Three years in the life of a small independently owned coffee shop.

Guess what, we turned three today, and let us start by saying we can't thank all of you enough for supporting us. From our casual customer to the regular friendly face to every supplier we work with. We are here at this point thanks to our collective work and belief in our community.

Here is our story thus far.

Like most new ventures, Wunderbar was mostly an idea, one of those ideas that are a "bit" far fetched. It wasn't a new idea of course, lots of other people have had the same goal, but we felt like most shops we went to failed at this, not because they didn't try, but because running a business is hard and ideas get buried in that. To us, a coffee shop is supposed to be about connecting people, more so than about the coffee itself. It should be a space that welcomes all and provides them with a neutral ground, free of the fog of alcohol or the expectation of beliefs, a safe place where everyone can take a break from everything. We believe this place can open hearts and minds and once that happens, anything is possible, even if only for one wonderful second.

Were these ideas too naive and utopic? Was it possible to create a self sustaining space with these set of values in a community of 800 people with little to no budget?

 

Impossible?

 

Maybe.

 

Challenging?

 

Hells yeah!

Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.
— Henry Ford

So we planned and thought about it back and forth a million times, talked to a lot of people, went to SBA classes, then thought about it some more. Then we made a list of requirements, things that would need to happen in order to be able to open. The first thing on the list was a cool building that had a lot of character already built in, a place that didn't need much additional work. Queue Josh and Dana. We had recently become friends and when we would get together we'd always talk about how the area needed a place that was a bit more progressive and fresh, a place that would attract people of all ages. Not long after, they purchased the Opera House and invited us to be a part of The Center.

Things just started to line up and fall into place from there on, but the question that remained was... Could we pull it off? We didn't know that much about coffee or running a business, we both had full time jobs and a kid going into major surgery. But something about it just rung true, and despite the terrifying sensation of being at the edge of a cliff, we did it anyway.

 

When we started, we started from scratch. A shoestring budget that could only afford us some paint, a couple of airpots, and a used espresso machine. Craigslist was our go-to place to find everything.

The space needed some work but remodeling was a breeze thanks to Josh, who's super handy, and the group of guys he had working on the building; they helped us get our space set up. We had no tools or much experience wielding a hammer, nor did we have any equipment! But we got lucky and found a coffee shop that was closing and gave us a good deal on almost everything we needed, including that used espresso machine, which broke a week before we opened. Yes, that happened. Fortunately, the guys at Kiva Han hooked us up with a new machine and we were ready to go.

But why make it easy? We had a daughter who underwent major surgery just before Christmas, and we were juggling her recovery while trying to get a business started.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
— WALT WHITMAN

The first year started with us only able to open in the evening because we couldn't afford to quit our day jobs, we needed to test the waters first and see if there was any response at all.

There was so much to learn, frustration came with every cup, we felt completely lost but trusted that things would get better. People who became customers who became friends kept coming in with words of encouragement, we learned and watched and listened and adjusted and improved and took things out and put them back on. Then we decided to take a leap of faith and Vicky quit her job and we opened in the morning and things got a bit better.

We knew it wasn't going to be easy from the get go, friends and family and books warned us plenty, so we put our heads down and kept on keepin' on. Whenever we felt like closing, some of our regulars would come in and cheer us up or we would see a kid smile looking at the train, we would introduce people who are now friends and that would change our minds and make it worth it all.

Then at the end of the first year Roc broke his ankle in New York City just before christmas and because he had no insurance he managed to add another 20k to the debt pile and was out of commission for a couple of months... Vicky looooved Roc so much back then!

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At the beginning of the second year, after seeing slow growth, we decided to up the ante and added a kitchen and started looking for ways to serve food. It took us months of research, we had to learn everything, find providers, take food safety classes, buy equipment, apply for permits and rearrange the entire space. All this with less of a budget than when we started and with the disheartening news that a competitor was about to open, a competitor with a much bigger budget, human resources and industry knowledge. But what was there to do but to keep on keepin' on.

Having a business is an emotional roller coaster, some days we’re going down a really steep drop and some days we’re slowly climbing up to it, if it’s scary or fun is up to us.

So we finally we came up with a menu, started serving food and then remodeled the space in only four days with the help of many friends and family because we couldn't afford to pay anyone to do the work. It was such a big effort but everyone showed up and worked together to make it happen, it was magic.

And so with this great push we went on and things started to fall apart. Getting food going was more challenging than we expected. It made us appreciate how hard people in the food industry work, if you've never worked in the food industry, consider yourself lucky. It is so hard and so demanding and there is so much at stake, peoples lives are in your hands! And the cleaning, it never ends. We realized it requires a special kind of person to be able to pull it off, someone experienced, knowledgeable and willing to put the kitchen in front of everything else. Neither of us was that person. So we failed, and broke, and kicked and screamed and closed the kitchen and had a little nervous breakdown, by Thanksgiving.

So our family helped pick us back up and despite really wanting to close, we just couldn't let Wunderbar die, we were again driven by that orignal idea, and on Monday we were back at it with as much a smile as possible and we just decided to take it easy, continue to do our best and let things go and just keep on keepin' on and whatever happened happened.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
— SAMUEL BECKET

And so the third year started, we got over our failed kitchen, accepted that we would just be a coffee shop with no food and kept tweaking things here and there and thinking how to continue to improve. We added things like cold brew and our own seltzer and started offering coffee from other roasters among many other little things. We got help and were able to take an extra day off to regroup, rethink things and recharge. After two years of not having a real day off during the week, we finally were able to breathe again, it's amazing what breathing can do for one!

At this point we decided to up the ante one more time. Motivated by a renewed energy in Harmony with the reopening of the Inn and the Sapienza building, Roc decided it was time to quit his job of six years and try to focus on growing the business. That and there was an opportunity in the horizon. The space next to us was going to become available. How can we make this work? We were so nervous, we didn't want to fail again.

And so we got lucky and things just sort of fell into place once more, Seth who had managed a big restaurant told us he was ready to do something on his own and we said, why not right there! And so like the year before, remodel started on the other side, this time it took us a month. We had so many delays and just couldn't find the things we needed but in the end it all worked out and we opened it up, and it turned out quite nice and seeing people smile in there makes it all worth it. 

And so here we are, three years later, on our third anniversary, looking at another year and hoping to see our area bloom even more. There is so much more to learn, to do and so many people to meet.

Things are looking up and we managed to get through the holidays with no major incident! Oh wait, Vicky did get hit by a car driven by a pastor, fortunately it was nothing major but it was as scarier than it was comical. Aaanyway, now we're even open seven days a week and extended our hours. Who knows what else this year will bring! Be it tragedy or opportunity we will be taking it head on, as we have so far.

This is the story of every small business out there, people making huge sacrifices to follow an idea, a dream, it's so inspiring. Today we celebrate another year and we raise our glasses and make a toast to every small business owner out there and to the customers that support them.

Cheers.