Working at a coffee shop saved my life. 3 years later, I bought the coffee shop — here’s how I did it.
- Angela Burns is the owner of Little Bean Coffee Company in Antioch, Illinois; check out the shop on Instagram.
- When Burns dropped out of Purdue University for mental health reasons, she began working at Cafe Book, Little Bean Coffee Company's former iteration.
- She loved working there and says it felt like home; when she returned to Purdue, she wrote an essay for Roxane Gay's class about the healing powers of the coffee shop.
- After graduating, Burns worked in restaurant management jobs — until the owners of Cafe Book asked her if she would be interested in taking over the coffee shop.
- On May 1, 2018, Burns handed over her check and began running Little Bean Coffee Company.
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When I first stopped into Cafe Book (now named Little Bean Coffee Company), I was home from college looking for work. I had dropped out the previous year due to depression and anxiety.
I drove through Antioch on my way to a different interview and saw that Cafe Book was hiring, so I stopped in to fill out an application. Two or three days later, I started my first training shift.
I had (and still cope with) severe anxiety and depression. I dropped out of Purdue University my senior year after a professor pulled me aside and we had a meeting about my work in class. I explained to her that it was difficult for me to focus, to get out of bed, to do homework, or to create any drafts or writings for class. I needed to go home before something irreversible happened.
The first thing I remember about walking into the cafe was the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the hiss from the espresso machine. I loved the warmth and coziness. My coworkers were incredible. They were helpful, encouraging, smart, and friendly.
One great thing about working in restaurants is every day is different — and, in a way, a fresh start.
I was able to focus and accomplish minute goals like making coffee and keeping the cafe clean — which later helped me set and reach larger goals, like going back to school and eventually running my own business. Customer interactions were a boost to my self-esteem because the kind words a customer would give as positive feedback helped me realize I was still capable of creating things
I was having so much fun building drinks, watching them come together, learning more about coffee, and tasting different drinks. I was able to focus on tangible things, instead of racing thoughts, when I was making food or drinks.
I felt good about the work I was doing and — unlike class — if I didn't show up to work, the entire shop would come to a halt. We had a very small staff, and I felt needed and appreciated.
When I started working in coffee, it felt like home.
I knew I wanted to continue, but didn't know where to go or what to do. After a few years at the shop, I started taking classes at the local community college to gain credits. Eventually, I went back to Purdue for a semester to finish my degree.
While I was there, I took a creative nonfiction class taught by Roxane Gay. Tasked with writing a memoir essay, I decided to write about depression and dropping out of school. The first draft had a single paragraph about finding a place to heal — the coffee shop. I was encouraged to pull that detail. Eventually, it stretched to become the main story line.
Through multiple drafts I changed the tone of the essay to be less about the events that had such a negative impact and more about the place that had such a positive one. I wrote about how the people I met, the community I worked in, and the coffee shop atmosphere impacted my health in a positive way.
I let love back in my life when I worked at the coffee shop and didn't even notice it. Love for coffee, work, others, and for myself. It wasn't until I turned in the final draft that I realized how much the coffee shop meant to me.
When I came home to Illinois, I didn't go back to coffee. Instead, I had a few management jobs in the restaurant industry. But the entire time I felt a pull to go back to coffee. I set a new goal to open a cafe before I turned 30.
In March 2018, the owners asked if I was interested in taking over Cafe Book.
They were ready to sell, and they approached me before they put it on the market. I couldn't pass it up.
I wanted to take the cafe that I already loved and grow it to be a "third place" for the community. A third place is the social gathering space that differs from home or work.
I had my parents and my best friend's support to buy the coffee shop. A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy when I told them what I was doing. But I needed to be back in coffee.
On May 1, 2018, I handed over a check and started running the business that very day.
I covered most of the cost through a loan from a friend and received microloans for other expenses.
The first few months I kept things running as normal and introduced myself back to customers. I eased into running the business as an owner and switching things over to the new LLC. After about nine months I started renovations, funded by an investor. We painted the interior and changed the rooms around to allow for more seating. We changed the coffee we carried and updated our breakfast and lunch menus.
We want to welcome the idea of a third place.
Somewhere people can come that isn't home or work and is still comfortable. We have free WiFi and encourage people to work or study here. We do like to host groups, and will happily reserve a table or room.
We hope to be a place for the community and host and hold more events in the future. But what I truly want to do is be a place for people to come and heal, and find love.