This month our cafe turns 10 years old and we are planning a major celebration on September 16th. All day long there will be giveaways, raffles, discounts, and lots of high fives. We have been in this industry long enough to learn that most coffee shops never reach this milestone. As Emily and I have done a good bit of looking back on those years this summer, here are just a few of the things that stand out to us.
God brought us a landlord who was willing to accept a measly $900 per month and I think we managed to open the entire place for $76K in buildout expenses and equipment. Was it perfect? Far from it! But it had a charm and a warmth that I believe came from who we were and how we were going about this.
Our First Customer
We can still remember our first customer. It was 7am on our opening day when a small van pulled around the corner and a man we had never met jumped out. He walked in and we showered him with praise for being our very first customer. “You mean, like, ever?” YES! We literally just opened!
“Well then,” he said, without looking at the menu, “I would like a large white chocolate raspberry mocha.” Our minds were short circuiting because we never imagined our very first customer would order something that was not even on the menu! We all got a good laugh out of that and we made him a killer dark chocolate mocha—sans the raspberry.
We Get A Chance to Buy the Building & Expand
Two years in our shop was bursting at the seams when suddenly we got the chance to buy our building and double our space. We jumped at the opportunity and in December of 2014 launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $40K. Those 30 days nearly killed us, but we raised $47K which gave us the seed money to embark on a historic rehab of the building.
Little did we know as we celebrated that win (the team is pictured above), that the road to getting the construction project finished and the entire building rehabbed would be another 22 months! There were lots of revisions to plans and a good bit of battles with contractors (is that ever NOT the case?) But along the way some amazing things happened.
We received a $44K Urban Revitalization Grant from Duke Energy, a $15K Facade Grant from the City of Newport, and qualified for a large historic rehabilitation tax credit from the State of KY and the Federal Government. Without that we would not have been able to complete such a lovely revitalization of this building!
In September 2016 (yes, 22 months later), we finally completed our expansion and launched our Analog Bar. It was the first of its kind in the Midwest—a 6 seat bar where the world of mixology and coffee / tea meshed together. If you’ve been, you know just how special this place is.
Roasting is Moving Out
For several years as our business was rapidly growing we literally had 7 employees working at a 10 foot farm table Monday through Friday, just feet away from all the roasting. All the bookkeeping, wholesale order management, marketing, graphic design, merch development, HR, and more happened at that table.
By the fall of 2019, our roasting operation had outgrown the space it occupied inside our coffee shop. We literally roasted and delivered 100K pounds of coffee that year out of that small space—and a rented store front a half a block away.
We ended up finding a roasting home 1.5 blocks away in a great old warehouse building. It not only gave our employees who worked on that side of the business some much needed space, but gave us the opportunity to add 40 more seats in what is now called The Monmouth Room (the space the roasting previously used).
This was a huge win for our guests who had been willing to cram, and I mean, CRAM into our shop. To put it in perspective, for several years, finding a seat on a Saturday became such a challenge that we literally turned off the WIFI and created what we called Community Saturdays, encouraging our guests to take time to unplug, be together, and talk face-to-face.
Then there was March of 2020 and the craziness of the COVID lockdowns. It was such a challenging and difficult time that we really questioned whether or not we would make it. However, our God saw us through and our customers were tremendous. Seeing our team rally to open up a walk-up window and our customers pivot to start ordering coffee beans and brew gear online was amazing.
How our employees and customers responded to that crisis led us to winning our second Goering Center Award for Small Family Business of the Year in Cincy. But it did come at a price. Many of our staff got burned out through that time and we feel like it has taken us several years to gain back the momentum we lost.
Odds & Ends
Space does not permit me to talk about the “party table” we used to put up on busy Saturdays, the early roasting days, Bello’s Bike Pops, the notes in the brick walls, the special events, and the many, many wonderful baristas who have served guests more than 690,000 times during these 10 years. So many memories made; so many celebrations; so many amazing people!
To get here is humbling—especially when we consider that it would not be possible without our fiercely loyal customers who have never stopped believing in Coffee & Compassion in Tandem.
If you have a special memory of our shop, will you please write to us and share it? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. It would mean the world.