Justin Schaffner is very laid back. Have a conversation with him and you’ll undoubtedly hear him say, “Oh, no worries!” at least two or three times because he says that a lot. It’s amazing that he’s so calm considering the past two years have been filled with uncertainty and frustration as he tried to open the doors to his coffee shop.
He remembers when the idea to start a business first came to him; it was during a party where he and his friends joked about getting together to open a coffee shop. What he didn’t know was that one of the people listening in on the conversation just so happened to know a woman who was looking for someone to open a coffee shop in a new building. What started out innocently enough as a casual conversation during a party eventually evolved into a two-year rollercoaster ride that taught him firsthand that opening a business is perhaps not as easy as one might think.
“I feel like there should be a handbook for opening a business in Omaha,” says Justin. “This is my first business venture. Pretty much everything is a surprise.” He pauses to laugh and then adds, “I’m sure there’s someone somewhere who thinks it’s all obvious, but it’s not me. You have to hunt down information. The hard part is you knowing the questions to ask.”
I spoke to Justin the week before Echo Coffee Shop was set to open, although this wasn’t the first time he anticipated opening his doors for business. He was originally supposed to open in mid-August of last year. “The contractors kept pushing it back. Then they said, ‘Yeah, you’ll be in the space in October.’ Then it was, ‘Oh, you’ll be in the space in November.’”
It was one thing after another. Delays from the contractors were compounded by issues with getting the city to put a stamp of approval on the new business. “First off, the city didn’t want a commercial space in the building,” says Justin. “The neighborhood association was for putting a coffee shop in here. It took forever for the city to get behind it.”
Justin thought the city had approved the plan for the coffee shop when it actually hadn’t even voted yet. “I don’t know if it was a miscommunication or something. I was all ready to move in and open, and I’m like, ‘What’s the holdup guys?’ And then someone says, ‘They still haven’t voted on it.’ I asked when they are voting on it and he says, ‘We don’t know.’” Justin sings the “We don’t know” part with a hint of humor coupled with a twinge of frustration.
It was in late October when the city approved the coffee shop, but this wasn’t the end of Justin’s frustrations. “It was all kinds of things,” he says. “I ran out of money and had to get a second business loan. The people who were going to work here couldn’t wait any longer and found other jobs. The Fire Marshall made us move a door.” He motions to a door that leads further into the building. “It’s a fire exit, but as you can see, it’s in the middle of the wall and it’s going into the building.” He lets out a laugh. “Escape the fire into the burning building!” he exclaims in mock melodrama.
When I first arrived at Echo Coffee to talk to Justin, he explained to me that there had been yet another delay. “We were supposed to get the Certificate of Occupancy on Thursday, and then they called that morning to cancel and rescheduled for Monday.”
Justin peppers the conversation with laughter and contented sighs, which seem out of place for a business owner who has been desperately trying to get his doors open for quite some time. “I’m a naturally optimistic person,” he admits. “I just tuck and roll with it, I guess.”
Being optimistic seems to have been his saving grace through this ordeal. Although the coffee shop started out as a group idea, he’s the only one left who has seen the project through. When I asked him if the barrage of delays messed with his head, he replied, “Yeah, probably. But no more so than anything else in life. People deal with disappointments all the time.”
I asked Justin how he managed to pull this all off on his own, and before he could answer his friend blurted out, “Lots and lots of coffee!” Justin’s schedule lately largely consists of arriving at Echo Coffee early in the morning, staying late into the evening, and then going home only long enough to sleep a little before starting all over again the next day. His friend adds, “I live next door to him and I haven’t seen him in a year.”
He plans to man the coffee shop on his own for a while. I ran through the operating hours with him to make sure I understood – or, better yet, that he understood- that this meant he’d be there at least fifteen hours a day (nine on Sundays) and he cheerfully clarified that yes, that’s right, and he’s ready for it. He looked around the coffee shop and after a moment of reflection says, “I’ll figure it out. This has been like chess. A really good chess player figures out all the moves to the end of the game, and that’s pretty much what I had to do here.”
I believe he’ll figure it out. I also believe that he’ll love every moment of exhaustion that comes with running a thriving business because he’s worked so hard to actually open those doors. I really hope Echo Coffee has its grand opening as planned on April 24th, and I really hope Justin succeeds splendidly. He’s a nice guy who deserves a break or two.
Echo Coffee Shop
1502 South 10th Street
Monday – Saturday: 7:00AM -10:00PM
Sunday: 9:00AM – 5:00PM