Community. Conversation. Inspiration.
The vision behind the Old Factory Coffee Shop was to provide students with a place to relax and study, to develop relationships and to enjoy good coffee. In the nine months that it’s been open, owner Richard Sowienski sees how that vision has changed – but changed for the better.
Richard and his wife, Rola, moved to Orange City in the summer of 2009. Like so many other lovers of coffee, they’d always thought it would be fun to own a coffee shop, but the thought never progressed further than that.
As they began looking for housing, they noticed the Old Factory was up for sale. “It was a really cool building,” Richard said. “We thought about converting the upstairs for our living space and using the downstairs for a coffee shop.” He soon came to find out that keeping it simple was beyond the realm of possibility. “There is no simple. If you try to run a simple business, you’re not going to have a business.”
So, when the Sowienskis made the decision to purchase the Old Factory, they knew they were taking on a massive project. Just how massive it was, however, was something they’d learn in the process. “I love what we have,” Richard said, “but it’s been a bigger strain and bigger drain of resources and time than we ever imagined. It was far more than we expected.”
Their original target audience was college students. They wanted their coffee shop to be a casual atmosphere for students to gather with friends. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of students that I’ve never had in class and even to know my students better. They won’t come to my office,” Richard joked, “but they’ll come here. It gives me an opportunity to talk about class or about what’s going on in their lives. If they’re formers students, they really become friends. That’s the best part.”
He admitted that, although there is a core group of students that is always at the shop, “the vast majority of students have never come. You would think that two blocks is two miles.” Because students often don’t make the effort to get off campus, Richard was surprised to admit that “the community has been more supportive than the students.”
In the first few months after the Old Factory Coffee Shop opened, students would drop by and talk about their own visions for the shop during the school year. “They wanted us open until 3 a.m., saying ‘We’ll just fill the place!’” When September came, Richard adapted his hours to best fit the wants of Northwestern students. “I started opening at 7 a.m. and staying open until midnight. But no one came at 7 – or 8. No one came at 11 p.m. – or even 10! I put coupons in the welcome packets, but apparently students don’t use coupons either. That’s when I started getting a little worried about student patronage.”
It was during that time, however, that community members began frequenting the coffee shop each morning for conversation or evening for group Bible studies. “People come in who don’t know each other and they get to talking; you see things happening and people clicking and connections being made.” To Richard, connections like that capture what he envisioned from the start – even if it is with a different generation than he’d expected.
Because the Old Factory’s pour-over option (the way the coffee is brewed) takes longer than most other coffee shops, Richard has enjoyed using that extra time to get to know his customers on a more personal level. “I start asking questions and get to meet people I never would have met. It’s a wonderful experience to develop these relationships with people and share in their personal story.”
Though he was initially afraid that no one else in Orange City would like coffee the way he likes it – strong and full-bodied – it’s through his love and passion for quality coffee that Richard has found his place in the community. “I overheard three different people last week say, ‘This is the best coffee I’ve ever had.’ I just love that people appreciate the quality of drink we offer. It’s gratifying to have a quality product and have people recognize it.”