Dan Foust and Dan Joseph — the two Dans behind Hamilton, New York-based FoJo Beans — have been trying to keep busy. Their hybrid cafe/coffee bean roastery spent months closed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's stay-at-home order, so FoJo converted its dining room into a two-man sewing shop to churn out protective face masks for first responders.
"I’m sure I've made over 800 masks and I can’t tell how many pin pricks — there’s been a lot of 'ouch' throughout all of this," says Foust. "I think that’s part of giving back. I was also in the military, so maybe it’s just in my blood that we need to take care of each and make sure we’re all gonna get through this. It's what I have to do."
But the duo still has to answer the big question facing so many small businesses: What comes next?
FoJo Beans received a $10,000 Hello Alice COVID-19 Business for All Emergency Grant, which the owners used to cover outstanding payments to its bean distributors. This was a huge deal for the Dans, who have worked hard to forge relationships with producers across the world, from Indonesia to Africa. "By the time this is over, we will have no outstanding invoices," he says. "We'll be able to start out with a clean slate."
Of course, that all depends on when they fully reopen their business. New York's phased restrictions means in-person dining is just now an option, and Colgate University, which provides much of the shop's customer base, has not announced final plans for its fall semester. "You’re talking about a village of 3,000 people, so 2,700 students is a big deal," Foust says of Colgate. "If they don’t come back, that’s going to postpone us reopening."
The story of how FoJo limped along the past few months echoes so many other food establishments across the nation. At first, they tried to run a barebones takeout option, but the chef asked them to call it quits when the cafe only received three or four orders a day. FoJo has mostly survived on limited curbside offerings and renewed interest in its barebones e-commerce presence. "Since we started offering free shipping, it’s really picked up," Foust says. So far, they've shipped beans to customers in 31 states.
None of this changes the fact that COVID-19 arrived at a particularly bad time for the business.
"Had it happened even three months later, we would have been in a better position. I saw revenue coming up," he explains. "But because of all the expenses we had, we didn’t have enough working capital for this type of disaster."
It's a hard lesson that FoJo will try to address going forward: "In order to have that recommended cushion of six months working capital in the bank, that’s not the easiest goal to have. However, going through this, that truly makes sense and is definitely something we will be working on in the future."
There are definitely upsides to the pause in operations, like allowing them to see what works and what doesn't — from operations to pricing. For example, it turns out the shop's wholesale dairy supplier was more expensive than buying retail. "This whole experience has opened my eyes to reviewing where we’re procuring certain items for the space and really looking at the pricing," Foust says.
Most of all, it's emphasized the importance of maintaining solid relationships with local institutions, particularly the Onondaga Small Business Development Center and Partnership for Community Development.
"They were key in starting our business and that’s why we listened and participated because of the existing relationship, as well as our bank," he says. "I think when you have that working relationship you get more out of it and you know them personally."
Foust adds one last piece of advice: "Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Dan and I have decided that Tuesday is our day, so we close on Tuesday and try to not even talk about the business — to keep the stress level down. Our personal health is just more important."