Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Abby McLeay, Owner of Zen Coffee Company, located in Omaha, NE USA.

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

Zen Coffee Co. is a Specialty Coffee Shop in Omaha, NE. We have 3 Locations across town, and we are known mostly for our Coffee Flights and Toasts, which we rolled out in 2020. Our space is open to all, and we truly have a very diverse crowd of people coming in and out on the day, to day-whether it's travelers, students, entrepreneurs, politicians and change-makers, artists, first responders, and even a number of actors, directors, and musicians that sneak in for a moment of solace.

We pride ourselves in offering inclusive spaces, each location with a different feel and setting - but always Good Vibes and Great Coffee!

Tell us about yourself

I was a Single Mom and worked full-time in Non-Profits, specifically Grief Support, which was very heavy work. While very rewarding, it did not pay well, so I picked up a job at our local corporate coffee chain. I did very well here and moved up very quickly to being promoted to Regional Management, and this completely changed my career path for the better.

I love coffee. I enjoyed the positive interactions with people but working for corporate is exactly as people depict it, and it was a very toxic environment. I left this company and immediately decided I could do something better and create a "Zen Space" for my peers and a work environment that was enjoyable.

In a moment of courage, maybe a bit of spite, I started making the motions to open my own shop and haven't stopped since. With that created opportunities for training in Specialty Coffee and opened my eyes to a world beyond the quick coffee shops and the real art of coffee itself.

My teams and my family are what motivate me daily. Having an opportunity to lead such wonderful humans fills my heart. I was a single Mom for many years, working.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I've reached some extraordinary sales marks that I am very proud of.
We've maintained "best of" awards positions in our community for all 5 years of being in business.

I'm opening my 3rd location this month, and we just celebrated our 5th year anniversary!

I have a team of over 25 wonderful humans who I love very much. I created an environment that people want to show up to each day.

I've maintained a Green Business Certification-ultimately encouraging our community to make those extra efforts to compost and recycle each day.

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

You are on call 24/7. You are accountable for everything that happens within your business, and nobody will ever care more about your business than you. You have to put a whole lot of trust in others.

Pandemics and the unexpected global crisis are creating a chain of events such as distribution being shut down almost entirely and not being able to serve your usual products, costing more to purchase new products, and causing you to raise prices... ultimately upsetting customers and creating bad reviews. You have to maneuver quickly and be ready for anything.

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

  1. Don't talk about your plans, make your moves in silence and only announce big things when it's signed on. You never know who is going to run with your ideas.
  2. Your customers and teams are your biggest supporters. Be kind to them, listen to them, and take care of them.
  3. Be realistic about the numbers and the time and effort you're going to put into your business. Anyone can have a good idea--but do they all see it through? I believe my success is attributed to the fact that I am in my business every day, interacting with my teams and customers and physically working and serving my community.
  4. Be frugal. When you start making profits, take care of your needs but reinvest that into your company. Plan for anything that can come up-such as a pandemic. They say to save for 3 months, and I truly believe in that.

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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