Grab a cup of coffee for today’s episode!
My guest Jenny Hackney has been in the coffee business since 1985. She always wanted to open up a coffee shop, but didn’t have a lot of capital investment for it. Jenny didn’t want to have a business partner either, so she knew that a mobile business was the right decision for her.
Her business Gratitude Coffee has now been open for almost 3 years and currently sits in front of Cavanaugh’s Fine Wines on Edgewater Drive, located in College Park. Jenny shares how she began working in the coffee business, and how her business came to be.
1) Jenny is a coffee pro.
Jenny’s involvement in the coffee business began in 1985. She was a single mom with a toddler, always working nights in the restaurant industry.
She wanted to get into a different job where she could work during the day. So she started working for Barnie’s Coffee and Tea, running a couple different locations.
Although Jenny started at Barnie’s, she spent most of her career working at Starbucks. She worked there for 15 years before starting her own coffee company.
Jenny really came to admire Starbuck’s CEO Howard Shultz’s leadership while at Starbucks. One concept that Jenny took to heart about the coffee business, was the idea of creating a third place for people to visit in their daily lives. The idea is that people go to work and home, and their neighborhood coffee shop should be third on their list of regular places to visit to congregate or unwind and read a book.
2) Jenny wanted to start a business her way.
Jenny got the push to go after her own business in 2008 with the culmination of a manager that was hard to work for. She knew the universe was telling her that she needed to go after the business she knew she needed to lead.
Jenny wanted to get the company started inexpensively, so she came up with an idea to serve customers from a coffee truck, similar to a food truck. Since a physical storefront would require a lot more capital than Jenny had, she decided a truck would be a good direction to get her concept going.
So she started to reach out to people in her network to find anyone else who ran a business similar to what she wanted to start. From there, she was introduced to a woman in Lakeland who had a similar concept as Jenny’s vision.
The woman became a great resource, and Jenny even spent a few days shadowing the woman on the truck to learn how the truck was set up and how she ran the business. “It was a jump-off spot,” Jenny said and allowed her to avoid some pitfalls right away when she opened her own business.
Next, Jenny searched for a food truck. Found in Odessa, FL, Tte truck was purchased from a man who bought it from a municipality auction. Previously, the truck had been a special command vehicle. This was the truck, Jenny thought to herself when she saw it.
After she bought the truck, it needed a facelift. That’s when the beautiful Tiffany Blue shade the truck now adorns was painted on. With a build out on the inside of the truck too, she was finally able to make the business a reality.
3) Building a loyal customer base was important from the beginning!
From the beginning, Jenny knew she wanted to find a spot where she could set up her truck to get to know her local clientele. “I wanted to have a good morning location where I could build a following. It’s connecting with people you see every day. You learn about their lives. You see their success, triumph, and pain.”
For a long time, Jenny set up shop on Par Street, in front of Daisy’s Flowers. However, after Hurricane Irma, the area lost power for almost a week.
Jenny stopped by throughout the week to take care of a cat that lived in the area, and she started to see the space with new eyes. That location became a place that didn’t match the vision of what Jenny wanted for her shop. So she suggested some changes she wanted to make (and was willing to do herself), but the landlord didn’t see the same vision she had.
So Jenny knew the universe was telling her it was time to move and find a new place to set up her truck. Jenny’s friend, who owned another business in the area, suggested that she speak to the owners of Cavanaugh’s Fine Wines about collaborating. The owner of Cavanaugh’s liked the collaboration idea, and soon, Jenny set up her truck there.
She entered the new location without expectations but was quickly surprised by how great the community responded to the change. “I hit the ground running, and it never stopped.”
The new owner at Cavanaugh’s has a similar vision as Jenny, with the idea to make the area live up to the potential that space could really have. It’s a collaboration that Jenny is really excited to be a part of.
4) Jenny loves to collaborate with the community.
Gratitude Coffee’s truck is all about participation and partnership. Most of the items on her truck are supplied from other local vendors. The coffee comes from a local roaster, Coffee Roasters Alliance, which is another woman-owned business!
She also offers pastries from local suppliers like Sugarbuzz Dezert Company, and juices from JJ Juice. “I’m really passionate about keeping it local as much as I can.”
As for College Park, Jenny loves it. She doesn’t just run her business there, she lives there and feels it’s the perfect community for her.
Jenny appreciates the neighborhood’s positive reputation. People are always walking around outside in the new area she’s in, near Lake Adair and Ivanhoe Street. This has been wonderful exposure for Gratitude Coffee.
She knows a loyal customer base was her key to success. AndJenny loves her regulars. She has a trick she likes to do when she sees a regular show up: she prepares their regular drink and hides it to wait for their order. If they order their regular item, she whips it out for them to enjoy without the wait! It’s a great customer service trick that can make someone’s day.
5) Gratitude Coffee’s name came from a couple of different pieces that affected Jenny.
Jenny was in a horrible relationship that took five times for her to finally break up and move on. While she was in the awful relationship, she felt like she was floating over herself and didn’t recognize the person she was looking down upon.
Once she broke away from the relationship, she was very grateful that she was free, expressing gratitude for every moment she experienced outside of that relationship. She truly believes she would have died if she stayed in it because it was abusive and destructive.
At the last Starbucks Jenny ran, she led a group of dedicated employees. She modeled behaviors to these women to remind them that “you don’t take shit from nobody.”
These employees were young, college women who were remarkable coworkers. She encouraged them to be their best selves.
“I want to put it out there to be strong, capable women, independent. I don’t understand how people can be otherwise.”
Whether it’s opening a business or working hard for a business, Jenny recognizes that making these decisions is big and scary.
She recalls a time when she rented a large truck for a move. Jenny worried she wouldn’t be able to handle driving the moving truck to get through the move.
Luckily, her mom was with her when she rented it. She looked at Jenny and said, “Honey, you can drive that truck!” And Jenny did. Now it’s a mantra she carries with her anytime she has to go through a difficult situation.
Jenny also reflects on Howard Schultz’s words, who inspired her over the years. “Persevere and never give up. No matter what anyone thinks. If you want it, you can make it happen.”