Coffeehouse owners ‘think outside the box’ to keep doors open during pandemic

By Michael Kinney

When Shannon and April Preston decided to jump headfirst into the coffee selling business in 2016, the couple had no idea what they were getting into. He owned a jewelry store and she was a local schoolteacher. Neither had any idea of what it took to run a coffee shop.

Yet, the Preston’s ability to think outside the box allowed them to see the potential so they decided to dive into the world of drip coffee, lattes and lunches.

After changing the name to Just Brew It (106 W. Cypress St.) and completing a total renovation in just two weeks, the Prestons saw their coffeehouse grow steadily during the next three years as they changed the culture of what it meant to get coffee in a small working-class town.

“It’s a really cool atmosphere. It’s a good atmosphere to come inside,” Shannon Preston said. “And I think our variety of drinks, we have probably 50 different smoothies and we have a whole ton of teas and we have a lot of coffee drinks, and we actually sell loose leaf teas, and we sell quite a few different coffee beans.”

Shannon Preston, who also owns the building and jewelry store next door to Just Brew It, still gets a kick out of watching some of the more hardened and old school coffee drinkers come in and order the shop’s signature drink that was a holdover from the previous owners.

“It’s called the ‘Miss Altus,’” said Shannon Preston. “It’s kind of a beauty pageant or beauty program that we’ve had. I think it’s in its 50th year, and it’s one of the most popular ones. The funny thing is guys will come in there, they’ll go, ‘Hey, I’d like to order a drink. Can I have a Miss Altus?”

In a short period of time the coffeehouse has made a name for itself in Altus and continues to grow a loyal customer base. April Preston left teaching two years ago to run Just Brew It full-time. Everything seemed to be working out as they had wanted.

Then 2020 came. Like most small businesses, Just Brew It, was completely unprepared for the global pandemic that shut down the economy. According to Yelp Inc., more than 80,000 businesses permanently closed from March 1 to July 25.

The Prestons knew that they had to make some changes to their business operations or the coffeehouse would fall asunder.

“Once the pandemic hit and the ordinances came, we needed to do curbside or you have to do carryout,” April Preston said. “You can no longer do dine-in. We offered free delivery to people.”

Just Brew It also grew its presence on social media.

Just Brew It

“We have a nice Facebook audience and that helped us. We survived, I think, through Facebook because we could communicate with others, what’s going on, what our soup of the day was, the people are going to eat, you have to eat,” April Preston said. “And when they’re at home and they had nothing to do, it gave them a reason to get out or just to come by and come grab a lunch. And how we did that was through free delivery.”

Before the pandemic struck, Just Brew It was a walk-in shop only. Along with instituting a free delivery service, the Prestons created their own drive-thru as well.

“We made a makeshift drive-thru because we didn’t have one at that time,” April Preston said. “So we just put a card table out there and we went to ACE hardware and got a canopy. And every morning, whoever opened would put out that little canopy and it was hot and miserable, but we were able to get orders that way. We plastered our phone number wherever we could. They called in orders. We made it very convenient, very accessible. They just pulled up at our little table, grabbed their lunch and left.”

The makeshift drive-thru was such a success the Prestons decided to make it a permanent part of Just Brew It and built a permanent drive-through.

“It looks like a building that sells snow cones,” said April Preston. “They’re just real simple little boxy buildings, we bought one of those, and through all the trials of getting the city permit. There’s all these processes you have to go through. We attached it to one of our entries into our shop, into our coffee shop, so now we have a drive-thru. That has been great.”

Any idea that they thought could keep the business going, they were willing to try. According to the Prestons, that philosophy has seemingly worked.

Now that the Prestons have been through the trials and fires of keeping their coffee- house going through a pandemic, it has allowed them to look into the future and see where they want to be.

“A lot of [businesses] that have tried to expand, usually failed, so I think we’re pretty happy with where we’re at,” Shannon Preston said. “It’s our hometown and we’re right next door to each other so I can help. We’ve thought about other places, but I think we’re just going to stick with this one and just make sure our services are all good and maybe add a few new things as they come up and just try to stay abreast of everything.”

Michael Kinney Media

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