The mass-brewed coffee at some events can be questionable. Instead of leaving the caffeine to chance, one Columbus woman created a mobile espresso and tea catering company that brings the specialties of a coffee house to your event.
Maureen Mahoney founded Latte’ 2 a Tea Espresso & Tea Catering as a unique concept that provides an alternative to just coffee or alcoholic beverages for an event or party. The fresh-brewed beverages include a bevy of espresso drinks and whole-leaf teas. Baristas will whip up drinks to be served iced or hot to suit customer’s tastes. Latte’ 2 a Tea caters events ranging from weddings to office meetings.
Mahoney knew she loved coffee. She knew she had an idea. She put the two together, along with a drive to educate herself on running a small business to create the catering company. We asked Mahoney to take us through her transition from the medical field to “The Coffee Lady.”
Q: Tell us about your background as it relates to Latte’ 2 a Tea and how you came up with the concept.
Latte’ 2 a Tea concept was inspired after I attended an elegant, upscale catered fundraiser. I was looking forward to an outstanding cup of coffee. What I received was undrinkable. As a longtime lover of coffee, the bad brew was not only disappointing but unacceptable.
Q: Take us through the process of setting up your own small business. What challenges and opportunities did you experience?
My college background was in the medical field. After seven years I got burnt out and quit. I did not have a business background and I was looking for a job. I had a coffee concept forming in my head that I shared with a friend. Her advice, “Work for someone else in the field to make sure it’s what you’re really want to do before you invest any money.”
With this thought, I went to work at a very popular coffee company. They taught me everything I needed to know about the coffee and tea industry, about regions for coffees and teas, equipment, placing orders, inventory, storage and basically everything I would need to get a solid start. It was a very humbling experience because I went from making a large salary and benefits to minimum wage and no benefits. I left this part-time job because I saw the opportunity to run with a dream and an idea. I heard of an espresso machine for sale and purchased it. Soon, people started asking me to come to their parties and make some drinks, so I just winged it.
Twelve years ago, it was a very challenging environment where women still struggled for even footing with their male counterparts. I had business dealings with men where they did not take me seriously, or they tried to take advantage of me. This has completely changed, and these same guys now respect me for what I know and admire the fact that I’m still in business.
Not knowing anything about catering, contracts or invoicing, I signed up for every free lecture or event to gather information I needed on how to start and operate a small business. I took an accounting class, attended small business management conferences, and focused on the workshops SCORE offered. They are a national nonprofit association that matches new entrepreneurs with experienced, retired business executives.
In the beginning it was a “burn and learn” process, but I never really got burnt so badly that I didn’t recover. The catering concept still had a few kinks and it wasn’t catching on as quickly as I had hoped. But, I knew I needed to make more sales. I decided to open a coffee shop. In hind-sight, it was the espresso and tea catering that carried the coffee shop.
The coffee shop offered breakfast and lunch, and it came with the everyday demands of a small business. It was a constant challenge managing employees. Operating the shop, establishing critical protocols and policies, and being number one – the only one – was a lot of responsibility. When I chose to let go of the coffee shop, it was a hard decision. So much money had been invested, but moving forward allowed a more lucrative catering format to flourish. The coffee shop taught me how to streamline things and control expenses. A friend who owns a restaurant for many years said to me,“If having your own business was easy – everyone would be doing it.” Nevertheless, hard lessons stick with you.
Q: Tell us about the services Latte’ 2 a Tea provides.
Latte’ 2 a Tea provides an espresso and tea catering service, typically as a two-hour open bar. The bar has two sides, one for the coffee and espresso lover, and the other for the tea lover. We provide shots of espresso, lattes, cappuccinos, traditional coffee, and a large line of coffee flavors including sugar-free and seasonal favorites. On the tea side, we provide whole leaf imported teas served in tea sacks, including black, green, white, herbal and decaffeinated varieties. All coffee and tea drinks can be served hot or iced. The concept is to provide both the coffee and tea lover with a high quality, distinctive beverage experience.
We also do cash bars if appropriate – sometimes donating a share of proceeds to the sponsor. Cash bars can include fruit smoothies and blended coffee drinks in addition to the espresso service. All we need is a six to eight foot table with linen and a direct electrical outlet, we provide the rest – including knowledgeable and trained baristas.
Q: What types of events do you typically cater?
I began working with the big catering companies and later moved into the wedding industry. I further expanded into graduations and other private parties. I also served at a variety of office sales or promotional events. Instead of lunch they bring Latte’ 2 a Tea in for an early morning meeting. At one of the events I was approached by a top executive who stated, “Finally a sales person that thinks outside the box.” Latte’ 2 a Tea is an exceptional plus that makes events stand out.
I also improved company performance by shifting from one-time events like weddings to corporate and organizational events with a variety of clients that can provide repeat business. More recently, the service has been hired by companies to make their trade show booth stand out from the others. We are also opening a cash bar to serve at competitive sporting, cheer and show choir events. As of early September, Latte’ 2 a Tea is now certified by Buckeye Kosher to serve at kosher events.
Q: What has the reception been like from the Central Ohio community?
It was slow taking off, as the Latte’ 2 a Tea concept was unique. No one else was offering a similar service. Coffee shops, drive-thrus and kiosks were spreading everywhere, but my concept was, “We bring the coffee shop to you.” I am committed to the highest quality experience and being certain our client’s expectations are met or exceeded. Central Ohio is Latte’ 2 a Tea’s core market, but attention to other opportunities has expanded our operation to include the rest of the State and I’m now venturing into Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Q: What’s in the future for Latte’ 2 a Tea?
I am focused on enhancing our ability to simultaneously serve more events, including adding new equipment and dealing with transportation issues. I have every expectation that 2014 will see a significant increase in volume due to many more competitive events and what I believe will be a large new business serving kosher events in Columbus.
Overall, my business plan calls for doubling revenue within the next five years. I’m thoughtfully targeting new markets that have repeat events and creating a more predictable pipeline of future business. As the business grows, it is my intent to provide espresso and tea service for more charitable events as well.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
As Latte’ 2 a Tea’s new phase becomes clearer I am reminded, “Don’t lose sight of your original intent and keep focus on the target.” Serve an excellent blend of coffee and tea using only the best products – fresh ground espresso, top of the line flavors, fresh milk and excellent service. Create an eye catching table with the aroma of coffee in the air and it just draws people.
Central Ohio is a vibrant, multi-ethnic community. Latte’ 2 a Tea continues to reach out to these sub-markets with sensitivity to their needs and discriminate tastes.
I love what I do!
For more information, visit latte2atea.com.