Success Keeps Percolating for Owners of Syracuse Coffee Shop

Jesse Daino (left) and Adam Williams, co-owners of Recess Coffee

Little did Jesse Daino and Adam Williams know when they became friends in middle school, they would wind up owning a business together.  But that’s exactly what happened.

 Growing up the two shared a common interest in music. Daino was two years older, and after graduation played on tour throughout the United States. Williams graduated and continued to perform locally, while rising through the ranks of the Syracuse Real Food Co-op in the Westcott neighborhood of Syracuse, NY.  When Williams learned his favorite coffee shop was ready to close, he half-jokingly offered to buy the business to keep it open.

The original owner took 22-year-old Williams at his word and the $10,000 sale of Recess Coffee went through in November 2007. Williams’s recounts: “Jesse was staying at my apartment in between tours, so I asked him to own it with me.  In the beginning, we looked at it as a hobby business that we could own while doing other things.”

Their friends and Westcott neighbors helped keep the Harvard Place shop doors open. Williams and Daino split the operations, with one opening the shop and the other closing it. Neither knew how to bake the treats or roast the fair-trade coffee on the menu, but learned with trial, error and a good sense of humor. Soon they were working seven days a week in the coffee shop, rarely taking time off, not even drawing a paycheck-and it became clear this was more than a hobby. When the recession hit in 2008 and coffee prices more than doubled, Williams and Daino decided to take their roles a little more seriously and look for opportunities to grow the business.

“We didn’t have the resources to shore up what our vision was for the company at the time. We had the customers, the products, the vision, but we could only learn so much about running the business on our own,” explains Williams.

Daino and Williams pursued industry-specific training, taking classes at Diedrich Roasters in Idaho and New York City-based International Culinary Center for baking. With increased demand from restaurants, cafes and other wholesale clients, the partners invested in a custom, state-of-the-art roasting machine. The measurements of the roaster meant it could not fit inside their 900-square-foot off-site location on Burnett Avenue in Syracuse, causing Williams and Daino to look for larger space to rent. In June 2014, Recess Coffee found a 3,300-square-foot space on Boss Road in Syracuse with plenty of room for roasting and baking.

In October 2015, Recess Coffee expanded with a second leased location in the historic Courier Building in downtown Syracuse. The 800-square-foot space features unique architectural details and street-level storefront on Montgomery Street across from City Hall. While the business partners planned to use the success of the first shop to support the second through the first year, the second location became profitable from the beginning. Between the two shops and the production space, Recess Coffee grew to employ seven full-time and 26 part-time employees at the end of 2015.

“As the company has grown, so has our staffing. Each year we have had to give up doing a part of the business, which can be a struggle because we miss interacting with the customers and working in the shop every day.  Now we have baristas, roasters, bakers, a general manager to run the staffing in the shops and a manager of the production area,” says Williams. “It is a responsibility and very rewarding to have such a great team, but it can be stressful to grow so fast.”

 A turning point for the company came In early 2016, when Daino heard a National Public Radio story about the SBA Emerging Leaders program and thought it might be the right opportunity at the right time for Recess Coffee: “I was handling the finances as the bookkeeper, but once they were complete, we would turn them over for the accounting firm to run the taxes. We didn’t know how to use that information to run the business; we knew we were making money, but we didn’t know how or why.”

The intense program gave Recess Coffee the tools to evaluate each sector of the business, from human resources to financial management. Another lesson the partners learned was to stop running the company in a reactionary mode, handling problems as they arose instead of strategically. As a result, they brought in a professional to handle the books, focusing on running the company instead of working in the business. Now Williams and Daino can understand the impact of each cost, from food to wages, and focus on the areas that are most profitable, resulting in 20 percent revenue growth in 2017.

“Sometimes small business owners have to take a step back from their day-to-day business operations and take the time to evaluate their current business model to see what’s working and what’s not working,” said SBA Syracuse District Director Bernard Paprocki.  “The SBA’s Emerging Leaders initiative gives small business owners like Jesse Daino and Adam Williams the ability to hit the reset button and put their business on the fast track.” 

Daino graduated in November 2016 with a three-year Strategic Growth Action Plan for Recess Coffee, which included purchasing a building and expanding revenues from wholesale accounts. In October 2017, the partners bought the 16,000-square-foot building where they had been renting production space, and now are the landlords for other business tenants. Recess took over an additional 1,000-square-feet to use as a formal training environment for their staff of nine full-time and 36 part-time employees. They plan to host future training sessions for their 120 wholesale clients, which represent 30 percent of Recess Coffee revenues.

Recess Coffee was a vendor at the 2017 New York State Fair, which was made possible thanks to the management structures and financial analytics Williams and Daino had recently established. “We calculated the break-even number for all the time, employees, and equipment that it would require and we thought it would be worth it for 1 million people to see our brand. Luckily, we were very successful and look forward to another opportunity to partner with the fair in 2018,”says Daino.

 “We are open about our struggles and our successes, because they are both important to talk about. Our friendship continues, even 20 years later, because our personality traits complement each other and we share the same vision for our company’s future,” adds Williams. “We are making the time to evaluate our long-term goals, such as opening a third location, and putting the systems in place to make that possible to achieve them.”

Company Name: 
Recess Coffee
Location: 
Syracuse, NY