EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is one in a series on how Fairborn small businesses have weathered and persevered through 2020. If you own a Fairborn business and would like to be featured in this series, contact London Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIRBORN — LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman is often quoted as saying “Starting a company is jumping off a cliff and assembling the airplane on the way down.” One could say, therefore, that starting a company in the middle of a global pandemic is like doing the above, but both the engines are on fire and construction materials consist of balsa wood and tissue paper.
Tortuous analogies notwithstanding, opening a business in the age of COVID-19 has its own unique challenges that companies like Fifty5 Rivers Cold Brew has had to meet.
Fifty5 Rivers co-founders Lynne and James Mowery keep a lot of balls juggling in the air at once. Since their brick-and-mortar opening in August, they’ve created several new blends of cold brew coffee, including a much-requested decaf option.
A lot of the Mowerys’ business model focuses on the business-to-business aspect. Several B2B connections have been massively successful for the company. In October, Fifty5 Rivers partnered with Holy Smokes, a local food truck business, to create a brisket rub out of coffee grounds from their Connection blend and concentrate from their Reflection blend.
The brisket was a hit with the community. Holy Smokes set up outside the shop one evening from 4-8 p.m., and was sold out of brisket by 6:30.
More recently, the Mowerys have had a successful partnership in Stillwrights Distillery in Fairborn, using an old bourbon barrel to brew a unique blend of coffee. The aptly named Bourbon Barrel Connection contains hints of oak and bourbon in its flavor.
That being said, the Mowerys’ focus on business partnerships means they have been keenly aware of other businesses in the area that didn’t make it. Two companies that Fifty5 Rivers planned to partner with, City Coffeehouse in Huber Heights, and Cakes 4 All in Fairborn, have closed their doors permanently this year.
“We’re pivoting,” Mowery said. “We’re thinking, what’s the best way to extend our reach?”
The upstairs portion of Fifty5 Rivers Cold Brew is called the Innovation Lab, a space intended for entrepreneurs and students to use as a collaborative and experimental space. Additionally, the Mowerys have plans to use that space as a venue to teach young people about entrepreneurial leadership. But due to COVID-19 concerns, those plans have had to be put on hold.
“We weren’t able to have the engagement with the community that we wanted to,” Lynne Mowery said. “The upstairs has so much potential that can’t be used.”
Additionally, being a fledgling business means that there are a lot more barriers to taking advantage of CARES Act funding. Without a paper trail for the previous year’s revenue, a lot of CARES Act funding available to more-established businesses wasn’t available to them.
“One of the first question in the application [for CARES Act funding] is ‘What was your income last year, and how did the pandemic affect your business?’ Well, that doesn’t apply to us, because we weren’t open.”
One of the benefits of Fifty5 Rivers’ unusual business model is that carryout — and to some extent, curbside pickup — suits their business more than a traditional coffee shop.
“We’re at a benefit. We were never set up to be a sit-down restaurant,” she said. “The pandemic affects us negatively, but doesn’t in that sense. We serve one party at a time [in our lobby], but we’re not losing half of seating, as it were.”
Additionally, Lynne Mowery credits her customers with coming up with creative ways to help them out.
“Our customers have come up with some fabulous ideas,” she said. “We put open signs on the side of the building, promoted ‘try before you buy,’ things like that [at their suggestion].”
Like many local businesses, the internet has become an important part of keeping engaged with their customer base. Next, the Mowerys are looking to increase their social media presence — an important factor for any business these days — by branching into video. One of the focuses for these videos is really just letting people know what cold brew is, what it isn’t, and how it can be consumed.
“Some people still think of cold brew seasons. Like, spring comes and you better have your cold brew,” she said. “Some people don’t know you can drink it hot.”
This project will likely hit the ground running in 2021. At this point, the business is looking at ways to move forward.
“It’s a big thing to focus on for the new year,” Mowery said. “We don’t know if it [COVID] is going to go away forever, but it’s a matter of finding the workaround.”
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.