Episode 6: College Coffeehouse

SBI-Header-CCH-2Editors Note: Running a small business can be rewarding and maddening in equal measures, just ask Geoff Welch, President and Co-Owner of Date-Line Digital Printing. If you actually want to ask him that, you’ll have to catch him between acts of spreading thanks, destroying outdated machinery, and helping people do their very best work through his site, This Tiny Empire.

So moved were we by Geoff’s desire to strengthen the small businesses community in Fairbanks, we invited him to be a part of this website. With this series, you’ll get a glimpse into the worlds of ten local businesses as seen through the eyes of one of their peers. Without further ado, your Small Business Insider.

College-Coffeehouse-LogoThere’s no other way to say it, College Coffeehouse is a West Fairbanks institution. As it happens to be located two doors down from the business I own, I have ample opportunity to witness this firsthand, and I can admit to being at least a little jealous of its coolness. Owned by John Taylor and operated by his daughter, General Manager Bonita Taylor, the Coffeehouse offers a relaxed and inviting atmosphere featuring a wealth of small tables, comfortable couches, and lots of natural light (when the darkness of winter abates). It’s the kind of place people frequent during the day to do some work away from the office, engage friends or clients in interesting conversations, or read a good book with their favorite drink.

[sws_blockquote align=”right” alignment=”alignright” cite=”John Taylor” quotestyles=”style02″]I strive to make College Coffeehouse a fun place, whether you’re visiting as a customer or you work there.[/sws_blockquote]

In the evenings, College Coffeehouse offers an eclectic mix of musical entertainment in a variety of styles including bluegrass, rock, folk, and more. It’s a good place for performers to get their feet wet in front of a welcoming audience, a fact to which I can personally attest as Bonita has allowed me to sing a few songs there on more than one occasion. In addition to the wide variety of beverage and snack choices that have been available for years, John & Bonita recently responded to customer requests for an expanded menu by making a significant investment in a kitchen that affords them the ability to offer healthy, made-to-order food choices. The upgrade was an incredible undertaking and I was interested to know how it has impacted the business. Here’s what John and Bonita had to say about that (and more):

What makes Fairbanks such a great place to do business?

Fairbanks is home to our family. The kids and grandkids were born here and all but one of us still lives in the community. This is our home and the friendly people here make it the best place to do business. –John Taylor, Owner

How do you spend the first hour of your work day?

The first hour of my work day is usually spent preparing the shop to open. It’s very important to make sure it’s clean, organized, well stocked and fully prepared to serve customers the minute we open. – Bonita Taylor, General Manager

How do you make time to innovate and push your business forward?

It is incredibly important to keep up with the changing times, otherwise there is no chance of survival. It’s a 24/7 job. Consumer preference is always changing so I have to keep my eyes and ears open for new ways to improve the business. We just went through one of the biggest changes since we opened by adding a kitchen. It was a very long, difficult, and frustrating journey, but knowing it was going to make things better in the long run kept me going. While change is hard to accept, I’ve got an amazing group of employees that embraced the change and now enjoy it. There is no way I could do it without great employees, they are a huge part of the success of the shop. –BT

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What is the most useful piece of technology you have?

Technology has always been a part of our business. We have had internet access and computers for customer use since we opened for business in 2001. We are experimenting with using tablets and will be testing ways of communicating with our customers via smartphones. –JT

If you could travel back to the time when you started your business, what would you tell yourself to do differently?

Do a better job of reading market trends. Sometimes I’m a bit slow in identifying the need to change to adapt to customers’ needs and what the competition is providing. –JT

It seems like College Coffeehouse was an instant icon in Fairbanks, but with coffee huts on every corner, how do you differentiate yourself?

We are family owned and operated, even my grandsons and granddaughters help out. We pride ourselves on providing a friendly, laid-back environment that welcomes everyone. We also provide underage entertainment in a safe healthy environment and College Coffeehouse is a place where local amateur musicians can practice performing in front of an audience or just have fun. –JT

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How has the recent expansion of your menu impacted your business?

We have made a lot of changes in the past couple months, mainly in the food area. We are trying to provide our customers with what they are asking for: good food, prepared to order, and healthy choices. We will be adding more options as we move forward and receive requests from our customers. I think it’s working, January was a very good month compared to historical trends. This is due mostly to the new food options but we have also increased our level of training focus on customer service. –JT

What is your favorite part of the work you do?

Having fun. Yes, running a business can be very stressful, but I strive to make College Coffeehouse a fun place, whether you’re visiting as a customer or you work there. Our staff gets along so well and my employees seem to become instant friends. They take in new employees as if they’ve always been here and a lot of them even hang out together outside of work. It makes for a fun work day.

The customers are great too and we have a lot of regular customers that we love. We get such a wide variety of people coming in, whether they are locals or tourists, and its so much fun meeting and getting to know them.

Bottom line, College Coffeehouse is a fun place to be, whether you’re working or visiting. We are like family. –BT

Photos by: Ronn Murray Photography
College Coffeehouse 3677 College Rd. Unit 4 Fairbanks, AK 99701