We’ve been chatting with successful small business owners across America about how their first sale helped set the course for where they are today. Someone buying your product or coming to your store is a vote of confidence that you’re on the right track.
Below is our chat with Jonathan Felton of Clatter Cafe in Frostburg, Maryland. Jonathan explains how the cafe grew out of the community he found at concerts and a passion to create the kind of space that had been so important to him growing up.
The idea for Clatter Cafe was tied to my experience in local music scenes. I really loved the way venues could be turned into social spaces that – to me – made everyone involved better. We’d come together for a show and it would spark conversations and allow you to meet people who believed in the same sorts of things you did. For local concerts, you’d go there to see music but end up with a lot more. Having spaces where that could happen felt so important.
Touring in bands and later playing solo shows I spent so much time in coffee shops. I learned a lot about good coffee and I learned a lot about what made a great venue. I wanted to figure out a way to bring that kind of energy to my little town. I wanted to create the kind of space that had been so important for my life growing up. It felt like something I could contribute to the community.
Actually getting to the point where we could open Clatter Cafe took a lot of work. I didn’t have any background in small business. I had experience organizing bands, shows, and festivals. That was helpful to me, but there was so much to learn. My wife and I had lived most of our lives with the goal of not needing very much money, much stuff, and not having any debt. But that lifestyle is not conducive to opening up your own small business. So to get started we worked to put away money and make ourselves more appealing for loans to buy a building. But we also did what we always did and looked to our friends and community for support.
To renovate the building, our neighbor – who is a fine art painter – designed the interior. To put together the business plan, we got help from the small business association in our county, who helped us for free. A barista I knew from Nashville came up to help us get everything started. A friend I used to do performance art with, who used to own a cafe, came to help out in the first year and put together some programming for us. Another friend was doing food. It was all people I liked being around and people who meant things to the area.
That first day we opened was more exciting than it was nerve-racking. Everything went really well and people came in because we had a lot of social capital. We had built the kind of space and filled it with the kind of people that really mattered to us. And that matters to others too. I don’t remember a lot about selling the first cup of coffee, but I do remember the vibe. Because it is is the same vibe we try and cultivate now: we want people to feel like they’re at their friend’s house. A place you feel comfortable and relaxed and warm in… it’s a place for the community. And that’s always what I wanted.
If you’re in the Frostburg area, be sure to grab a coffee at Clatter Cafe or check out one of their great live events. Have a great story to share about your first sale? Know a local business that we need to profile? You can get in touch with NorthOne on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.