The Just Love Coffee Cafe Story
A coffee shop and cafe franchise aims to make a difference in communities across the nation
At Just Love Coffee Cafe we’re more than just a coffee shop franchise. We combine our commitment to social justice with a dedication to producing the finest coffees and food offerings through our franchises. We love the big wide world we live in and make helping its people a core aim of our business.
Just Love Coffee Cafe began when our founder and current CEO Rob Webb and his wife Emily made the decision to adopt. They already had two beautiful kids, Isabel and Charlie; however, the call to adopt was strong for the pair. In 2009, Rob was on a flight to Ethiopia to meet his newly adopted children. Little was Rob to know that this event was to change not just his life and the lives of his two newly adopted children Tigist and Amelie, but also those of countless other people. For Rob had one of those inspirational ideas — a true light bulb moment — as he added up the expense of the adoption trip and learned of the sacrifice and challenges of people in the same situation.
What if he were to set up a hand roasting business as a for-profit venture that existed to help others? One that took the customers into a form of social partnership? A simple idea but, like all great thoughts, one that was to have enormous power. In essence, Rob decided to start a business dedicated to using hand-roasted coffees to help others whose passion was to … well … just love.
“The idea of roasting coffee was something that I was fascinated by and was becoming pretty good at on my own,” Rob says. “My family business is supplying offices in the Nashville area with coffee and other goods, and in Nashville, specialty coffee shops began popping up that were doing incredibly well. I could see that there was a market for hand roasted coffee, but I never dreamed that Just Love Coffee Cafe would be anything more than a small business that was devoted to helping families fundraise to offset the expensive costs of adopting children. Just Love Coffee Cafe grew out of a need to do positive things in the world.”
From online and into the real world: Just Love Coffee Cafe opens its first coffee shop
The online coffee business was remarkably successful in its first year, allowing Rob to donate nearly $100,000 to families and proved to Rob that a socially conscious business could work. Just Love Coffee Roasters decided to scale up their operations and moved from the 800 sq. ft. space where the business was founded to a much larger warehouse space in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a large and growing suburb of Nashville.
“By this time, I had hired my roastmaster Jason, who is still with me, and a part-time staff person to fill the bags,” Rob says. “We took a lot of risk and took loans for the coffee roasting machinery and for the lease. We were also developing a wholesale program, and we were lucky enough to establish ourselves in local and regional warehouses. Our brand recognition was definitely growing. But due to the size of our operation, you could smell the coffee from a mile away. People began to trickle in to ask if they could buy a cup of coffee. We got a little espresso machine and had a ‘name your price’ policy. When enough people came in on their own volition, we decided we should open up a coffee shop.”
Rob developed a simple build-out that allowed Just Love Coffee Cafe to open up very quickly. The team decided to concentrate on making the space a fun place to work, putting in comfortable seating, a long coffee bar, and bringing in several classic arcade video games. Rob wanted the coffee shop to grow organically, as the coffee online business was still booming, and decided that no effort would be placed on advertising. This was a bit of a gamble, but once the students from the local university, Middle Tennessee State, discovered the coffee shop, it quickly became the go-to destination for coffee lovers in the local area.
Just Love Coffee Cafe becomes the premier coffee shop franchise with a unique breakfast and lunch menu
After the success of the flagship location in Murfreesboro, Rob and his team wondered if the model could be successful as a franchise system. This idea wasn’t their own; customers visiting from other cities would frequently ask them if they could open a Just Love Coffee Cafe in their own community. Rob decided to meet Alan Thompson, now the President of Just Love Coffee Cafe, who was a highly experienced local franchisor who helped grow Gigi’s Cupcakes to over 100 locations across the nation.
“After I heard Rob’s story and visited the coffee shop, it wasn’t if Just Love Coffee Cafe should franchise, but when,” Alan says.
In order to take Just Love Coffee Cafe to the next level, Rob decided that in addition to the hand roasted coffee and specialty drinks, the coffee shop needed an all-day menu. Being that the space didn’t have a full-sized kitchen, Rob had another light bulb moment and bought a waffle iron.
“I went to the supermarket and threw just about everything you can think of into a waffle iron,” Rob jokes. “But what developed was a really original menu, with items that were easy to cook and delicious to eat. Being that we appealed to a younger audience, I really wanted a menu that was going to look good on social media, and the unique shape that a waffle iron gives to say, a breakfast burrito, not only was going to create a memorable experience, but it was also going to encourage our customers to share our food on their Instagram and Facebook profiles. Of course, adding the all-day food menu also increased our average ticket prices significantly and became an excellent source of additional revenue.”
After opening an additional two coffee shops, one on Nashville’s famed Music Row and the other in the ritzy Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Just Love Coffee Cafe was finally ready to franchise. The interest was immediate, and the first Just Love Coffee Cafe franchise opened in Murfreesboro.
“We spent years perfecting the model before we decided to franchise,” Alan says. “We proved that the unit level economics were terrific, and we developed a simple business model to own and operate before we opened our doors as a franchise system. We’re going to rapidly grow this brand across the nation in the coming years because the need for a specialty coffee shop that caters to the mainstream is so high, and the demand isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.”