Coffee Shops and COVID: A Year Later

If you’ve been following us for a while you know that as we started to get our blog up off the ground we put together a piece on how the coffee industry was reacting to COVID’s impact on the coffee industry at every level.

Early on, global trade routes were affected which put small local farmers in a precarious position. However, the demand for coffee has seen not a decline but an increase since then balancing out the effects that farmers were originally faced with.

At first many thought that only bigger box stores would remain as they had the capital to shift so monumentally during the original outbreak with many an article lament the “impending death” of one’s local coffee shop.

The truth is always more winding than thought.

Forced to lay off staff suddenly or close temporarily (though many indeed have closed permanently), a rapid shift towards online ordering, alongside a gradual and stagger-stepped reopening of physical spaces, put enormous pressure on local cafes, shops, and roasteries on how to best adapt.

Some shops have moved to some indoor dining, others favoring online carry-out, others shuttering other locations to become more centralized, the list goes on as the pandemic affected different areas of the United States differently.

However, those who have adapted did so through sheer force of will; being flexible and pliant to the situation as it has changed since our original article. And unsurprisingly, the only constant since the original outbreak is that the situation has shifted constantly.

Unlike our previous article, this is structured in no particular order. Rather, it’s presented as a snapshot of how coffee shops, cafes, and roasters have learned to adapt in this particular moment in a global pandemic.

Oliver Stormshak – Olympia Coffee Roasters

"It's been a wild ride, each day, each week, each month we have been operating in crisis. Our cafe business while stable is still much slower than it was before the pandemic. Our wholesale business has been hit the hardest over the year, but we are also currently seeing fast growth in this area recovering quicker than we expected thus far in 2021. Our mailorder-website business has made up for all the lost ground in retail and wholesale and more growing our company overall which really surprised me. We expect the recovery in retail and wholesale to be slow and we hope to retain our growth in web sales."

Oliver wears many hats at Olympia Coffee Roasters. The Washington-based roastery and shop. From farmer-direct green coffee buyer, to CEO, to roasting production manager, Oliver has his hands in many aspects at Olympia Coffee Roasters.

Andrea Grove – Elementary Coffee Co

“Our mission at Elementary Coffee Co. is to be a safe space for our community. How COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement has caused us to reassess and refocus on how to respectfully serve our city and neighbors has been an invaluable experience.

On many of the most challenging days, the still prevalent feeling is a gratefulness for being granted the opportunity to learn, adapt, and really step back and listen. On the rest of the challenging days, it’s just a feeling of plodding exhaustion that plagues us, like the rest of the world. The feeling of spinning out in place. But, we aren’t spinning in place ultimately, because now we can look back and see how far we’ve come in a year!

We’ve adapted as a company, built a stronger team that communicates and works together better than ever, and found ways to give, provide, donate, connect, and build with our Harrisburg family in more meaningful and longer-lasting ways.
The future looks bright, as long as we work towards it together! For some fun community pieces: check out our Instagram Live series: Baphomet Brews from April and May. For some delicious coffee with a purpose: check out our new seasonal blends in which we use as a donate tool to consistently give to various rad organizations around our big little city.”

Andrea Grove is the owner and operator Harrisburg PA-based Elementary Coffee Co. Serving coffee from a historic district, Elementary not only is aimed at creating a more inclusive coffee community in their area, but also guiding and teaching other coffee enthusiasts, operators, and the like through guest speaking, training, consulting, and more

Brian Jackson – Mighty Missouri Coffee

At the beginning of the pandemic, nobody knew what to expect. We, like much of the country, faced mandatory shut-downs and had to pivot our business model to accommodate third-party deliveries and curbside pick-ups. Since then, we've seen some normalcy but we've been working on the development of an app to help ordering and stay top-of-mind to our customer base.”

Brian Jackson is the owner and proprietor of Mighty Missouri Coffee which surprisingly isn’t based in Missouri but rather Bismarck, North Dakota. Mighty Missouri Coffee not only roasts but also serves its offerings from their shop alongside delicious food items.

Walt Anderson – Refuge Coffee Co

“Thankfully we never fully closed either of our shops and did not have to sideline our trucks. We did however, realize that we had to pivot and make adjustments to keep our customers and employees safe, as well as continue to generate revenue.

We immediately turned our Clarkston location into a Drive-thru only, We added online ordering and delivery and we converted our brand new Sweet Auburn location into a pick up and delivery location only.

The thing that made the biggest impact was the idea to offer neighborhood visits and to waive our minimum vending fee. People at home were able to invite our truck into their neighborhoods at no charge and we were able to provide a contactless socially distant coffee shop on wheels directly to their entire neighborhood.

To date we have visited over 250 neighborhoods since March. This has slowed down recently due to people returning to more normal routines, but this move was huge for us in continuing to generate necessary revenue. Thankfully our paid catering gigs are slowly returning as people are realizing that we are still open for business.”

Walt Anderson is the President and Chief Operations Officer at Refuge Coffee. A Georgia-based non-profit coffee shop that’s north star is not only serving up delicious coffee for their community but welcoming refugees the world over into their company and empowers them to find their own path in life in a new country.

Danna Suellentrop – Blip Roasters

“Initially, we thought we would weather the pandemic and remain open at both of our cafes. However, virtually overnight the climate changed and we realized we’d rather protect staff than attempt to keep service open. Closing felt BIG. Since opening the cafe in 2016, we had never closed for a whole day. We maintain hours on all holidays and through extreme weather conditions - often, those are some of our most enjoyable days.

On March 17, 2020 we gathered staff from both cafes and, with their concerns and questions in mind, decided to close for a minimum of 6 weeks. That day, we assisted all staff in signing up for unemployment income and stocked them all up on coffee. We knew Kansas City would go into lockdown, which the city did beginning March 24. Though our staff had been laid off, management agreed to take some time to deep clean our cafes, with plans to re-open them as soon as the lockdown lifted.

At the time, our first cafe, in the West Bottoms neighborhood of Kansas City, was getting a little too tight for our needs. Our second cafe, opened in February 2019, had been quiet and slow getting off the ground. We decided that when re-opening was possible, we would not return to our second location.

When it became clear that the lockdown would extend much longer than initially expected, we jumped all the way in and decided it was time to move. In the year prior we had begun looking for a new space and, with dedicated time to spend, we purchased a 19,000 sq. ft. building about 4 blocks from our previous West Bottoms cafe.

We moved the roasting space first, which allowed us to maintain our roasting and fulfill online orders. We saw a huge increase in online ordering and are so thankful for Blip fans near and far for keeping us in mind while isolating at home.

Over the summer, we built a cafe, full kitchen, offices, and dry goods/merchandise warehouse. Since re-opening, we’ve also added a screen printing studio, allowing us to bring merch production in house, and have leased a section of the building to a mechanic who builds motorcycles (Blip is a meeting place for the KC Motorcycle community at-large and a licensed dealer for Bell, Biltwell, and RevIt helmets and gear). Though we were closed for over 5 months (and hadn’t fully acknowledged where we had moved to), loyal Blipsters found the new building and showed up to offer their time and tools in the new space. We are beyond grateful for their unyielding support and dedication to us.

Before re-opening in September 2020, we worked closely with staff to design a COVID-safety plan that prioritized their safety and comfort. We continue to check in about the safety plan at each staff meeting and adjust based on their requests and needs. As we haven’t had any outbreaks among staff/guests and only a couple staff have become sick (they both were able trace their exposure to outside of Blip) we are confident that this safety plan is working. Masks are always required in our space and we have maintained limited seating in the cafe.

Blip has now been open for 6 full months in our new location. We are open 7a-7p every day of the week and have been excited to see both familiar faces and new ones

The time we were closed also allowed us to really shape how we want our business to operate and grow. At Blip we like to say “built, not bought” when talking about both our business and our community. So it’s important that we’re growing our staff’s skills to better support themselves and the rest of our community. We’ve added additional training for our staff, including American Sign Language and SAFE Bar Training, as well as offering ASL classes to other local coffee professionals and expanding community access to composting by working with a local composting service. We are also working on a support services resource guide for community members and staff as well as an alternative to policing safety guide.

For me, the most impactful piece of COVID has been the change in how we approach our work and our community. We have to bring both compassion and patience into our space. We aren’t in competition with other coffee companies, there is room for all of us.

We can roast and work and create without running ourselves ragged. We can create an environment where staff feels both valued and valuable. We can create a space that allows for access to coffee and community, we can build a platform for more voices to be heard and more opportunities to grow. We can uplift each other without also stepping on one another; and because we can do these things, we do.”

Danna Sullentrop is the Operations manager of Blip Roasters. A Kansas City based coffee shop and roastery that has a passion for motorcycles and building a community of like-minded riders that also enjoy a fine cup of joe.

Ben Cureton –8th and Roast

When considering how we’ve dealt with Covid 19, my mind goes back to something one of our favorite regulars said about a month after we reopened: “The government gave us instructions on how not to die, but they never gave us instructions on how to live.”

With that said, we had to do what felt honest and safe for our staff and guests as well make the necessary adjustments with the information as it became available at each stage.

After we closed for about a month and a half, our first step was converting to walk up windows and online ordering/to go service only. This meant we had to rethink our work flow and incorporate a second POS (point of sale) station to effectively serve our guests at the window.

A few months later we reopened our dining areas for limited seating, which is how we are still currently operating. We hung and installed plexiglass between the baristas and the guests, switched to paper cups, spread our tables 6 feet apart, marked the floors with directions and created designating waiting areas away from the tables.

We are fortunate enough being a roastery as well that our roast team never stopped working or generating revenue even when both shops shut down.

Slowly through this process by condensing our operation and laser focusing on the essentials, the things that really work for us and the things we are truly proud of; we’ve been able to successfully scale back our operation and maintain our high standards during this period. At no point was anything easy, but I genuinely believe that we are stronger now than we ever have been as a staff. The trust we’ve built together by really doing our best to be the safest at every stage will be more than ready to hit the ground running if/when things return to the way they used to be.”

Ben Cureton is the General Manager at Nashville’s 8th & Roast, a combination of a coffee shop and in-house roastery that is dedicated to not only its local community but in its relationships with coffee farmers as well.

Parker Gregory Shpak – Dom’s Coffee

Our shop used to be packed on most days. People would often stop by and there wouldn’t be an open seat to be found. The pace was fast and fun and it was easy to get-to-know customers. Since COVID, we’ve been closed on the inside, with an order window by our main entrance. Our shop isn’t built to operate like this, and state law mandates that our customers have to stay six feet apart.

Effectively, that means we have to fulfill each customer’s order before the next group can come to the window. It’s a very slow way to offer service, and even more difficult given how cold Connecticut winters can be. That being said, it’s been worth it for out staff; not one person on our team has contracted COVID.

In order to better serve our customers, we’ve also built new seating outdoors. Where once lived two small tables and four chairs along an entrance, we now have a large stone patio with a canopy that accommodates twenty people.
It’s been a growing experience for our business and our team over the last year; we’re looking forward to reopening inside, when we’ll combine our traditional business model with expanded outdoor service!”

Parker Gregory Shpak is the General Manager at Dom’s Coffee, a Connecticut-based café. When not trying a new coffee, Parker enjoys backpacking, cycling, or writing. You can find his writings at

Tammy Rostov – Rostov’s

“Before the Covid we had a coffee bar in the store, where we did dripped coffee and espresso based drinks. No real food to speak of, some breads and danish. We have not had customers in the store since March 17, 2020 and we do everything as pickup, e-commerce and we work with a local bicycle delivery company. People can order online, by phone or just walk up.

We have been very lucky, the Richmond Community has been very supportive of local business. Our sales stayed about the same for 2020 as 2019, but the distribution of where the sales came from was very different. We have sold more pounds of coffee, I attribute this to people being at home instead of out and about and our e-commerce has tripled. On the other side, our commercial sales have evened out at -45%.

We reopened the coffee bar in June and it has evened out at about the same amount of sales as before Covid.”

Tammy Rostov is the owner of Rostov’s, a Richmond-based roastery and retail store that serves the coffee (and tea) needs of local Virginian home roasters and cafes alike.

Emily Shinkle –Carabello Coffee

Carabello Coffee has made a lot of adjustments since March 2020 - most of which we are proud to say have added to what we do and how we’re able to better serve our customer.

Before COVID-19, we functioned like any other popular local coffee shop. We had one point of sale and a decent line out the door during peak times. Today, our “new normal” involves multiple ways customers can buy what we sell.

The first strategic shift when the global pandemic shut things down was adding a walk-up window. It went over so well, the structure of our building has changed for good. We’ve since replaced the pre-existing windows with McDonalds-grade drive-thru style windows and added updated menus screwed into the brick. Our customer demographic at the window is strongly skewed to the neighborhood dog owners and young parents with strollers - two patrons we had a challenge serving in our previous business model.

As contactless payment became a requirement in our “new normal”, we partnered with the JOE COFFEE APP, allowing us to offer mobile ordering practically overnight. Almost one year later and we have loyal customers who use the app daily and appreciate the ease and speed in the ordering process.

Lastly, we’ve done our due diligence to not just maintain but fine tune and perfect our online store. We saw many of our faithful customers not stop coming for their weekly 12oz bag of whole bean coffee, but instead shipping 5lb bags from our website to their home office. Since that shift, we’ve increased our product offering to accommodate the attentive online shopper and are increasingly surprised by the success of our web sales.

We are incredibly thankful for the creativity of our team and the intense loyalty of our customer base as we transition to the “new normal.”

Emily Shinkle is the Chief Operations Officer at Newport Kentucky’s Carabello Coffee, a roastery as well as a coffee shop that specializes in farm direct sourcing, fair trade, and organic coffees.


However, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel as the infection rate declines while the vaccination rates continue to trend upward in the United States. Soon enough we will see how much the world has changed in the span of a year and how these changes with continue to ripple outward into the coffee shop culture.

What’s been most remarkable is the tenacity to face down the pandemic, adapt, and continue to serve the large community around them with one of life’s simple pleasures – the morning cup of coffee.

To that end, we want to sincerely thank each of their participants for pulling back the curtain a bit and showing just a fraction of what they’ve done to continue to move forward in the face of so many obstacles. Their tenacity and grit should be admired and emulated even after everything returns to some semblance of normalcy.