- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
After lengthy careers in the retail industry, longtime friends Betsy Leonhard and Lisa Park were ready to jump into something else. The result is Cool Beanz Coffee in Charlotte Hall, which opened in August 2013.
Leonhard and Park, who met while attending the JCPenney management program, looked into running a franchise — Kona Ice was a serious contender — but decided to take over the coffee shop, which previously was known as 66 Beans.
“We’d been looking for something to do, and the shop was on the market last summer, and Lisa and I, it’s like one thing led to another. And the next thing you know we own the place,” said Leonhard, who lives in La Plata.
“We had always been talking about different businesses together, and different ideas kept popping up,” said Park, a resident of Hughesville. “And this came to my attention last summer, and we just kind of jumped on it, and it just kind of fell into place.”
A recent visit to the coffeehouse resulted in a lunch of a BLT, tomato soup, turtle frappe and a cake pop.
The sandwich ($5.25), which came with three bread choices, was packed full of bacon, ripe tomatoes and crispy lettuce. The organic soup ($3) was hot, creamy and smooth.
The frappe ($3.95) was a refreshing change on a hot and humid day, and the truffle-like Oreo cake pop ($1.50) was enveloped in a thick shell. Cool Beanz also offers several other baked goods.
As it turned out, my order also helped other diners. A young woman inquired as to the name of my beverage.
“It looks delicious; I’ll need to get one,” she said, and after her first long sip exclaimed, “Oh my God, this is delicious.”
Moments later, a middle-aged woman asked about my soup and sandwich and ended up ordering the same. Other sandwich choices include chicken salad, Leonhard’s favorite; tuna fish (“The recipe we came up with, the mix is just very good,” Park said of her favorite offering); and the turkey, apple and cheese, which is Cool Beanz’s most popular sandwich.
There are not a lot of choices. The menu consists of several breakfast offerings, eight lunch sandwiches, a chef salad ($5.25) and a few soups as well as an extensive coffee and beverage selection.
“We talked about making changes but we would rather be the best at what we’re doing or really good at it,” said Leonhard, who added she would like to add more salads. “We didn’t want such a broad menu that we couldn’t do it quickly and provide good customer service and satisfy the customer. Because the broader the menu, the more product we have to buy and the more money we have to outlay. Our business plan has been keep it simple, stupid and that’s what we’re trying to do. Provide basic food and good value; that’s been our premise.”
Park and Leonhard are trying to get the early morning commuter business — the coffee shop opens 6 a.m. weekdays — but said they are getting the majority of their business between 8 and 11 a.m. They are in the process of implementing a smartphone app called Coffee Button, to allow commuters to preorder their items and simply pick them up. “We can even take it out to the curb to them if they’re in a big hurry,” Leonhard said. The coffeehouse also has call-ahead ordering.
Leonhard and Park met when they were going through a management training program, and they said their retail experience will help in their new endeavor.
“A lot of what we do here is what we did at Penney’s management and working in human resources,” Park said. “Probably about 95 percent of what we do we’ve had a lot of experience with. The hardest part for us was learning how to do the food and put a decent sandwich together and how to pull a shot of espresso and do the drinks and that kind of thing. Someone I worked for once said it doesn’t really matter whether you’re merchandising pigs or cows or underwear — it’s all kind of the same thing, and that’s kind of the principle we use.”
The coffeehouse is decorated with brown and orange walls, comfortable chairs, a sofa and a flat-screen television, which, when it’s not tuned to the news, shows a continuous loop of business cards from local businesses.
“When people walk into our shop probably nine times out of 10 we know their name. They’re greeted as soon as they come in the door, and we do the best we can to provide the best and the quickest service,” Park said. “It’s customer service. Businesses that don’t have good customer service don’t even have a chance when there’s that much competition. I think our customer service would stand far above what you’re going to get at the other shops.”
Leonhard said she was looking for something to do. She retired in 2012 following a 25-year career at JCPenney and 11 years as the deputy director of human resources for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
“My husband was fine with it,” Leonhard said. “I was going crazy not being around people all day so I needed to get out and keep myself occupied. He’s very supportive of my projects, of which there are many.”
Park, whose daughter Emmy works as a barista in the store and whose sons often come in to help, added, “My family was very excited and supportive.”
But the pair didn’t immediately notify Park’s father, Don Hurst.
“We actually didn’t tell him until we did it,” Park said. “And [his reaction] was basically, ‘What the hell are you doing that for?’ But he’s been in the shop, and he’s very impressed and excited.”
The name is a play on a popular expression both said while they were growing up.
“I don’t know if it’s a Pennsylvania thing or Betsy and I are both weird,” said Leonhard, whose son Patrick came up with the logo.
Park and Leonhard get their produce from the local Amish market and said they buy local whenever possible. They make about 75 percent of their offerings from scratch and said business has been a pleasant surprise.
“It’s been better than expected,” Leonhard said. “We do get slow during the day but business has actually been very good. You could always use more customers. It’s been hit or miss at times [but] I think we would both agree that it’s been better than expected.”