Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Today isn’t payday for Bo Nelson. But he’s still roasting — now in self-quarantine — dedicated to the survival of Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters as a “new normal” dawns in America.
“Your response to it might as well be a positive, proactive, one that brings solutions to the table instead of one that’s just kind of bitching,” Nelson, co-owner of Thou Mayest, said of ways his peers in the small business world should adjust their lens amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“[People say,] ‘We shouldn’t have to do this, those sick people should just stay home,’ … And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We are all in this together.”
In an effort to keep up with production of the beloved, Kansas City company’s coffees and to ensure the process is done as safely as possible, Nelson entered a self-quarantine earlier this month and stopped taking a paycheck, he explained.
Isolated from his team, Nelson said he’s had to let them fly, trusting baristas to lead the charge of curbside caffeination and implement creative strategies for keeping the business online as the entrepreneurial landscape shifts — in a way that’s likely to bring about permanent changes to the service industry, he added.
“We saw the curbside thinking coming. I just said, ‘Guys we need to double down on this thing — this is going to be the new normal.’”
Moving menus online, learning new processes and systems, and trying to take care of personal health and wellness could have been an overwhelming endeavor, but persistence continues to percolate for the Thou Mayest team — spread across five locations (including Cafe Equinox within Family Tree Nursery) on both sides of the state line.
“I was like, ‘If you guys want [Thou Mayest] to exist, you’ll make it exist,’ I can only do so much and this is way beyond my control,” Nelson said of words he shared with his team nearly three weeks ago as coffee shops and restaurants started to suffer and he worried the company could shutter all together.
“I’m trying my hardest. … This is my first day that I’ve actually got to have a slow morning in over a month. It was a pretty rough takeoff. But it’s just really cool to see people who are actually wanting and making this work because really, it’s not me.”
Tips for making a difference — now
With curbside delivery, online ordering, and a virtual tip jar — designed to give baristas across each location a boost and born out of a sharp decline in tips from curbside customers — Thou Mayest continues to evolve its response to the pandemic, launching this week a gifting option for doctors, nurses, and first responders fighting COVID-19.
“These are unprecedented and difficult times for all of us, but the next few weeks will be especially difficult for our first responder and medical communities,” Nelson said in a release outlining the company’s 10 percent discount on 5 pound bags of coffee, bringing it to cost price, and issued a challenge to the community: send a bag to someone on the frontlines of the medical crisis.
“I got inspired,” he recalled, noting he observed a customer submitting order after order with personalized notes.
“He then sends me an email saying, ‘Hey, I just wanted to let you know I got this for some of my friends all across the country who are in the medical profession,” Nelson said of the interaction and the genesis for the coffee campaign.
“It’s not really confined to Kansas City. We’re just kind of seeing what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
Click here to take Nelson up on the challenge and send Thou Mayest coffee to a medical professional or first responder, using the code LUV4FRMC.
‘No limit to how much good you can do’
Embracing the challenges of a world changed by COVID-19 is a unique opportunity for business owners, frequently saddled with fear and uncertainty, Nelson said.
Finding ways to partner with peers who share a similar outlook — including minds at Blade & Timber (Swell Spark) and J. Rieger & Co. distillery — has been a particularly encouraging benefit of the pandemic, which presents an opportunity for communities to come together, he continued
“[Those are] the people that I want to be around,” he said of the Rieger family and Matt Baysinger, co-founder of Blade & Timber and Swell Spark.
J. Rieger & Co. pivoted its distilling operation earlier this month to make hand sanitizer, which is now distributed with the help of Baysinger and a Blade & Timber location in Leawood’s Town Center.
Click here to read more about the Blade & Timber distribution partnership with J. Rieger.
“This is where you see entire industries change directions overnight. Rieger can be like, ‘Hey, we did hand sanitizer for a hot minute. It’s part of our history now,’” he laughed, noting the era could come with an abundance of silver linings if approached with a positive attitude.
“I think good goes so much farther than just bitching,” he said, hopeful Kansas Citians would join him in a quest for positivity and unity in a time that will likely shape history books.
“I’m trying my hardest to do the right thing. There’s no limit to how much good you can do,” Nelson continued. “There’s two different stances to take — one that’s going to be a little more grateful and proactive and the other one’s just going to be kind of reactive, taking things as they come and that’s where we have to listen. And the other part is where you’ve got to fight.”
With no end to the pandemic in sight, pivots are likely to continue for Thou Mayest, he added.
“I’d really like to do a coffee where straight profits go right to the baristas — call that coffee Tip Jar,” Nelson said, dreaming up creative ways to keep Thou Mayest roasting and ready to welcome customers back to its shops when the world reopens.
“We’re coming up with some other creative ideas for the baristas, but also kind of holding our breath. We’re trying so hard.”