Grab-a-Java ending run
Carla Stall shifted bags of coffee beans on the counter on a rainy Friday afternoon. She has a week left before those familiar chores will no longer be part of the daily routine. Cars pulled into the parking lot and lined up at the drive-thru win...
Carla Stall shifted bags of coffee beans on the counter on a rainy Friday afternoon.
She has a week left before those familiar chores will no longer be part of the daily routine. Cars pulled into the parking lot and lined up at the drive-thru window in search of speciality coffees, a snack, frothy beverages or straight doses of caffeine.
But those days are now numbered.
Grab-a-Java will be closing its doors at 5 p.m. Friday.
Carla and Scott Stall opened their business on May 24, 2003. They were looking for a business enterprise and a friend suggested a drive-thru coffee shop.
"It's been a nice long run." Stall said. The business provided a flexible schedule and allowed them to provide jobs for their children through a hard recession.
Leaving the business wasn't something the couple planned. Stall sent out a resume to a company she was interested in and got a job offer last Wednesday. She wasn't ready to say where she'll be going, but the idea of working a 40-hour week without a small business owner's added burdens had its appeal.
"I'm kinda excited for the change," Stall said. "Owning your own business makes you a really good employee. We've had quite a blessing for 13 years."
Now they are putting the business up for sale. Stall said she's already fielded interested calls.
Friday, she greeted customers at the drive-thru by name. Others are familiar faces known more for their favorite speciality coffee. Through the drive-thru window, the Stalls have seen children grow, gotten to recognize pets and may have been among the first to notice customers in a new car. Before the recession, Grab-a-Java employed six workers. But as times were tough, people cut back on the higher-priced specialty drinks or changed to a straight brew to save money. The Stalls picked up more work hours. But Stall said their business was small enough to be largely recession proof and ended up providing jobs for their children when work was hard to come by.
One of their sons got a career job offer because of his time at the drive-thru window. Stall said one of her regular customers liked her son's personality and knew he was going to college for accounting. Stall said the ability to start a casual conversation with customers is becoming a lost ability as more people communication electronically even among their own friends.
"It's just a gift to talk to people and start a conversation," Stall said, noting she talks about the weather every time she goes to the drive-thru window. Friday, the common thread was how different it was to see all-day rain after a dry spell and how grateful people were it wasn't snow.
The Stalls tried expansions on five different occasions, moving into the Westgate Mall and setting up a location in Pillager. They tried to expand their operation in Brainerd, but Stall said they felt rebuffed by the city council when a plan to expand the business there seemed bogged down in discussions about the aroma from roasting coffee, something the Stalls said they were not planning to do. Stall said they were also invited to expand into the plaza by Home Depot, but the city of Baxter determined there wasn't enough room for vehicle stacking at the proposed drive-thru.
Through it all, Stall said business was good. Customers were loyal. Stall said people in Brainerd are loyal to independent businesses. Closing the shop, she said, wasn't something they had to do but arose when the right opportunity came along. That's not to say there haven't been challenges. Street construction and the closure of Excelsior Road meant some customers went other places. Some no longer had time to make the detour and get the coffee on their work commutes. And the business faces the prospect of the same issue next season with Jackson Street. Stall said there are other challenges from a rising minimum wage, finding employees and getting affordable health care for themselves. The idea of a new competitor on Washington Street with the arrival of Dunkin' Donuts was a consideration but not a major factor. Stall said they believe in their product and aren't afraid of competition. Now they hope someone will step in to take the business.
"I hate to say good-bye," Stall said. "I've have to do that so much this week."
One customer cried at the news.
"I'm sad for the customers," Stall said, noting some she may not see again now with her life on a different path. "We are leaving them without their caffeine."
Customer favorites included Highland Grog and their Turtle beverage. When they opened the drive-thru coffee shop it was newer concept in Brainerd.
"It's still a good idea," Stall said. "It's just time for use to make a change."
She said new energy is needed to grow the business and tap into social media.
When they started they researched the business. They went to a class in the Twin Cities and attended the "How to Start Your own Business" course at Central Lakes College. Stall pointed to the Small Business Development Center as a key resource with a wealth of knowledge. She said they went to the SBDC with every expansion plan and received good guidance. It's a resource for business, she said, that isn't always tapped. She also used her own business administration degree. Stall said it hasn't felt like it was work but she sometimes felt all she needed was a cot to sleep on as she worked on the books after the coffee shop closed. Now, she is contemplating having time to cook for her family and enjoy extra hours for herself, even shopping on Black Friday.
During their run, Stall said they were able to do what they wanted in providing a good product and being good employers.
One of her main concerns with the change was telling employee Jadyn Young who has become like family. Friday, Young was still adjusting to the news.
"It's been amazing," she said of joining Grab-a-Java last year. "I really enjoy talking with the people. I like working for a small mom and pop kind of shop."
Young is going to school for natural resources but she said she wouldn't mind running or even owning Grab-a-Java if she had an angel investor to help.
RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .