When the 58-acre Lowell Neighborhood, centered around the old Lowell Elementary School south of downtown, was redeveloped, it was envisioned to be a mixed-use creation where people worked and socialized near the places where they lived.
That set the stage for 31-year-old Joshua Kennard to open Lofty’s, a coffee, tea, sandwich and beer shop where Lowell community members catch up with each other.
Open now for a little more than a year, Lofty’s strives to serve food and drink with prices that accommodate the low-income residents and seniors that are part of the community.
The business is thriving, but not because of the lessons learned while earning an MBA. On the contrary, the young entrepreneur never graduated from high school or even earned a GED.
That all hasn’t seemed to matter.
How long has Lofty’s been open, and what do you hope to accomplish?
Lofty’s is a locally owned eating and drinking establishment designed to meet the needs of a mixed-use neighborhood. The Lowell School neighborhood redeveloped an area at the south-end of downtown to contain housing for low-, moderate- and high-incomes. It included many places for people to operate businesses on the ground floor and live on the upper floors, once again encouraging local business. There are office buildings that house a variety of business and government operations. And there are residential and medical buildings tailored for senior living.
Lofty’s sits at the center of this diverse local community as the only food operation. It needed to be a community-minded place where all walks of people can feel comfortable, talk, share ideas, share fun events, and develop inspiration for the rest of their lives.
How is it different from other coffee shops?
My hope is that Lofty’s is a place of ideas, a place of hope and inspiration, a place of comfort and respect for all people. I want Lofty’s to be an honest coffee shop — something tangible that feels accessible. My hope is that my coffee shop is created in part by the community around it, rather than me creating a coffee shop for myself. It takes a community to raise a coffee shop.
There are many coffee shops where people go for the coffee. They are full of coffee and mugs and pots and beans, but they mainly have a grab-and-go feel. At Lofty’s we have great locally roasted coffee from Solar Roast coffee, but we see this product as a pathway to something more.
Then there are the business coffee shops with small tables and Wi-fi designed for checking email, working on spreadsheets. People aren’t talking; they’re typing. At Lofty’s we have wi-fi, but we also have bigger tables that allow people to get together and work together face to face, arm in arm.
And there are the old-style beatnik, folk coffee houses open in the evening with the guy over in the corner playing protest songs or reciting protest poetry. At Lofty’s we host periodic events that encourage and support local artists, poets and musicians, but our goal is to encourage artistic expression across the whole range of ideas instead of being a den for some specific agenda.
As a young professional, what are the challenges you faced when opening your own business?
Money is often a problem, but I think all the struggles I faced only taught me how to do my job better. Lack of funds have helped me learn how to market and stick it out without spending everything I have.
I learned how to use social networking to get my message out most effectively to my customer base. This is something I can do in the shop while serving customers.
I learned to work with other shops and friends to put together events that would bring many people together.
On the operations side, I learned how to pay attention to my customers and develop the menu offerings that people will buy on a regular basis. It is tempting to offer too many choices and have food that has to be thrown out because not enough people are interested.
For example, instead of offering four to six house coffees that have to be brewed and maintained separately, all our coffees are made from scratch on demand at the espresso machine. Customers get higher quality and fresher product tailored to their specific demands, and the business has less inventory to manage and fewer machines to maintain.
In the long run, challenges have taught me everything I know. To be discouraged by my struggles would leave me with very little.
What advice would you give other young professionals who might want to launch a business of their own?
I have learned that I can often be my greatest enemy. When I let my ego get in the way of good business, I create problems for both my ego and my business. I also think it’s important to be strong and steadfast and to persevere realizing your place. I think that may bring you your greatest success.