Small business success in a pandemic

Photo: Coffee Central Squared is located at 39 West Commerce Street in Hernando. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

Amidst the challenges of operating with mandates and, at times isolation when required, one DeSoto County business is an example of finding success during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coffee Central Squared, at 39 West Commerce Street in Hernando, Saturday celebrated its one-year anniversary at the location. Owner Tina Tatum and her staff in Hernando, and at the original Coffee Central store on Getwell Road in Southaven, have dealt with those challenges and has remained successful in providing “Coffee and Community” to its customers.  

“Our mission is ‘Coffee and Community,’ reaching the community and serving people first, serving them really great coffee,” Tatum told DeSoto County News Saturday morning. “We’ve been leading in the specialty coffee market in DeSoto County for the last couple of years. When we opened, there was nowhere to get specialty coffee with trained baristas and multiple brewing techniques. There was nothing here in DeSoto County, so that’s why we opened Coffee Central.”

Coffee Central opened in March 2019 and six months later a second store opened as a coffee bar only inside Side Alley Gifts and Cafe on Highway 51, north of the Courthouse Square in Hernando.  Soon, the Commerce Street in Hernando location became available and Tatum saw an opportunity to move and expand. 

Tina Tatum, owner-operator of Coffee Central and Coffee Central Squared. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

“This building became available and we opened Jan. 1, 2020,” Tatum said. “We were still at 75 percent occupancy when we opened the doors here. It’s right in the middle of Hernando and it works because we have a heart to serve people.”

But when March came that year and the coronavirus pandemic set in, Tatum and Coffee Central had to deal with the requirements every other business was forced to do. Painful adjustments were made as the business responded to a “new normal.” 

“Our first location on Highway 51 actually had to close for an entire month, the month of April 2020 we closed,” Tatum said. “We had only been open for six months and were ordering brand new equipment. As a matter of fact, a brand new espresso machine got stuck in Italy because of the pandemic.” 

Other measures were also taken to stay open and in business at both locations.

“For two months we did curbside service only in Southaven and in Hernando,” she said. “Our staff, without an app or online ordering, were serving people who would call in, and they ran from the counter to the curbside for two full months.”We wore masks when the state mandated what we had to do. We got in line and did what needed to be done. We did all the marching orders from the CDC and the governor.”

Today, Coffee Central and Coffee Central Squared continue to function, offering specialty coffee and more to its customers, who have made the locations a favorite spot to gather, especially in Hernando after one year in business.  

“This works because of our great location, the patio, and we are constantly offering this facility free of charge for community-based events,” Tatum explained. “We have the facility, it’s here, and we’re already paying rent, so we might as well use it as much as we can. We want people to think of this place as their hometown coffee shop. 

Tatum said she has always had a heart for DeSoto County, has lived in DeSoto County her entire life, and has also been involved in local ministry and in leading the National Day of Prayer here for 10 years.  She said the move to Hernando has meant no decrease in sales but other factors have taken a bite out of profits.  

“Profitability is squeezed out of any small business,” Tatum points out. “Food costs are escalating in today’s market and there’s inflation, so even though our overall sales dollars have not decreased, our margin and profitability have decreased, just because we’ve tried to not have any price increases. Margins are going to become tighter and tighter this year and there’s only so much you can pass on to the consumer.”

Coffee Central Squared, on West Commerce Street in Hernando. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

So, like any other business, Coffee Central will be watching and looking for ways to earn the maximum profits possible.

“We will have to take a real close look at streamlining all of our processes, working to make sure that our team is being effective in the timeframe that they are on the payroll,” said Tatum. “We’re going to have to look at how many people we have in the building at one time working. We’re also doing a cost analysis and looking at multiple distributors to get the best prices.”

The constant review and overview doesn’t mean Coffee Central will stray from its mission of giving back to the community. 

“We give back a minimum 10 percent of our revenue that goes back into the community,” Tatum said. “We actually went over 10 percent in 2021 because there was so much need. We try to take care of our teachers, offering coffee to our teachers, partnering with churches to do good things, we give 10 percent off to law enforcement, teachers, and veterans. We really say that’s our tithe back to the community.”

Another way Coffee Central is connecting this year is in naming the Destiny Center of Olive Branch as the mission it is supporting through the year. A share of revenue will go to the center, led by Pastor Doug Bell. Destiny Center and what is called Destiny Delivers delivers meals to people in need and also offers medical transportation to individuals. 

Tatum said the connection began when a regular customer bound to a motorized wheelchair, was seen one day in the wheelchair trying to get to a doctor’s appointment.  

“We turned around to help her, we stopped and we made sure that she got to her appointment safely,” Tatum said. “I went on a hunt to find out how we could help her with medical transport. Destiny Delivers and the Destiny Center overall ministry will pick up and take her safely back from all of her medical appointments and it doesn’t cost her one penny.”

A percent of revenue will go to the Destiny Center through the year to support meals delivered to those in need as well as medical transport.”

Other coffee shops have opened in the county now, and even the most recognizable name in coffee shops, Starbucks, has opened more locations in the area.

But Coffee Central will continue its mission, to give the area “Coffee and Community.”

“We don’t really view Starbucks as our competitor,” Tatum explained. “People like local coffee and people want to support the fact that we employ 22 DeSoto County people. When you buy coffee here, you’re supporting that.” 

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