The name Dark Stone Coffee LLC has a deeper meaning for its owners.
“It’s an allusion to the moon,” says co-owner Eric Huie.
But it’s more than that. He intended for the indirect reference to permeate throughout his startup business.
“The moon is not its own light; it reflects light. That’s what we try to do,” Huie says. “I can’t generate any goodness within me. I have to reflect something.”
Since leaving a career in the financial world a few years ago, he never thought coffee would be the means to his personal mission.
But while working over a decade for AG Financial Solutions, Huie watched his wife exhibit freedom running her own salon. He traveled quite a bit for work. He became a little jealous.
“Maybe jealous is too strong of a word,” his wife, Sarah, says. “He didn’t want to play by anybody else’s rules.”
Sarah Huie operated LIV Salon LLC in downtown Springfield for a dozen years. She still runs the salon, but now it’s about 10 steps from Dark Stone Coffee.
The Huies bought a lot on the north side, southeast of the busy Kearney Street and Glenstone Avenue intersection, and they planted there: Sarah’s salon and Eric’s coffee kiosk.
Dark Stone’s drive-thru espresso bar sits smack-dab in the middle of the paved lot, 1826 E. Turner St. Large, white block letters – COFFEE – are secured to its roof so passersby know exactly what’s in store. A mobile coffee truck is parked behind a chain link fence.
“I mostly work the truck,” Eric says.
The kiosk serves busy commuters, and the coffee truck brings espresso drinks to events, parks and even corporate offices as employees arrive in the morning. Prime Inc., American National and Jack Henry & Associates Inc., he says, are on the monthly rotation.
“We want employers to use us as a perk,” Eric says.
Dark Stone charges a minimum fee of $100 per hour on-site.
The most popular order is the Newspaper latte, a mix of dark and white chocolates and raspberry flavoring.
“That one is like it says: It’s black and white and read all over,” says Mardee Thimesch, the barista working the kiosk.
Five employees rotate shifts in the kiosk. Thimesch has worked there two years, following a stint in retail.
Eric says he and his wife invested at least a couple hundred thousand dollars to set up shop. The funds came from a place usually untouchable.
“I helped people build retirement accounts,” he recalls. “I never thought I’d use my retirement account to start a business. This is so counterintuitive. It’s been really hard to watch that number go down.”
But first it was a crash course in coffee. Step one: attending the Coffee Fest trade show on the West Coast. They took beginner barista classes. Then more barista schooling in Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis.
Eric looks back fondly on those 18 months of training “pulling espresso shots and steaming milk.”
Next up was securing a coffee roaster.
“I had no idea Springfield had so many roasters,” Eric says. “They just keep coming.”
He chose Ozark Mountain Coffee Co. in Ozark. Dark Stone orders 30-40 pounds of coffee and espresso beans a week, but that’ll perk up with festival season around the corner, he says.
In September, they plan to bring the coffee truck out to the MO Food Truck Fest downtown, Japanese Fall Festival at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park and the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion.
“It’s pretty much every weekend,” Eric says.
For a former financial guy, Huie doesn’t keep too close an eye on Dark Stone’s numbers. That’s intentional, and it’s based on his convictions. He admits he might obsess over the numbers and lose sight of the daily purpose.
After some close guesswork, Huie accesses his laptop to determine last year’s gross sales: $81,000.
He holds sales forecasts loosely. Dark Stone is trending at 50 percent above last year.
“I’d love to double, but I don’t think we will,” he says. “It depends on how much construction are on the roads out there and how the weather treats us.”
Eric says the business is breaking even now.
“We’re really close to cash flow,” he says.
Thimesch discovered an interesting fact while interviewing for her barista job.
“I found out that the Huies are my neighbors,” she says of their semirural northern Greene County residences. “My neighbors ended up being my bosses.”
Eric doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence. It goes back to his mission with the business.
“People who come here are on their way somewhere – this is not their stopping place,” he says. “They’re going somewhere.”
That means his staff, too.
“I have a chance to help them, wherever they’re going, to make it better,” he says. “Our whole purpose is to reflect light in the world.”
Bike enthusiast Cody Stringer is betting his bike share nonprofit will lead to a more bike-friendly city.
As employees are more mobile and have a desire to work from home, Haden Long owner of Ellecor, explains office spaces are trending towards a more home-like feel. Things like shared work spaces, office pets, and cozy furnishings allow employees to be selective about where they work and become more effective as a result.
Every industry has to navigate trend shifts, but Scott Shotts of Missouri Spirits describes the changes in beverage industry as anarchy. Tried-and-true spirits rules are being ignored. Learn how the local distillery balances following the trends for product development with taking risks.
Kevin Wyas, founder of ECRI, started his first business at the age of 19, ran the business for 16 years before selling it. He recognizes the benefits of starting a business so young when he had relatively little to lose. "The stress and the uncertainty of this would be crippling," he says for somebody accustomed to a regular paycheck.
ighty percent of questions are common across industries, so you don't need industry-specific experience to do effective market research according to Debra Kassarjian, independent consultant and owner of DKInsights. As a matter of fact, she thinks there is a great deal to be gained from exchanging ideas outside of your industry.
Danny Collins, 37 North founder and guide, says the biggest leap they took in the first year was to purchase a vehicle. That major financial investment, however, allowed them to provide their outdoor guide services at a price point they felt was more appropriate.
Springfield Diner owner Ömer Önder sits down with a restaurant consultant who starts challenging the menu offerings."No bashful food." The blunt conversation is the launching off point to determine how the Mediterranean influence will affect the young restaurant's offerings in the future. Made to Order is an ongoing sbjLive documentary series in collaboration with Springfield Business Journal tracking the rebranding of a local restaurant.
Haden Long, owner of Ellecor, opened a retail home decor business five years ago in a traditional retail space. When the interior design side of the business took off, she decided to renovate a 100-year old bungalow to better show off product samples and installations.
Scott Shotts, partner with Missouri Spirits, says when they started in 2011 there were approximately 300 distilleries in the U.S. and now there are more than 3,000 so competition has grown significantly. Diversification of their business model has helped them succeed.
Matthew Blystone of Theta Float Spa had the financial means to start the unique business, but used crowdsourcing for pre-orders to determine market interest in addition to gathering a nice cash reserve before opening.
Avery Parrish with the Springfield Regional Arts Council explains how businesses can display local art in their spaces for a fraction of the price of investing in a permanent collection. The corporate partnership program allows a business to select from a customized portfolio of local artists' work curated based on the company's mission and aesthetic that can be switched out every six or 12 months.