You don’t operate a successful coffee shop for 10 years without being a people person. That doesn’t mean glad-handing customers as they come in the door. It means being genuinely happy to see the people who frequent your shop.
That’s Mitchell “Mitch” Harvey.
“Genuine” is also the best descriptor of the co-proprietor of Mitchell’s Coffee House. Spend a few minutes asking Harvey questions and you’ll have a good idea of what he believes. He won’t strike you as someone who concerns himself with projecting an image, pushing talking points, or impressing others.
This morning I sat down with Harvey to talk about the 10th anniversary of his downtown Lakeland business. The overwhelming thought I had at the end of the talk was that Mitchell’s is a family. Not because Harvey and his wife Michelle own and operate the shop, or that some employees have been there for years. Harvey clearly looks at his customers as part of his extended family. As he discussed the trials and tribulations of owning an independent coffee house in a corporate and franchise world, Harvey never seemed as upbeat as when he discussed his customers.
“It’s fun watching our youngest customers grow up. Now they’re coming in with their kids, “ Harvey said. “The biggest reward is being involved with the customers.”
Harvey laughs when those who aren’t familiar with him ask for the manager. He said their usual response is they thought he’d be much older. Turning 41 and looking years younger, Harvey started the business to have a place where he could work with his wife and raise a family. They now have two young sons and customers often ask how the boys are doing.
Harvey relates that some believe the retail coffee business is just brew and pour. He’ll casually mention some 14-15 hour days, but is far more animated when talking about the days he can be home by 3 pm or have the opportunity to chaperon his son’s field trips.
In addition to the freedom he and his wife enjoy by not being tied to the 9-5 world, Harvey said he enjoys the variety of the job, “Every day is full of unexpected things. No day is the same. Rarely do days blend in to the next.”
Not that Harvey knew what to expect 10 years ago, “I started a business with no knowledge in that field.” He spoke of a year of learning and planning before opening the shop. He remembered working with the Small Business Administration, finding a bookkeeper to set up the financial records, developing the drink and food menu, and consulting with a friend who knew the retail coffee field. Even with all that preparation, “The first day you open the door, you’re shaking.” Harvey remembered.
While the vast majority of businesses fail in their first year, Mitchell’s moved from their first 15-seat location to their large shop after a mere two years. At their four-year mark they opened another successful location — on the same street less than a mile away.
Harvey talked about the steady growth the shop has achieved. He doesn’t try to give the impression it was always smooth. They tried breakfast three times before it caught on. Then there was a flavored coffee machine that sold drinks like gangbusters for two weeks before upkeep overcame benefit. Or the time he tried adding ice cream. He mentioned that might have been the innovation that worked least, but he wouldn’t rule out trying it again. “The market changes all the time.”
Opening day jitters aside, Harvey obviously now knows the local market and the coffee business. He’s clearly proud they make all their own desserts and food. He does business with the philosophy of staying as local and as personal as possible when dealing with suppliers. He’ll stays close to home to deal with suppliers from Lakeland, Orlando, or Tampa. He’s had the same coffee roaster for eight years. He also prefers businesses where he can deal with individuals face to face rather than those who answer to a large corporate hierarchy. He succinctly stated, “I like business the small town way.”
Stand in Mitchell’s for a few minutes and watch the easy interaction customers have with staff and each other. It definitely looks like small town is the best way to operate.
Mitchell’s Coffee House is celebrating their 10th anniversary on Monday May 19th. Both locations will sell special cups of regular coffee at 10 cents per cup. That is until hyped up downtown workers run the coffee shops dry.
Photos above of Marcy, Mitch, and Amanda above by Chuck Welch.