Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mike Lenda, CEO of The Well Coffeehouse, located in Nashville, TN, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I lead The Well Coffeehouse, a non-profit social enterprise coffee roaster retailer based in Nashville, TN. We serve the local community who visit our stores and enjoy our coffee, as well as those who visit online to order coffee to enjoy in their home across the US! We also serve our mission - those living in coffee-growing regions - through access to fair wages for their coffee and access to safe water for their communities and families.

Tell us about yourself

It's the connection with the community that connected me with the coffee business. It started when I was a barista at Starbucks over two decades ago - and how I saw my relationships with my community change before my eyes. I loved that I was able to be in the people business serving coffee, and that same motivation carries me forward today. We live in an isolating world. Loneliness is an epidemic. The coffee shop environment creates a space for the community to happen and for conversations to happen. We've hosted weddings in our stores, and we've grieved with customers who have lost loved ones. Without genuine relationships with our customers, we have a fun hobby, but we want to make a difference bigger than a hobby. We want lives to be changed locally and globally. Through the loyalty of our customers, we have seen over 50 communities and 20,000 receive access to safe water in the last ten years. That's worth celebrating.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Although we've made a great impact in the lives of our coffee-growing communities through wages and water, it's the stories I get from my customers in our stores that say 'your staff made me feel special on a hard day' or the comment I get from an employee that says 'I didn't know that working here meant I was going to have a new family that cares for me.' I want to make sure we are creating an environment that our customers and our employees enjoy coming to. We can put a culture statement or values on the wall, but it's what happens on the day-to-day that matters. The days that I hear that it's actually more than words on the page that is priceless. We all have choices to make each day - where do we go for coffee to wear we will work? I want people to choose us every day, and that will only happen if we truly live out what we want to be.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

As author Bob Goff says, we have to "keep our eyes on our own paper." That's what our teachers used to say to us when we were kids, and that is true today. It's easy to look at what others are doing and think, 'man, I wish I was doing that. I wish I had thought of that idea. I wish I had that product.' However, the most important thing is the remember your why and stay focused on that. I have to stay focused. It's so easy to get distracted by what others are doing. It's easy to think that others are moving faster or better than you. There is a difference between inspiration and a knee-jerk reaction. The difference is the fear of missing out. It's more important to do what you do it well and keep at it. There's enough for all of us.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Your mission matters - start with the why. Make it stick. It will motivate you on your hard days and will differentiate you from others in your space.
  2. Surround yourself with people who will fill in the blanks for you. You are not the superhero. If you are great at operations, then find a visionary that breathes life into you. If you're a visionary, then find people who will land the plane and execute the vision.
  3. Take care of yourself. Find people to share life with, people you can be honest with, people who will be honest with you. Take vacations. It's ok to work hard, but it's also important to rest hard. You are not your job or your business. It's all about the long game.

Where can people find you and your business?




If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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