Aryana Buck and Evan Meyer believed in their vision even when others had doubts. While attending UW-Superior, the two young entrepreneurs were inspired to start their own coffee shop. Naysayers thought the couple, in their early 20s, were simply too young to succeed, especially in a climate where investors were hesitant because of a market possibly already saturated with coffee shops. However, a unique vision and locale along with some help from others made their dream a reality.
Aryana and Evan were so thankful when an advisor at the School of Business and Economics referred them to the UW- Superior Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to pursue their entrepreneurship dream. At the SBDC, they enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) and met Andy Donahue, the Center Director. Aryana said, “ETP was really helpful, especially the guest speakers because they reinforced ideas I had and provided detailed information on topics like taxes.” Andy said the pair was very willing to adapt their business model and pivot to fit the needs of the community while still holding true to their vision.
He helped the couple with industry data, financial projections, a business plan, capital infusion and site location. Ultimately, the historic Empire Block Building provided the perfect spot for the unique coffee shop. Built in 1892, the building’s 30-foot high ornate tin ceilings and beautiful Victorian Roman architecture helped them stand out, and 1900 square feet offered space for their kitchen and their “tap house model” often used at breweries. Offering three or four blends at a time pleases lots of different customers and supports multiple local roasters. The kitchen features sandwiches, salads, breakfast and also brings a tie with the community by offering locally sourced baked goods from Wednesday Bakery.
THE COVID PANDEMIC
Perhaps more importantly, the huge space also allowed the shop to remain open during the COVID pandemic due to ample room for social distancing. The business struggled in the beginning of the crisis with supply chain issues such as obtaining needed cleaning supplies and sanitizers. Sales were down to about a third of normal sales; however, delayed payments and other leniency from the landlord allowed them to stay open. The online ordering system they already had in place boomed during the pandemic and adding curbside pickup and community artists were a big success as well. Ultimately, the sales during the year of COVID were up from the previous year.
Partnering with a local photographer helped draw customers to the shop. The partnership began with Joe Polecheck occasionally hosting a pop-up shop of his beautiful photos in the coffee shop. Then he moved to offering shows once per month, and now he has a small storefront in the space as well. Joe even designed the website for Empire Coffee along with some of the shop’s merchandise.
Community is very important to Aryana and Evan. They host lots of events and participate in neighborhood festivals like North End Days and East End Days. Aryana said, “This is the hardest stuff I’ve ever done, but it is super cool to be part of the growing scene in Superior. Local people are supportive of our shop and all are working hard to keep the business community alive.”
The community looks forward to seeing what Aryana and Evan will do next. Maybe they will even see a food truck at those local events and festivals in the future.