makers & Finders to find a way to adapt and adjust, so after the shutdown was announced, upper management convened and made some pivotal decisions. The biggest was pivoting our business model to a takeout-only coffee shop. While other businesses in our neighborhood were boarding up, we were setting up shop on the sidewalk two days after the shutdown, and soon after we launched a rewards app that allowed our guests to order ahead and have it ready for pickup.
Our goal was to display our gumption and perseverance, and we did that — in fact, when we reopened in May, it felt like we never left. Our revenue bounced back immediately, so much so, that we increased our year-over-year revenue in August and September, despite being at 50 percent capacity!
Although new struggles are arising from the aftershock of the pandemic, this professional and personal experience reinforced my entrepreneurial will like no other experience could have.
Why was it important to you to start mentoring College of Liberal Arts students, particularly aspiring entrepreneurs?
Because I know all too well what it’s like to be in their shoes. Even to this day, I have a deep connection with those feelings when you follow a hunch without knowing if it will lead you in the right direction and those brief moments when fear seemingly takes over before you figure out how to shoo it away.
Since I began mentoring students in 2019, I’ve used my experiences to illustrate that these feelings are normal and that this fear never goes away — you just learn to keep it tucked. My hope is to give students the courage and might to keep fighting, no matter the obstacle. It reminds me to do the same.
What advice would you give to the current UNLV liberal arts student who is questioning whether they’re on the right career path?
Follow your instinct. You made the choice to join the College of Liberal arts for a reason that may not be fully evident right away — and I would know. It took me almost 10 years after earning my psychology degree to realize its importance to my personal and professional life. You may not know exactly how or why this degree will benefit you, but invest in it and allow your experiences to unveil your pathways.