A Coffee- (and Food) Loving Couple Fills a Business Niche in Hardwick

September 17, 2021
An individual stands at the front counter of a coffee shop while being served a beverage by an employee
By Amanda Kuhnert

Great start-up ideas begin with a problem that needs solving. A few years ago, Tobin Porter-Brown and Annie Myers were looking for a place in Hardwick to do some computer work. When they couldn’t find a coffee shop, they ended up working in the front seat of their car. And that’s when inspiration hit them for Front Seat Coffee Shop and Bakery, an independent coffee shop that would serve great coffee and made-from-scratch food using locally made and grown ingredients.

“A coffee shop appealed to me because it combined my passion for building community, supporting local farmers and producers, and enjoying good food,” Tobin said. Before embarking on his current business venture, Tobin was a vegetable farmer with a passion for community-supported agriculture. His wife, Annie Myers, owns Myers Produce, a food distribution company that brings Vermont products to the New York City and Boston areas.

Front Seat Coffee opened in July 2019. Right away, the couple began working with Heidi Krantz of the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) and then Steve Dobrin, a consultant through VtSBDC. “They have been instrumental in their advice and support since the founding of Front Seat,” Tobin said.

“In the early months after opening we had issues with controlling our COGS and labor costs, and Heidi helped give some insight into how to calculate those figures and targets to achieve,” he said. “Steve Dobrin has been advising since the COVID pandemic and helping us navigate this turbulent time.” Along with being a sounding board, Tobin said their advisors have helped them keep an eye on the big picture and plan for the future.

After the governor’s stay-at-home order in March 2020, Tobin and Annie temporarily closed the shop, slowly reopening in late spring and summer. “The Covid pandemic has actually forced us to rethink our systems and offerings so that we are more profitable and able to have a stronger foundation to be able to grow,” Tobin said.

Limited hours, the decision to be closed on Sundays, and a scaled-down menu are three of the tweaks they’ve made to their original business plan. “All of these changes have made it more sustainable for our team and we’ve focused more on what was profitable,” Tobin said.

After nearly a year of take-out only, in April the couple began offering limited indoor seating. “We feel ready to hit the ground running when we’re able to,” Tobin said.

For more info: frontseatcoffee.com.

Looking for more? Visit VtSBDC.org to explore resources or connect with an advisor.

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