A lifetime of dealing with mental health struggles, substance addiction, and consistent roadblocks sounds overwhelming – but it’s the reality that entrepreneur and businessman Mark Payne has faced since his youth.

Growing up, Mark Payne had what most would deem a great, affluent upbringing. His family was successful, he attended private school, played hockey, and had a solid social life. During his time in private school, Payne says there were consistent examinations and expectations that kept him on his toes academically. It wasn’t until he started post-secondary that things started to shift, mainly due to a lifestyle of partying, ongoing addiction, and mental health struggles.

“I was having a good time. I was a hockey guy and it wasn’t hard for me. It seemed normal – but not anymore,” says Payne. “We were partying every night. My GPA was .47. I got home, and my parents said they weren’t paying for my school anymore. When I went back and paid for my own schooling, it snapped me back into it.”

Payne’s ultimate career dream was broadcasting. He had hoped to get into the industry since elementary school, which is why he entered the Broadcast Journalism program at Lethbridge College in 2003. Prior to that, he earned a certificate from SAIT in Business Administration.

“My parents knew that I wanted to become a broadcaster. It was all I thought about since I was six years old. I wrote it in my junior high yearbook – it was no secret,” Payne says. “My parents said: if you’re going to do that you have to get a business background first. Thank god I did, because that’s what has bailed me out now.”

The SAIT program was tough for Payne, who didn’t complete the full diploma due to accounting course work that was overly difficult for him at the time. He mainly attributes his struggles to his mental health, which has been an ongoing issue throughout his life and career, whether he was always actively aware of it or not.

“This goes back to mental health and blocks. I was blocked from being able to accomplish that,” he says. “My intentions are always good, but I don’t complete things. It’s a pattern.”

Shortly after his schooling journey, which included an intense six-month internship with TSN in Toronto (which he calls “TSN Survivor”) as an editorial assistant, Payne took his expertise and passion for Hockey to become a coach. He soon realized how competitive broadcasting was, and that he didn’t have the mental energy at the time to commit to a position in that field. Plus, money was tight. He coached until around 2011 for various teams at different levels, including the Calgary Buffaloes and Team Canada.

Payne notes that during his time as a coach, he was at the peak of battling with addiction. When he wasn’t on the ice or working with players, he was coping with a slough of personal hardships. During this time, and even after, Payne says that many of his Hockey colleagues didn’t reach out.

“Despite my off-ice issues, I always kept it sober and professional at the rink. I have had very few people in the hockey community reach out to me to recognize my struggles,” he says.

Payne also had a different coaching style and mindset than a lot of others in the industry, which he thoroughly stands by. He’s been lucky enough to see many of his former players go on to do amazing things and have solid careers.

“I had a completely different style from these guys,” he says. “I come from the coaching philosophy that you build people up, you don’t break them down. They say that when you’re coaching that the true value of it won’t come for another ten years, and it’s true.”

Hockey coaching, while a good career, wasn’t something Payne ultimately wanted to continue with. He was going through a difficult breakup, was continuing to face his internal battles, and wanted a change of work environment. Hockey culture, which is often full of locker-room talk, partying, and other negative influences, wasn’t the ideal place for Payne.

Mark Payne [Image by SOS Media Corp]

“In hockey and business, you can be replaced, and for the longest time that’s what’s happened to me, which is why I am enjoying controlling my own destiny today,” says Payne. Even though he had some negative personal experiences within the hockey world, he holds no ill will towards the community.

He also notes that while coaching, his focus wasn’t always in the games, but rather in the practice. “I love practice, but not games. I found the game prep very stressful, but recognize now it was my ADHD.”

ADHD is what Payne recognizes today as his main mental health issue. He was aware since childhood that there was something blocking him from accomplishing certain things, and that there was a pattern of behaviour that was consistent regardless of what stage of life he was in. His substance addiction, mainly alcohol (which he started using heavily in high school), didn’t make things any easier.

“I made some mistakes. But I kept thinking it was other people’s fault. These are patterns, this is on me,” he says. “It takes a breaking point for me to kind of snap out of things. I think people who are or were addicts need to recognize these patterns, and they don’t.”

An unfortunate eye-opening experience caused Payne to drop alcohol and focus on the things he truly wanted to accomplish. His career then transitioned into the business and sales world once he left hockey. It was now more than ever that his business education came into play in the perfect setting.

Payne held several notable positions, including a sales job with Van Houtte Coffee, where he gained a strong love of the coffee industry and being out and about selling to clients.

He continued his coffee-related sales career with a position at Grand & Toy, who reached out to him to help them develop a coffee sector within their company. This type of job was fine, but Payne needed something more stimulating and exciting at this point in his career.

Fast forward to today, and he is busy as ever as a coffee specialist with his budding business, Collective Café. The company, described as a Virtual Café and store, sets out to supply high-quality, small-batch craft coffee to businesses (cafés, restaurants, and coffee aficionados). He is the owner and founder of the company, a position that he has been working towards his entire career.

“The idea behind Collective Café is to educate people on how to make good coffee,” says Payne. “I’m now ready to be the boss. I’ve made the mistakes.”

Collective Cafe Booth [Image via Mark Payne]

While his struggles are still very much present, Payne is taking steps during this new phase of life to combat the things that have previously held him back. He’s recently begun taking medication for his ADHD, has been working out consistently, and has started seeking counseling to confront his past head-on.

“I learn by doing, and in some cases, failing. But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he says. “Recognizing my past and putting it to good use has been my greatest asset.”

His hard work has also paid off in the form of his health. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Payne has lost almost 80 lbs by skating daily, an activity he began in order to cope with the isolated time spent at home. That’s not only an amazing accomplishment but a testament to his athletic determination and mindset.

From here, Payne envisions himself expanding Collective Café and continuing to work on his mental health so he can be in the best place possible in all aspects of his life, whether professional or personal. His tough road as a young man has led him to this point, and his perseverance through every struggle has made him stronger and ready to take on the path ahead.

“I want to start building relationships, not tearing them down,” he says. “I’m just going to keep going because I have nothing to stop me.”

Visit www.collectivecafe.ca to learn more. Order inquiries can be sent to Mark@collectivecafe.ca. Instagram @collectivecafeyyc 

By Heather Gunn