Steve Johnson is not your typical “foodie-preneur.” Initially a farmer by trade, Johnson’s entrepreneurial fire wasn’t sparked until a tornado took his crops alongside half of his agriculture facilities. Realizing he needed to make ends meet, he quickly innovated his own bulk mulching business, utilizing equipment he had salvaged from the storm experience.
His mulching business, which he operated for over fifteen years, led to a new business venture; a shingle recycling company that would take damaged roof shingles and repurpose them for use in liquid asphalt, leaving a smaller carbon footprint while still being Ohio Department Of Transportation approved. His extension of this business continues as his company’s main revenue stream, based out of Louisville, KY. However, Johnson’s entrepreneurial drive kept him restless as he chased his next business venture. Where it led to even surprised him.
“I had never been a coffee fan…I always opted for something less bitter,” Johnson said. “I just happened to stumble upon a new cold brew once and was hooked.”
However, it wasn’t until he checked with several of his peers who had been experimenting in local brewing that he came to his “a-ha moment.” By both discriminating and combining techniques, Johnson quickly concocted a coffee blend recipe which lowered both bitterness and acidity, but still packed a highly caffeinated punch. Realizing the potential pouring out of his still, a new business was forged and Off The Beaten Path Coffee was born.
“I had accomplished exactly what I wanted to do, from a product standpoint,” Johnson said. “The taste, texture, flavor combinations…it all had improved upon what I had been drinking in the past. Now my biggest challenge was, would others agree with me?”
After only being in business for seven months, it’s safe to say Johnson’s question has been answered. Off The Beaten Path Coffee has begun popping up in all shapes and sizes across Central Ohio. Cold brewed and nitrogenated for a silkier, broader flavor, Johnson’s coffee has already gained the attention of locally-renown restaurants, bars and grocers. With flexibility in mind, Johnson has created both a retail-friendly product by canning his coffee for wholesale purposes, while delicately crafting coffee taps that deliver his brews at their coldest, hottest and smoothest for a unique restaurant and bar experience.
For the on-the-go coffee connoisseur, Off The Beaten Path can be found at Central Ohio grocers such as The Hills Market, Weiland’s Market and Lucky’s Market. If you prefer your coffee with food or mixed in with other adult libations, Johnson’s coffee taps have been installed at places such as The Angry Baker, The Polaris Grill, The Walrus, Lemongrass and The Medallion Country Club. His cans are also routinely featured in The Guild House, as well as both Woodlands establishments.
Johnson contributes much of his early success to ECDI’s Food Fort, a food-based business incubator and commercial kitchen. The Food Fort’s licensing umbrella assures Johnson that strict FDA guidelines are met. The camaraderie shared amongst other food-based business owners housed at The Food Fort has opened new doors for Off The Beaten Path he wouldn’t have been able to discover on his own.
“Roughly 50 percent of my business has come from references given to me by other entrepreneurs at the Food Fort,” Johnson said. “It’s a very success-oriented group of people with tons of experience in the food industry. The networking opportunities, along with the knowledge sharing amongst peers that the Food Fort organically creates, has been integral to my business’ success in its first year.”
Johnson’s commitment to his product is illustrated in his excitement when he shares his coffee with others for the first time. His “less talk, more action” attitude, crafted through years of business dedication has molded the perfect go-getter attitude the modern day entrepreneur yearns for.
“My first client was The Sweet Shop at the American Quarter Horse Congress and then it started to take off. I like to follow up with any referral or reference immediately and get a tasting scheduled as quickly as possible,” Johnson said. “I’ve always felt I needed to get the product in front of as many people as I could and worry about sorting the rest out later.”
Future plans for Johnson include participating in larger events to reach new customers, as well as adding additional cold-brewed beverages to his brand. He just recently started canning a red herbal fruit tea titled, “Aspen Glow Red.” Featuring natural ingredients like hibiscus, strawberry, apple and blueberries, flavors are extracted and perfectly blended into a caffeine-free tea that contains next to no calories while yielding high levels of potassium.
An avid mountain biker, Johnson wanted to craft the perfect recovery drink for athletes while experimenting with new brew techniques. Johnson’s natural drive to thrive is something he swears others can harness through dedication to their craft. When asked to give advice to other budding entrepreneurs, Johnson’s parting words were simple yet sophisticated:
“Entrepreneurs work eighty hours a week to keep them from having to work forty. Find ways to maximize your business’ potential. Go full speed but be measured in everything you do.”
When reflecting on Johnson’s entrepreneurial journey up to this point, “Off The Beaten Path” is perhaps the best way to describe it.
Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through their one-stop-shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their specific needs. Whether you merely have a business idea or are opening up your fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over ten thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services they provide. Visit www.ecdi.org today to learn more.