Mindi Beheydt is the owner of Seneca Sunrise Coffee at 806 Decatur St. Apt.2., Watkins Glen, NY 14891. “This is an apartment that I took over and turned into a certified kitchen. My business is organic, mostly fair-trade coffee. There are a few coffees that I purchase single-origins directly from farmers through a third party.” She may be reached at (607) 228-7930. Her email address is SenecaSunriseCoffee@gmail.com and her website is www.SenecaSunriseCoffee.com. Mindi is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
My business has evolved to more than coffee. I thought that when I started the business I would just be roasting coffee. I wasn’t even planning on selling cups of coffee. Things evolved through customer demand as well as me learning about my community. As I learned more about all the wonderful things the Finger Lakes area has to offer, my store evolved. However, I am primarily a roaster. I roast for several restaurants here in Watkins Glen as well as Burdett and Ithaca. I have 3 wineries and a brewery now that have their own distinct blend. We are working with Fingerlakes Distilling to create a bourbon infused coffee with their MacKenzie Bourbon.
When you say the wineries have their own blend of coffee in bags, do you mean they serve it?
Some do. Lakewood Winery gets 5 pound bags to make coffee for their employees. This helps our business too because they refer people to us. They also serve it to the Designated Drivers at their events and tastings. Working with other businesses has meant huge growth for us.
Originally we were just going to roast single origin coffee. After the first year I began to experiment on my own blending different coffees to discover they really tasted good. Wake Up Watkins was my first blend and we still have that one in our offerings. It’s a Mocha/Java blend. The next blend for myself was a dark blend named Glen Obscura, which is what the 2 falls in the park were called in the 1920’s. They have renamed it since then, but we liked the name. It means 2 dark waters coming together so we blended 2 dark coffees. I love creating the blends.
How did this shop come about? What is the evolution of this business?
When I began this business I had no idea how to roast coffee. I just loved organic coffee. I had been following a local roaster for years. Their machine came up for sale and the owner wanted it to stay here rather than transport it out of town. This roaster came with an aluminum table and a coffee grinder.
I had just lost my job and had no money. A family member loaned us the money and our current location became available at the same time. There are 3 apartments in this building besides this one. The owner did not want to rent this space to individuals any more. It seemed to have high turnover. He gave us 3 months free if we agreed to clean it. (It took us 3 ½ weeks of scrubbing and then we painted with KILZ and color). This all happened within one week. It seemed destined to happen.
I called the New York Ag & Market department to have someone inspect the space. We passed immediately. The inspector handed me our certificate and we fired up the roaster immediately. I learned how to roast from YouTube. I read about it online. I worked with a coffee bean supplier of Home Roasters in California. There was no person locally to help me.
About 9 months into roasting we decided to start serving coffee. Everyone would come in and ask for a cup of coffee and I would just give them one. I did that as an effort to get our name out there in the community. Our customers began telling us we needed to charge for the coffee. I said, “OK”. We applied for our tax ID # from the state of NY and began generating quite a following of people coming in and wanting coffee.
How long have you been in business?
Seneca Sunrise Coffee has been in business a little over 2.5 years. July 28th will be our 3rd anniversary. Our business has grown from 2016 to2017 by 50%. January 2018 shows 50% growth from January of 2017.
This business is primarily just me. My husband works a full-time job in Ithaca. However, he is literally the muscles behind it. I tore my rotor cup when we received the first bean delivery. My husband is the marketer for the business. He writes everything that goes out on the internet. He did our web design. He writes up a description to the pictures I take of our lunches with all the hashtags and sends it back to me. I cut and paste into Instagram with automatic links to Facebook and Twitter. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.
I open up at 7:00am and close at 5:30pm. I am here roasting, making lunches, serving and preparing for the farmer’s markets on Sundays. We do special events, farmer’s markets, cheese festivals, night markets on the waterfront. Our summer is completely booked already.
What is your background that brought you the skills that your success with Seneca Sunrise Coffee?
I obtained an Associate business administration degree from Corning Community College when I was a single mom. I had various jobs through temp services. I got a job at the veterinary hospital here in Watkins Glen. I worked for Dr. Peters for many years as a receptionist and doing whatever needed to be done.
After about 3 ½ years a position became available at Coastal Lumber Company, now Wagner Company in Cayuta. I was the Timber Clerk. As the company ownership changed, my role there changed. I was doing Quickbook entries; wrote checks that could be in the millions. I learned how to run my own tiny business within a business there. I had to account for all the transactions to the boss, the accountants, the plant managers, and the owners so I had to know how to balance the books. No one showed me how to do this. I had some inkling since I had been to school and I read a lot online about Quickbooks which is pretty self-explanatory. I was there for about 5 years.
I returned to Dr. Peter’s office after leaving the lumber company. The new owner asked me to manage the business. I did that for about 2 ½ years. The work was physically taxing for me, I was working 80 hours/week for someone else and I decided to simplify my life. That brought me to Ithaca. I worked at a chain veterinary office that soon closed. They wanted me to move to Binghamton. I opted to stay in the area at another job which I stayed at for about 2 years. When that ended, all of this became available to me within a week.
When you were going through all this, were you thinking about this business in the back of your mind?
I wanted my own ‘something’. I didn’t know what it was. If I was going to work this hard, put this much energy into something, I wanted it to be my own. I have become very passionate about something I do. I want that business to succeed and grow. Why would I put that kind of energy into something that isn’t mine?
May I ask you if you are breaking even with this business?
I have not taken a paycheck yet in the 2 ½ years we have had the business. However, everything that is on my shelves is paid for. I do not owe anyone anything, including my investor. Everything here is from small producers. When they deliver, they get a check. That’s where my paycheck goes. I want to keep expanding what I have to offer and what I am doing. We started off with a coffee roaster, a stainless steel table and a coffee grinder. We now have counters, cupboards, an espresso machine, supplies, a Vitamixer, an icemaker, a beautiful antique stand that holds product, etc..
We became passionate about local and organic products. We have 18 different local suppliers. We sell their products here. We have organic pork, beef and cheese products from Nichols. We have grape juice from Burdett. We have soap from Spencer. We have sunflower and butternut squash seed oils from Geneva. We have BBQ sauces and rubs from Watkins Glen. We have honey from Cayuta. We have Wide Awake Bakery’s pasta. We are a pick-up location for the Crust Fund and a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) on Wednesdays. The vegetable CSA begins in June. The Crust Fund is basically a bread CSA. People come here on Wednesdays and pick up their bread made with all local grains. It’s not just about us here. We are not just about coffee now.
Are there any misconceptions about you or your business?
Yes. People think we are just about coffee. People say they don’t drink coffee and I reply with “We are not just about coffee”. We have tea. We have local products and meats.
What are your greatest achievements?
Helping to support all these other small businesses. I believe I am helping to support all these other people and families. I am helping other businesses grow and be recognized. It’s about presenting what we have to offer in the area and representing as many people as I can.
Have you had any stumbling blocks?
Yes. Money. I want so much more here to offer people and our biggest holdback is money. I don’t want to go into debt and be that business that fails because we have a payment we cannot make in the winter time.
Space. We need to grow and expand.
If you could have a Do-Over, would you take one? What would that be?
I would not do a Do-Over. It is our growing pains and discoveries along the way that make us who we are. It makes us evolve into what we are and what we are going to become. It’s the struggles that makes things happen. You figure out a way.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Expansion. I see a processing room with a roaster and beans and workstation so we are not going back and forth from room to room. I see people sitting out here on the porch having coffee; eating food that I prepare with local ingredients. I see our retail place filled with everything local from salad greens to frozen corn – meats, cheeses, veggies, pastas, breads, oils, soap, shampoo, shrubs, apple cider vinegar, honeys, and anything else our area has to offer. I want to be able to sell it.
We are buying the building and expanding into the sideyard. The addition will be three stories high with an employee break room, office space, bathroom and storage. The 3 apartments will stay, because I want to be sure we have income paying the bills to get us through the winters.
In 5 years, I would like to have 3 full-time employees and 2 part-time. I would like to have a paycheck for me and my husband. He would help expand our wholesale business. We want to expand our website to offer non-perishable items and/or gift baskets.
I would like anyone in the US to have what we have here in the region.