August is National Black Owned Business Month. In honor of this, we are asking Beans & Butter Coffeehouse owner and founder, Michael Simmons, some questions about the business and his take on being a Black business owner.
Have you had any special challenges being a Black business owner?
Yes, one is capital is always a main issue. Another is acceptance of the craft of what I do. It took time to convince people that we were competent and capable.
When did you decide to open your business?
From my college days, I always wanted to own a business. I never knew what it would look like. After losing my job within the telecommunications field, I went back to school for culinary. I had tried a few food-related businesses that had failed. After finishing school and working in the food industry, it helped me to paint the direction that I wanted to go in. I specialized. Food is a big business, and the more you specialize in a high demand specialty, you can create your own niche market.
What makes Beans & Butter Coffeehouse different than other coffeehouses?
We try to have interactions with our customers as relational instead of transactional. I try to make my customers feel as if they are being served from my own house. I treat customers as if they are visiting my home.
Can you tell us about the origin of the name Beans & Butter?
The name came during Christmas of 2014. My wife’s occupational therapist mentor (my wife Stacey is an occupational therapist) was a marketing director before she became an occupational therapist. She gave us this direction: You want to think about all of the things that your business will create, and then you want to use consonants in your name. You shouldn’t start the name with a vowel. Certain letters have higher memory value, B’s and S’s, in particular. We created a vocabulary related to the coffee business. We pulled out the words Beans and Butter, and it was the most appropriate. Stacey is “Beans,” and I am “Butter.” We separated our responsibilities.
How long have you been baking?
I have been baking for a very long time, since high school. It was just a hobby, something I enjoyed doing. When I decided to go to culinary school, I wanted to do baking, because it is more scientific. I have been out of high school for 40 years, so it’s been a while!
How did the business survive the pandemic?
Wholesale, wholesale, wholesale. Thank God we had the foresight to sell to other coffee shops. Before the pandemic, we had five wholesale accounts. Three of them shut down during the pandemic. The other two never shut down for the pandemic. Their demand made up for the loss of the other businesses and kept us in business.
What plans do you have for Beans & Butter in the future?
Expand to another location or multiple locations. Increase our food menu. If we could have more space for production, we could have café locations and expand to more food items, such as light lunch or dinner fare.