GULFPORT — At 5:30 a.m. Teddy Kehoe opens the door to his dark shop, and the smell of bleach from last night's scrubbing nudges him awake. He pulls the chain on a coffee-cup sign in the window. Steam blinks from the cup.
Today he is running behind. He rushes to grind two pots' worth of beans. He pulls fresh pastries from a box and arranges them in the case. As the coffee brews, he updates his business Facebook page with a positive thought and the weather. It's 5:45, and the first customer, an engineer, will come through the door in five minutes for a medium, one cream.
He pours his own coffee into a Guy Harvey mug with a faded swordfish. Straight black. He used to drink coffee "like melted ice cream" — lots of cream and sugar. Now he needs to know if the coffee is right. He sips and takes a slow, easy breath.
The stress began in 2010 when he was still pulling in $85,000 a year as a services manager for a global telecommunications company. Florida was the company's worst performer. Kehoe had to fire about 50 workers he managed along the west coast. When he was done, he was laid off, too.
He looked for a $50,000 job, then a $40,000 job. After hundreds of resumes, the 54-year-old had burned through his savings and cashed in his 401K. He was fighting with his family and struggling to respect himself.
He had always dreamed about owning a little coffee shop but didn't know how go about it. After a bad argument with his girlfriend, it was his mother who lit a fire under him. He had to do something or nothing was going to change. He had one resource left: a $60,000 retirement fund his father had opened for him when he was 13 to help him learn the importance of saving for the future.
"I was a little scared," Kehoe said. "Just that espresso machine, that's $9,000. That's a lot of $3 cups of coffee you have to sell to pay for that machine."
Since opening the Gulfport Grind in 2012, he has not had a month where he lost money, but he hasn't made much, either. He gets about 50 customers a day. A few Gulfport characters tell fish stories and debate the greatest television shows of the 1950s. Mostly people grab a cup and go.
"The average person spends about $3.10. I'm happy when I sell a bag of coffee, that's four cups of coffee in one sale. I'm doing $150 to $200 a day, and that's not a lot, but we've been paying our bills."
At the end of the day, the floors get bleached, the counters get bleached, the machines and utensils get bleached. If a cat sneaked through the door, it would get bleached.
"I want people to know it's clean when they come in. It's important to me, and it's one of the things I love about being my boss. I'll make it or break it completely on my own decisions. Just going home smelling like bleach, tired from what I've done, that is success to me. That fulfills me."
Contact John Pendygraft at (727) 893-8247 or [email protected]