What made you decide to leave engineering and open Caffe Nation?
I guess I could claim that my mom dropped me on my head when I was young. At the time, it seemed like a very plausible idea. I knew there would be a lot of work involved, but I guess that like a lot of people, I wanted to be in control of my own destiny, and not work for someone else for the rest of my life.
That makes sense.
Although I was not a big-time coffee drinker--I mean, I thought that coffee and bagels on a Friday made for a nice treat--there wasn't really a place for that on this side of town. We saw a need. I didn't want to do it alone, so I tried to enlist a partner. I pitched my ideas to several people, and they understandably didn't want to take the risk at that time. ... The reason I didn't ask Dov before is that I knew he wasn't a coffee drinker. But he went home, talked to his wife and said he was on board.
How did you go about things from there?
We had to find out how one starts and runs a coffee shop. There was a lot of reading. We met and spoke with folks around town: business owners or people who had their own coffee shops. We actually approached the owner of a local chain about franchising, and he was not interested, so we pretty much started from scratch. ... We had to learn a lot of things the hard way: on our own. We had to develop a business plan to approach people for funding; then we had to figure out who to go to and how to get funding. Well, we didn't (get any funding).
Wow. Then how did you get money?
I sold a house, and Dov obtained his own personal funding; that allowed us to proceed. It's hard. The restaurant business is the highest-risk start-up business, and funding is the hardest to get.
So, almost nine months in, how's it going?
Well, I can say that there are ups and downs. There are rewards for having your own business, and trials we didn't expect. For example, we've already been broken into. None of the original employees are around anymore. Those kinds of things don't go away. Business has gone up, and then it's gone down. Every time I think I have it figured out, it changes in a way I didn't anticipate. ... We advertise when we can afford it, and we keep the quality standards high. Word of mouth is the big way we get new customers.
Any predictions for the future?
It's tough. Obviously, I hope business keeps improving, and I see signs of that. But other business owners told me to expect a 10-15 percent rise coming into the fall; that hasn't happened yet. A lot of other businesses in town are noticing business is down, too. Is it the election? The economy? It's probably a combination of things. ... But we'll get there. New customers keep finding us--it's the word of mouth again.
Tell me about the sort-of run-in you recently had with the Star.
Yeah, that was good. A business columnist wrote an article lamenting the lack of any kind of coffee shop on the southside, and he kept mentioning Starbucks by name. He said with the airport and businesses like Raytheon, it was a good place for a coffee shop. I was a little surprised; some folks from the Star had come in here. Now, I understand that the Star is a big employer with a large office, so ... I wrote a letter to the editor, saying that we're here and that we do have customers from the airport and businesses like Raytheon.
From what I understand, a Starbucks just opened near Irvington Road and Interstate 19. Does the competition worry you?
We actually did some demographic research prior to our opening that said the area ... could support two coffee shops within a few miles, so we can co-exist. ... (The Starbucks) is far enough away, and we serve great food and all kinds of other offerings. ... As it stands now, we're doing everything right, and we're not concerned. I think we'll be fine.