ROCK ISLAND -- The vision of a young entrepreneur has brought new vitality to the building on the corner of 30th Street and 14th Avenue in Rock Island. |
The structure, which stood empty for almost three years in the neighborhood just southwest of Augustana College, has become a trendy gathering destination in its two and a half years as Cool Beanz Coffeehouse.
"It's really nice to have a good coffee shop and a great place to eat nearby, and it brings a lot of people around," said Jennifer Horvath, owner of Fred & Ethel's Retro Fifties Antiques, located across the street from the coffeehouse.
With the slogan "A warm place to chill," Cool Beanz owner Annette Zapolis, 24, has established a locale that caters to professors, students, families and lovers of good music, novelty coffee and delicious food.
"I wanted to bring a little bit of class and culture. Here in the Midwest, it's kind of hard to always stay on the cutting edge of those two things, but I didn't want anything to look like it was being held together with duct tape," Ms. Zapolis said, gazing around the yellow walls of the coffeehouse.
In the corner of the shop, two women talked near a roaring fireplace while at a countertop nearby, a student hunched over a textbook, his hands wrapped around a coffee mug. Next to the stage in the center of the room, two young girls shared smoothies.
Ms. Zapolis said the idea for the shop came to her when she was a junior geology major at Augustana. Having waitressed throughout college at several Quad-Cities area restaurants and bars, she recalled always having a passion for customer service and concocting recipes.
After her father, Robert, helped devise the idea of a coffee shop and agreed to fund her venture, the work began.
For the next year, while completing her degree, Ms. Zapolis pored over cookbooks, business books and success stories from businesses, such as Starbucks. She attended a three-week class of the American Barista and Coffee School in Oregon to learn about the coffee industry, products and café management.
"Then I went to every coffeehouse basically between here and Portland and looked at what they were doing right and what I thought I could improve on," Ms. Zapolis said.
Family members, sorority sisters and roommates became taste-testers as she served experimental recipes.
Fellow Augustana graduate and friend Stephanie Leafblad, 23, recalled late nights at college, which Ms. Zapolis would spend talking on the phone with food vendors and researching eco-friendly restaurant options. "I would just look at her like, 'How do you do this?' But she was just so excited about it, so positive."
In August 2009, Cool Beanz opened its doors, just three months after Ms. Zapolis graduated. Her coffee menu of hand-roasted specialty drinks pays tribute to her alma mater.
"From working in different restaurants and coffeehouses in the past, I know that people get a certain affinity for a drink based on the name, just as much as the flavor," she said, citing examples of drinks like The Diploma, The Dean's List and Geo 101.
"It's kind of silly, actually, how many 20-something women order the Sorority Girl versus how many 50-year-old professors order the Nutty Professor," Ms. Zapolis added with a smile. "It's good to have a drink that you like the name of and kind of feel good about."
Having started out offering only four sandwich options, Ms. Zapolis has since introduced entirely separate breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, the last of which was introduced this past summer. The expansion of the dinner menu boasts gourmet flatbread pizzas and an alcohol selection featuring craft-brewed beers, fine wines and seasonal cocktails.
Hoping to add to a more relaxed dinner ambiance, Ms. Zapolis also began offering live music five nights a week, featuring area singers and bands as well as open mic nights.
"I can just walk over there with my guitar and play, which is always cool," said Augustana senior Jaron Gaier, 22, who has performed at the coffee shop for the past two years.
"She's been great for the Augustana community," he said, adding that Ms. Zapolis has opened her coffee shop up in the past to host readings from the college's art and literary magazine, SAGA. Students, faculty members and alumni attend. "That's really great that she does that, bringing together all sorts of Augustana generations."
Being a novelty coffee shop in the midst of a struggling economy is challenging, but Ms. Zapolis said her commitment to the college and community has allowed her small shop to continue to thrive.
"Especially when you have a neighborhood business like this, where you do see the same faces every day, you hear stories about their kids and their schools and their community. I think it's important that you support those same things that they talk to you about," said Ms. Zapolis, who makes donations to local causes and who is president of the College Hill business district.
Her devotion has not just made Cool Beanz a presence, but also has allowed Ms. Zapolis the chance to get to know many people.
"It was difficult to stay when so many of my friends had left and to try and meet new people," Ms. Zapolis, who now lives in Davenport, said of her time after graduation. The 24-year-old said that many of her nine employees are fellow college graduates or longtime friends.
"Coffeehouses are a nice transition place, I think, for some of the 20-somethings that are having a hard time finding careers in what they've gotten their degree in," she said.
Ms. Zapolis hopes some day to open another coffeehouse elsewhere in the Quad-Cities or in the Chicagoland area, where most of her family resides.
"Every time I think about it, I become very proud of Annette," said her father. "She came from a background of being a 22-year-old student, and she designed this place herself. Anyone can be creative and have a dream, but she actually puts in the 16 hours a day to make it work."
For more information, visit http://coolbeanzcoffeehouse.com.
Living the dream
Who: Annette Zapolis, owner of Cool Beanz Coffeehouse
Quote: "I went to every coffeehouse basically between here and Portland and looked at what they were doing right and what I thought I could improve on.”
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