When it comes to making a cup of coffee for her customers, Princeton entrepreneur Jessica Durrie wants the occurrence to be an epicurean experience and not just another cup of joe. Durrie is the co-owner of Small World Coffee in Princeton.
The upscale cafe with two locations — 14 Witherspoon Street and 254 Nassau Street — has been a fixture in Princeton for nearly 25 years. Durrie and her business partner, Brant Cosaboom, cater an eclectic mix of premium coffees, beverages, and other delicacies to an equally varied mix of staff, students, residents, and others in the booming and historic college town.
Maintaining a consistent level of customer service, not to mention company culture, in a business with an extremely high turnover rate has not been easy, but Durrie has managed to do it. Durrie will share her story and her methods at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s September Business Before Business Breakfast at the Nassau Club of Princeton on Wednesday, September 12, at 7:30 a.m. Cost: $40, $25 for members.
Durrie was born in California and raised abroad in Italy, Australia, and Brazil. Her father was a corporate executive for General Motors and relocated his wife and four children often. She credits her parents with instilling the notion of entrepreneurship to his children at an early age.
“My father showed us that it was OK to take chances and that entrepreneurship is about a willingness to take risks,” she says. The mantra stuck as Durrie and two of her three siblings are entrepreneurs. Durrie’s mom was a ceramic artist. “Since her death we created a gallery that’s nestled into our garden and is a magical spot for everyone,” she said.
After attending the Cornell University School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration in New York, Durrie worked at a corporate internship and was an assistant manager at an upscale cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was there she met her current business partner, Cosaboom.
Meanwhile, Durrie quickly decided that navigating the endless maze of corporate calamities and minutiae were challenges she wanted to avoid. “I knew a career in corporate America was not something I wanted to do and starting a business was,” she said. Durrie and Cosaboom moved to Princeton in the early 1990s, and Small World Coffee opened for business in December, 1993.
The twosome tapped into the fact that Americans drink a lot of coffee.
According to CB Insights, a New York based firm that tracks and analyzes data of privately held companies, about 64 percent of U.S. adults drink coffee daily — the highest proportion since 2012. Americas are spending more on coffee, specialized ingredients, and coffee-related products, as millennials are shifting toward premium options, according to the National Coffee Association. Americans consume about 400 million cups of coffee per day or about 146 billion cups of coffee per year, generating millions of dollars of revenue and spawning hundreds of industry related businesses.
According to other data, the three biggest issues impacting the growing coffee market are freshness, profit margins, and sustainability. Eighty percent of all coffee in the country — more than 7 billion pounds per year — is roasted at large centralized roasting facilities and then delivered to retail locations via sometimes expensive supply chains.
In 1997 Small World Coffee developed a recasting/roasting division of the business. Roasting coffee is the process of changing the physical and chemical properties of the coffee beans and establishing a specialized flavor. “The process guarantees the cafe will have the best and highest quality coffee bean,” Durrie says.
The coffee industry boom isn’t always just about revenues, profit margins, or finding the best method to roast coffee beans — though Small World recently raised its prices, citing the cost of doing business in downtown Princeton. A large, regular coffee will now set you back $3.25; $3.40 for decaf. For Durrie, it’s about having a personal connection with the staff and community. “Recruiting and retaining the best employees and having a community centric business is equally important,” she says.
For example, Small World Coffee employs about 40 people, including one worker who has been with the cafe since its early days. It’s also not uncommon for customers to see Durrie serving a latte or wiping off a counter. “I rely on the intelligence and creativity of my co-workers,” she says. “Through collaboration and diverse ways of thinking, we can come up with the best results to serve our customers and the community.”
Durrie’s honors include the Princeton Chamber of commerce 2005 Entrepreneur of the Year and the YWCA’s 2011 Tribute to Women. She has served on the Arts Council of Princeton and is a member of the Princeton University’s Art Museum Community Leadership Council. Lastly, Durrie, a mother of two, said among some of her favorite things do when she is not managing her business is enjoying the outdoors. “Because of my nomadic childhood, I love going on drives, getting lost, and finding cool things,” she says. She adds that her parents were both runners. “They influenced me to get out there and move; it’s just something I have to do.”