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2020 Survival Story -Ithmah Coffee - The Beginning

2020 was hardly a banner year. Besides the rich getting richer, a lot of suffering for the rest of us was the highlight. Okay, okay. I got married in January and we were off to such a pleasant year. Oh silly, naive me. Little did I know I was only two months away from world annihilation that’d I’d get to navigate with my new wife. Dramatic? Yea, I think we’ve all earned a good story though.
In March of 2020 I was working at Sunergos Coffee, a well known specialty coffee chain in Louisville, KY. I was going on my second year of working there, and was able to gather a lot of useful knowledge and experience through their rigorous training program for baristas.
Besides getting wildly underpaid at 8 bucks an hour, it was a great way for me to build up my skills. When March came, all hell broke loose, and at the time I was working at 5th st in downtown Louisville. The city had completely cleared, and not a soul was in downtown, except good ol Sunergos Coffee. With no plan and no direction, we aimlessly opened and closed the shop, barely making a couple hundred bucks a day. With no guidance and with management hoping that the pandemic was just a two week fling, it quickly became a nightmare with people quitting left and right.
April 1st came and I was happy to leave Sunergos after being told my hours were going to be cut to a mere few hours a week. There was no way to support me and my wife, who was at the time working right next door at a salad shop. Two people working in the food industry in downtown Louisville during Covid. Yep! The food industry arguably got hit the hardest, and we were certainty not immune.
A week after I left the coffee shop, I decided to follow my life long dream and start my own coffee business. Thus, My Sip Of Coffee was born. Taken from the name “A Sip Of Coffee” which I had reserved for my own coffee shop since I was seven years old. (I was a weird kid and you probably were too.)
There were only two components that truly mattered to me for the business. 1. That I only sell crazy good coffee that wasn’t burnt, and wasn’t boring. 2. That each bag donated to, my brother’s orphan care ministry in Chapala, Mexico.
The business started out with me selling great coffee from a roaster in Port Chester, New York. With most people out of a job, it was hard to sell anything except toilet paper in 2020. Only friends and family members bought the coffee, but it was a start. And sometimes that’s all you need to get a dream going.
Fast forward to late 2020 and my wife and I decided to move to Indy. Everyone told us not to, or at the very least wondered why on earth we were moving. “Do you have a job lined up there?” “What does Indy have that Louisville doesn’t have?” I can’t really explain to you why I love Indy, but it was a good enough reason to move and start a new chapter.
We had been living in my apartment in old Louisville. 600 bucks a month and hardly glamorous. If you’re from Louisville, I can spare you the details on the living conditions of an Old Louisville apartment.
We were both happy to move out, and start fresh in Indy. The only problem was, we were in the middle 0f a pandemic and it was REALLY hard to find housing. Hardly anyone was open and operating to begin with, rarely were leasing offices taking in new tenants.
And so, driven by the need for a fresh start, we moved to Indy. No jobs lined up, no housing lined up, no planned lined up. Oof.
We ended up living in a hotel for 5 months. $1100 a month for a 10 by 10 room on the wrong side of town in an old, worn down “extended stay” building. Please don’t do what we did, please have a plan when you move…
Doing Grub Hub full time, I was making a whopping 80 bucks a day not including gas, car maintenance, and 30% of self employment taxes.
Genesis was working in a dirty kitchen for a low income assisted living company. All together, I’d say we were making $2000 a month tops. $1100 for rent.. you don’t have to be a math wiz to figure out times were pretty bad! We went through all of our savings, and some.
When we got married we had put together a cozy little 10k for the savings account. You know, for your rainy day when a pandemic comes crashing down, destroying your jobs, and when you still have the audacity to move to a different city during said pandemic with no plan. 😉
Fast forward some more and somehow things got better. I’m not sure how that works, but somehow you get through the worst of seasons and keep chugging along. I’m so glad I took algebra to fully equip me for pandemics, job losses, financial hardships, and everything else that encompasses solving X.
Through all of this, I was continuing to perfect the website, but having dreadful luck with sales. You see, I am what we call “lucky to be spotted.” Meaning, it is very impressive that I’m able to function outside.
Growing up my two siblings and I were homeschooled from beginning to end. Strict, christian parents paired with a church being your only social outlet. Paired with living outside of a town of 5000 people in a farmhouse. Paired with “I’m in introvert and the world is bad and scary mentality”. Am I painting the picture well enough? It sounds like a corny hallmark movie waiting to launch about the rich, city girl and the reclusive, socially disabled farm boy that fall in love because it’s the spirit of Christmas.
I digress, sales weren’t moving and I was busy with the website. Thankfully I had 4+ years of barista experience and I was able to work at a specialty shop in downtown Indy. Yep, same story. Different city. Except I was valued and being paid a fair wage at this shop.
After what felt like an eternity, we were able to find an apartment in 2021 and lived happily ever after until further notice. After finding an apartment, building our money back up, finding two new jobs in Indy, and establishing ourselves in a new city, it felt too responsible of us, and a little boring. In March of 2022, we both decided that our lives were too drab and stable so we bought a $15,000 coffee trailer to take off the coffee business. With an enormous amount of research and money, I was going to take my coffee knowledge and build an empire with a trailer. Naturally, of course.
We had the trailer for three days. We were both working full time, and were excited to transition over to a different lifestyle with this coffee trailer. We had it parked right outside the apartment. Locks on the hitch and doors and secured as ever. You can feel where I’m going with this, right? We woke up on March 13th and we both had the day off. We wanted to start our day off with going into our brand new trailer to start planning and taking measurements for an espresso machine, coffee equipment etc. I looked outside our back window facing the apartment parking lot. No trailer. My heart began to race, but my mind was racing faster. I quickly began to calm myself with the thought that the leasing office had it towed because it didn’t have plates on it. Hell, it wasn’t even insured yet. We had just gotten it! After searching high and low and calling every impound and tow yard inside the city, we lost hope. With no plates and no insurance it was gone. It was confirmed stolen when our downstairs neighbor shared his security camera feed, showing a guy in camo towing it away with his beat up f-150.
It took a long time to get over that one. I did an absurd amount of research and ended up finding the guy. A CVS long list of criminal activity and eventually incarceration for auto theft. (Not from the trailer, from the f-150 he towed it with.) Yep, he stole that too.
We had taken a loan out for $10,000 for the trailer, which we are STILL paying today.
A lot of good happened after that. Later that year, My Sip Of Coffee got its first wholesale account. Another one was added shortly after. My Sip Of Coffee became Ithmah Coffee in the same time frame. We got a call that there was an empty roastery in Louisville, and that was the call to come back home. Yes, all this time I was roasting out of apartments!
Today, we have a fully equipped roastery in Louisville with a new roaster. We keep moving forward despite losing so much. Little by little we grow, and it is the neatest thing to watch.
And so having survived the year 2020 with success, we look back and remember how all the detours and mess-ups have really made us stronger. That the life lessons you learn the hard way are sometimes the ones that stick with you.
Donovan Talbot

Author Donovan Talbot

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