Meet the Owner of “Coffee on the Red”
Nelson Lewis founded Coffee on the Red in Bossier City, Louisiana with his brother Andrew. The Lewis brothers are both equine veterinarians, and the coffee shop isn’t their first business together. In fact, they still run a veterinary business full time as they’ve managed to build, open, and run Coffee on the Red.
Nelson’s love for coffee developed in veterinary school, where coffee fueled a lot of late nights studying. The dream of opening a coffee shop one day stayed in the back of his mind as he pursued his veterinary career.
A few years ago, Nelson traveled to Phoenix for work. While he was there, he visited a coffee shop with a family-oriented, community atmosphere (and excellent coffee).
“If I’m going to create a coffee shop, I want it to be like this,” Nelson thought.
Seizing the Opportunity for the Right Location
The visit to Phoenix reignited Nelson’s vision to open a coffee shop. But it was a location that moved him to take action. In a rapidly growing part of Bossier City, there was some undeveloped land off of a busy road with its own entry and traffic light. Nelson knew a drive thru coffee shop with quality specialty drinks, character, conference space, and convenient access from the road was exactly what his community needed.
“I kept looking at this location thinking this thing would be awesome for a coffee shop. I know it would be. It’s on the right side of the road, and our town is really exploding,” Nelson shared.
Not the type of person to wait around on a good idea, Nelson searched the internet for advice on how to open a successful coffee shop. When he found the Texas Coffee School 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class, a plan for Coffee on the Red was born.
How to Open a Coffee Shop with a Full Time Job (During a Pandemic)
It’s not a small undertaking to open a coffee shop. Doing so while maintaining a full time job as a veterinarian for race horses is even more intimidating. Nelson didn’t look at it this way, though.
“I don’t look at things as to their size. I just do them,” Nelson shared. When he and his brother broke ground on Coffee on the Red, they even took on some of the building process themselves. While Andrew built the tables out of reclaimed wood, Nelson did the welding on the outside of the building.
“We’re really hands on in everything we do, maybe to a fault,” Nelson admitted. “But, surprisingly, the real blessing of the whole thing was, we opened during COVID.”
Because Nelson mostly works on race, barrel, and jumping horses, the pandemic slowed business at the animal hospital. In the spring, cancelled sporting events gave the brothers time to focus on opening Coffee on the Red. The only other coffee shop nearby, a Starbucks, was closed. They set a goal to open their drive thru as soon as possible.
On May 4, 2020 (one week before Starbucks was scheduled to reopen), Coffee on the Red officially opened. Even though they only opened the drive-thru from 8:00 to noon, they were serving over 220 cars a day during the first week.
Using Social Media to Grow a Coffee Shop’s Audience
Since its opening, Coffee on the Red has been growing rapidly. Nelson credits social media for helping to spread awareness in the community. As soon as they opened, he and his team started inundating the Coffee on the Red Facebook page with photos of featured drinks (like peanut butter velvet brew), videos of the staff, and coffee memes. They hosted competitions for monthly Pup Cup Mascots. (Vote for the cutest local dog photo, and that dog will receive a free pup cup.) There’s even the occasional sock update, which showcases staffer Isaac’s wacky patterned socks.
When people craved connection and entertainment during the pandemic, Coffee on the Red offered lighthearted content and fun local events. Nelson’s original dream of opening a community-focused coffee shop is exactly what the town needed.
“Once it kicked off, people just loved it. Everything has been positive,” Nelson shared. And that’s not surprising. Nelson and Andrew’s positivity and optimistic vision is likely what made Coffee on the Red come to life in the first place.
“It’s not all fuzzy wuzzy stuff in any business,” Nelson shared. Despite his early success, he understands it’s going to take time to grow the business into what he wants it to be. “But you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. And you can’t be scared to do it.”
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