Vet brews up an espresso business in Dover


(From the Small Business Administration)

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Image from Barney Wrightson / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

So just how and why does a U.S. Marine from a Scout Sniper Platoon with two special operations deployments, and former IT executive, become a small business owner?

“Well, it is a short and simple answer,” says Sean Riley, owner along with spouse Tawana of Espresso-N-Ice on Forrest Avenue  in Dover, Del.: “there is just too much risk being an employee these days.”

Too much risk? (for a Marine Scout Sniper?) Most people consider being a business owner far riskier than being an employee. Especially given that Sean was in the IT industry earning a comfortable six figure income and had experienced great risk as a Marine.

“But as an employee, you have little or no control over your destiny. IT businesses flourish and die, often in just a few years. I saw many of my friends being laid off in an environment that provided few employment options, even for very skilled people,” Riley said. “I decided to take control and create my own job.” He began to research small business opportunities.blank

Riley does not drink a lot of coffee, just a cup a day, but when he does he demands great coffee. He ordered freshly roasted coffee online and paid overnight shipping charges to ensure freshness and to satiate his habit. So obsessed was Riley with finding good coffee that one day his wife laughingly suggested that he open his own coffee shop because “the savings on shipping charges alone would pay for the rent.”

So Riley began to investigate the idea. He began researching coffee house franchises, roasting techniques, and business ownership. Two years later he had a very thorough business plan to open a coffee shop and coffee roasting business from scratch.

The Riles first visited Dover, unbeknownst to them, on a NASCAR race weekend. Most Delawareans avoid Dover on these weekends because of the horrendous traffic but for the Riley’s it was less annoying than the traffic in Quantico,  Va. to which they were accustomed. They loved the location near their parents and decided to move to Delaware.

Riley contacted the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and was referred to Al Paoli of the SBA resource partner, Small Business Technology and Development Center, in Dover. Paoli worked with Riley to refine the business plan and apply for an SBA guaranteed loan.

Using personal funds and a $150,000 SBA guaranteed loan from WSFS, Espresso-N-Ice opened on September 19, 2009. “I knew that starting a business in the middle of a recession was unorthodox, but I also knew that if my business plan could survive in that environment, then I could expect great things as the economy recovered,” Riley said.

Today, Espresso-N-Ice is a beautiful, busy enterprise. They are one of only three fresh coffee roasters in Delaware Riley is aware of and a variety of coffee is roasted daily on site using only organic, top shelf beans. Roasting only enough for a few days use, the coffee is always freshly roasted and freshly brewed ensuring peak flavor. Many customers drive 30 miles or more for what they call “the best coffee in Delmarva” and Espresso-N-Ice even won the ‘Best of Delaware’ coffee award for 2012.

Riley’s management style borrows heavily from his Marine background. He interviews potential employees with three direct questions; ‘can you be here on time, can you work with a smile, and can you treat people with respect?’ One ‘no’ is an automatic disqualifier. The result is that the shop runs efficiently and effectively. The employees hired are indeed happy and genuinely concerned about the patrons.

Business is going so well that Riley will open another Espresso-N-Ice in the Dover mall in November. In another first, in the coming months Riley will release a new beer in cooperation with Old Dominion Brewery. Called ‘Morning Glory,’ the beer will use Riley’s espresso in the brew. Called an Espresso Stout, the coffee beer is in keeping with Riley’s motto: “It’s not just coffee – It’s an experience.”

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