Little Brick Coffee Opens a Coffee Shop in Small Town Maryland

When Coffeepreneurs® Dorrie and Jeff Pilot bought an eight-acre property in the country, they had big dreams of what they’d do with it. The vision began with two existing buildings the duo planned to turn into a brewery. But what about the tiny building—a former 1980s two-pump gas station—that stood by the entrance to the property? Could they try using the space to open a coffee shop in a small town?

Thus, Little Brick Coffee was born. In the 900-population town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, Little Brick Coffee made 477 drinks in the first few days of being open. The town has no traffic lights and no stop signs. However, the cafe lives on a heavily-trafficked commuter route that’s half a mile from a local university and close to the Potomac River—a mecca for bicyclists, hikers, tourists, and kayakers.

open a coffee shop in small town

Source: Little Brick Coffee Instagram

How Texas Coffee School Welcomed Little Brick Coffee into the Coffee World

When Dorrie and Jeff began planning to open the coffee shop in a small town, they were missing one key thing—experience in the coffee industry. They learned about our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class and flew out for a weekend in July of 2022.

“I trepidatiously flew to Dallas thinking I would surely be out of my league and surrounded by people with vast prior knowledge,” Dorrie says. “I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful classmates and instructors, and just how warmly I was received.”

The couple left with a wealth of knowledge and coffee education resources. Five months later, Dorrie religiously tracks her numbers and profit margins. Plus, the seasonal drink recipes she learned at Texas Coffee School—the Texas Sheet Cake Latte and Cardamom Rose Latte—are two of their biggest sellers!

Q&A With Dorrie Pilot, Texas Coffee School Coffeepreneur®

Q: What were some of your fears about opening a coffee shop, especially in a rural small town? How have you overcome those fears, or have any of them been proven wrong?

Dorrie: Honestly, I had a fear that people in small towns wouldn’t appreciate specialty coffee! My biggest fear was that somehow good coffee would be thought of as the freshly brewed pot at the gas station.

Truth is, our small town residents are hungry for good coffee. I was worried that the prices that I have established in order to be a profitable business would be completely rejected. But nobody is complaining at all. They just want a great product and great customer service, which is what we are delivering.

I also made the decision to open at 6:00 a.m. to catch all of the blue collar commuters. They love that we are open so early and will stop in for a coffee or a latte and a baked treat and head on their way. I think they love the personal connection and are glad to have someone make their drink for them instead of having to do it themselves at a gas station.

Little Brick Coffee

Q: It sounds like you’ve had amazing success already. Can you share more detail about how you got the word out when you opened? Do you credit marketing, social media, your location, or other tactics for bringing in customers?

Dorrie: Although we’re in a tiny town, we’re on a state road that’s heavily traveled by people going to work in the “big” town 30 minutes away. We have a large parking lot that’s easy to get in and out of. And we’ve put up signage along the road.

We’ve also gotten a following on social media and are posting almost daily. Our customers love it when we repost their posts about us and mention them in our stories. We also drop pictures of our specials and drinks.

Yesterday, we got a new baked item—cake pops—and posted a picture of them. Thirty minutes later, we had a new customer walk in and tell us that his wife called him and told him that he had to go over to the coffee shop and buy her cake pops because she saw it on Instagram! We sold half a case of them on day one of having them in stock.

Little Brick Coffee

Source: Little Brick Coffee Instagram

Q: Any tips on hiring or training? Hiring can be a challenge for coffee shops, especially in small towns.

Dorrie: As far as hiring and training, we hired a local waitress with exceptional customer service skills. We got her trained on making coffee and steaming milk.

Our customers also love that we employ people with developmental disabilities. They may even get a drink in a cup that has an artful smiley face drawn on it by our beloved Gillie. We love that Gillie gets to be included in the community while earning a living. She gets lots of smiles and good feelings from our customers. It’s a win-win. They love her already!

Get people with good work ethics. The rest will come.

Little Brick Coffee

Source: Little Brick Coffee Instagram

P.S. Texas Coffee School also offers a 2-Day Barista Training Class to help baristas hit the ground running. View upcoming class dates!

Q: You mentioned you were surprised by the customers you’re bringing in. What misconceptions did you have before you started? Are you marketing yourself differently now?

Dorrie: I thought we’d have a primarily young crowd when we chose to open a coffee shop in a small town. But we run the gamut age-wise. We have a regular elderly customer who loves coming in and ordering a caramel macchiato with an extra shot and a blueberry scone.

We also have our repeat “trade” guys coming in at 5:30 a.m. in their giant work trucks ordering a caramel latte with whip and pastry. Those guys love their lattes and scones, and have no problem shelling out $10+ every single day. We appreciate our trade customers!

Q: Any other details you’d like to share?

Dorrie: Expect long hours! I’m here at 5:00 a.m. and I leave at 6:00 p.m. every day for now. At this early stage of our business it’s so critical to be here every day and that my employee sees me working harder than anyone she’s ever met. If she sees me giving my all every day, she’s going to give me her all too!

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