Meet the Co-Founders of Carve Surf and Coffee
Kim Vanderpol and Cate Kelly met when they were two years old. As kids, they grew up on the beaches Jupiter, Florida. As teens, they traveled together as competitive surfers. And now, they’re the owners of Carve Surf and Coffee, in Tequesta, Florida, right on the beaches they grew up surfing together. Carve’s coffee shop concept is a direct extension of Kim and Cate’s lifestyle.
Opening a coffee shop wasn’t the first step in Kim or Cate’s career journey. As young adults, Kim and Cate took corporate jobs in IT, in marketing, and project management. The close friends followed similar career paths, working in cities like Miami and New York. At one point, the two of them started to think about how they could really design their lives and careers around what they were passionate about.
“Two of the things we had always bonded over were surfing and coffee,” shared Cate. “It was always a dream of ours to create a space that combined those two passions.”
To bring their coffee and surf concept to life, they traveled to Texas Coffee School. In January of 2019, one year after attending the Texas Coffee School 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class, Kim and Cate opened the doors at Carve.
Becoming Baristas Without Experience
When Cate and Kim first considered their business concept for a coffee and surf shop, they had no coffee or entrepreneurial experience. What they did have was work ethic, passion, and the ability to follow through with a plan.
Cate and Kim’s very first barista training experience was at Texas Coffee School. After completing our coffee business class, Kim and Cate returned home to Florida to find jobs as baristas. Seeking diverse experiences, Kim found a barista job with a corporate chain. Cate found one at a mom and pop coffee shop.
“We got to compare notes about what we wanted to do [in our coffee shop] and what we didn’t,” Kim shared. “Between the hands-on experience in the coffee business class and six to eight months as baristas in coffee shops, we felt pretty good about things.”
Opening a Coffee Shop, One Step at a Time
Kim and Cate’s business philosophy was to start slow and grow organically. They wanted to build a sustainable business and run a lean operation. Methodically, the duo created budgets and timelines to keep their plan on track. Kim credits Cate’s project management background, but Cate insists it was the partnership that made it work.
“We followed Tom’s Texas Coffee School guide to a t,” Kim said, referencing the step-by-step coffee business road map we provide our students. “We followed the workbook, referenced our notes. And we took that packet with us everywhere, from negotiating our lease to going through the build out. Once we were up and running, we followed the operations manual as well.”
When it was finally time to open, Kim and Cate did so without fanfare. “From one day to the next, we ripped down the brown paper in the window and propped open the door,” Cate laughed.
For the first year, the two friends were Carve’s only employees. They designed the entire menu and store so one person could manage it at a time, alternating morning and afternoon shifts. In the small beach town where they both grew up, the locals learned about Carve from word of mouth. As Carve grew, they hired employees. They added menu items, local surf retail, and days to the schedule.
“We look back on photos of when we first opened the shop and we laugh because it looked so bare!” Cate shared. “There’s nothing on the walls, there aren’t any shelves, there’s barely any retail items. But now the shop has really filled in.”
Month after month, they grew their business in a way that felt comfortable. And month after month, sales went up a little, then a little more.
Surf Meets Coffee: A Lifestyle
Carve Surf and Coffee is both a cafe and a board club. Carve offers 21 surfboards available for rent to monthly or daily members. The boards were designed for Carve, eco friendly, and customized for Jupiter’s waves. It’s a perfect fit for Kim and Cate, who are both intentional about Carve’s core values of sustainability and supporting the local community they both love.
In our coffee business classes, we emphasize the importance of creating your coffee shop’s unique selling proposition. (A coffee shop’s unique selling proposition can’t just be “having great coffee.” That’s the minimum requirement for being a coffee shop. A unique selling proposition is what sets you apart from every other coffee shop with great coffee.) A big part of Cate and Kim’s success can be attributed to how they tied their passion for the surf lifestyle into their coffee shop user experience. This enabled them to not only create something fresh and personally fulfilling, but it also enabled them to create diverse streams of revenue and unique opportunities for their customers to grow and participate within their lifestyle brand.
“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.”
She continued, “Before people are in the water, they’re in the parking lot. They’re talking to each other, calling each other, and letting each other know what the waves are doing that day. And likewise, after surfing together, people go to eat, or get a drink. So we wanted to create a space for surfers to come in the morning. Talk amongst each other, grab a coffee, grab a board, go out surfing, then come back and grab a light bite to eat.”
Kim and Cate are quick to note they aren’t the first ones to create a surf-style coffee shop concept. They were inspired by some shops on the West Coast, in Australia, and even New York. Once they were inspired by the cafe plus surf shop vibe, then put their own twist on it to fit into Jupiter–and align with their values.
Best Friends and Business Partners
With nearly a lifetime together, Kim and Cate are very in sync as business partners and friends. It helps that they’ve shared so many interests and experiences–they even like the same kinds of coffee.
“We knew going into this that some people will straight up discourage you from going into business with a best friend or family member,” Kim shared. “So, we tried to keep in mind the potential challenges that can pop up when you’re working together as lifelong best friends. We signed an operating agreement between the two of us. That’s something we both planned for and agreed on up front.”
As it turns out, planning and agreeing are two of the things Kim and Cate do best. And Carve is thriving as a result of their partnership.
How to Bring Your Coffee Shop Concept to Life
Do you have a concept or an idea for a coffee shop? Our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class can help you bring your coffee shop concept to life. No matter your experience, we teach you how to open a coffee shop step-by-step. Learn more about all of our coffee education classes here.