4 Coffee Business Lessons from Former Students

Many of our incoming coffee business students ask us for a successful coffee shop to study as they create their own business plan. In 2020, we shared success stories from some of our former students who have recently opened coffee shops. We showcased the resilience, business savvy, and innovation of small business owners throughout the country. These Coffeepreneurs® did more than keep their businesses alive in a roller coaster year. They found ways to thrive.

We like to think we learn as much from our students as they learn from us. These coffee shop owners share their top lessons to help coffee businesses endure good times and bad. Are you looking for wisdom and inspiration? Here are four coffee shops to study:

To get to know the full stories, read the full articles on our blog. 

The Right time to Open Your Coffee Shop is NOW

  • Coffee Shop to Study: Coffee on the Red
  • Owner: Nelson Lewis
  • Location: Bossier City, Louisiana
Nelson and Andrew Lewis at Coffee on the Red

Nelson and Andrew Lewis, Coffee on the Red

So many people procrastinate pursuing their goals. They wait for “perfect timing,” pile up the reasons why they aren’t ready, or allow the fear of failure to prevent starting at all. An aspiring entrepreneur has to realize that the timing will never feel perfect. No matter how risky, difficult, or overwhelming it seems, your business won’t exist if you don’t take the first step. 

Veterinarian Nelson Lewis had a long-time dream of opening a coffee shop. He attended Texas Coffee School to create a solid business plan and a viable concept for a coffee shop. Then, he seized the opportunity for a great location in a highly-trafficked area in a growing part of the city. Despite working full time in his veterinary business, he saw no reason to wait for a better time. 

While continuing their veterinary work, Nelson and his brother Andrew built the coffee shop from the ground up. They even took on some of the building process–welding and building custom tables–themselves. 

Coffee on the Red opened this summer in the middle of the pandemic. What could have been another major obstacle turned out to be a thoughtful strategy. With no other coffee shops open in the area, their drive thru served over 220 cars a day in the first week. 

For many, opening a completely new business with a full time job during a pandemic would be too much to take on. 

“I don’t look at things as to their size, Nelson said. “I just do them.” 

Figure Out What Sets Your Business Apart

  • Coffee Shop to Study: Beanstalk Coffee and Sno
  • Owner: Jennii Buendia
  • Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Jennii in Beanstalk drive thru window

Jennii Buendia, Beanstalk Coffee and Sno

Jennii Buendia was not a stranger to running small businesses. Since the early 2000s, she and her husband Adrian had successfully grown one popular Oklahoma Sno Cone stand to multiple retail locations. 

She attended Texas Coffee School with the idea of combining sno cone stands with coffee. She knew this concept was already a unique selling proposition, but she wanted to build an entire brand that would truly set her apart. 

Her vision for Beanstalk Coffee and Sno was to create a fun, family-friendly space with something for everyone. It would be a coffee shop where parents would feel comfortable bringing their toddlers. After Little League games, players could eat sno cones while coaches ordered cold brew. She incorporated the beanstalk theme throughout, with beanstalk-shaped cookies, “Jack” and “Giant” sno cone sizes, and a 16-foot beanstalk in the middle of the shop. 

Jennii prepared to open in March 2020 as everything shut down. Instead of waiting, though, she quietly turned on the drive thru’s “Open” sign. Her strategy worked. They were the only drive thru sno cone and coffee shop serving a growing residential community. And families were desperate for reasons to leave the house.

Later, Jennii was able to open the coffee shop to customers and bring her full vision to life. It’s been so successful she’s currently rebranding all of her existing sno cone stands to Beanstalk Coffee and Sno. The unique concept, commitment to community, and over-the-top customer service she’d learned from years in the business sustained her even when Beanstalk was just a drive-thru window. 

“This four foot window has literally been the entertainment for the entire town for the past two months,” Jennii recalled. 

Incorporate Your Own Passions and Experience

  • Coffee Shop to Study: Stylus and Crate
  • Owner: Tadd Overstreet
  • Location: Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Tadd Overstreet at Stylus and Crate

Tadd Overstreet, Stylus and Crate

Tadd Overstreet made a major pivot when he left his corporate career to open a coffee shop. After years in sales and food service, he was ready to incorporate his experience into something he felt passionate about. 

“I decided to do something for me for a change. Instead of chasing money, I thought about the things that were really important to me: sourcing great products, taking care of people, and telling stories.” 

Tadd was intentional in curating the concept for Stylus and Crate. Good food, drink, music, and people were core components of his idea. What he created was an eclectic coffee and waffle shop that spins records and features local artists. Customers can shop through crates of records or be their own DJs. 

“You never know if you’re listening to Sesame Street on a Saturday morning or Lizzo,” Tadd shared. 

At first, Tadd didn’t set out to replace his corporate income. He wanted to do work he was passionate about and contribute to the world in a meaningful way. And he did, relying on the knowledge he brought from his career, a thoughtful coffee shop concept, and a lot of hard work. 

Surround Yourself with People Who Support Your Vision

  • Coffee Shop to Study: Carve Surf and Coffee
  • Owners: Kim Vanderpol and Cate Kelly
  • Location: Jupiter, Florida
Cate and Kim handstands

Cate Kelly and Kim Vanderpol, Carve Surf and Coffee

Not everyone gets to meet their business partner when they’re two years old. But, that’s what happened for Kim Vanderpol and Cate Kelly. The childhood neighbors from Jupiter, Florida, grew up traveling together as competitive surfers. After getting their feet wet (yes, that pun was intentional) in the corporate world, they opened Carve Surf and Coffee. Carve combines a coffee shop with a surfboard membership. Customers rent boards monthly or daily, customized for Jupiter’s waves.

Business partnerships between friends or family can be tricky. That hasn’t been the case for Kim and Cate. They have been methodical about every aspect of their business, including their partnership. After attending our Coffeepreneur® 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class, they followed every step in our road map, from creating budgets, setting timelines and goals, and negotiating their lease. With this attention to detail, it’s not surprising they also garnered support for their idea from friends and family. 

Their approach was to open sustainably, grow organically, and build a strong community. It’s working. One of the keys to Carve’s success is the way Cate and Kim intimately understand their consumer. 

“Something we realized early on that surfing and coffee have in common is community,” Kim said. “It’s a small surfing community in our area, everyone knows each other. There’s a whole lifestyle that extends beyond the water.” 

With this in mind, they’ve taken it upon themselves to engage the surf community. Carve offers pre-surf coffee, the after beach healthy lunches, mid-week yoga meet-ups, and locally-sourced surf retail. Most importantly, that Cate and Kim are an intimate part of the community as the faces of Carve. They recognize that the time, quality, and attention they invest in their community is what keeps their business moving forward. 

Will Yours Be the Coffee Shop to Study in 2021? 

Studying our former students’ success stories helps us hold our position as one of the most up-to-date, comprehensive coffee training schools in the nation. We are consistently inspired by the resilience, innovation, and determination our students bring into our classroom–then take into their communities. 

Will your story be next? If you’re interested in opening a coffee shop, we recommend our Coffeepreneur® 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class for the most comprehensive training. 

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