Andrew Koumi hasn't even graduated from the University of Florida yet, but that small fact hasn't stopped him from opening his own business.
Since last July, the 24-year-old student turned entrepreneur has been growing a loyal customer base at his restaurant on Tampa Road. It's a two-in-one eatery: the green-colored half of the building is the Green Market Cafe, and the pink half is Kiwi Frozen Yogurt.
Koumi, a UF senior, is using business principles that he's been learning in college, but he's also following his own vision.
"I wanted to create a place where I'd like to go and eat every day," said Koumi, an East Lake High School graduate. "I wanted to offer fresh, healthy food. I buy tomatoes daily from the farmers market and they stay in the cafe less than 12 hours. Fresh produce is a huge reason why the food tastes the way it does."
Since the first day he opened and served 100 customers, business has picked up.
Through Groupon's website, 891 people paid $5 to get $10 worth of food on a deal that ended March 20.
"Between outside and inside, we can accommodate 100 people," said Koumi, who started with eight employees and now has 46. He works mostly 12-hour days, yet says attending classes isn't difficult.
"Florida has online classes and eight satellite campuses, so I can call and say I'm in Miami and take a class," Koumi said. "The school has been very accommodating."
Koumi will graduate in the fall.
Why not wait until then to open Green Market Cafe?
It's because Koumi believes the way his restaurant is run today is the way they're going to be run in the future. He wanted to be ahead of the curve on principles like just-in-time inventory control.
For example, Koumi uses cucumbers in several different dishes, salads and wraps. Because just one ingredient is part of so many dishes, he says that cuts down on inventory and helps keep food fresh.
And forget food — other than yogurt — being frozen. The Green Market Cafe side has no freezer.
Originally, Koumi was in Gainesville when his dad called about opening an ice cream shop. First, they checked out a former Marble Slab Creamery location, but Koumi didn't like it.
"Then I saw this corner space with high visibility, lots of parking with in and out access, and outside seating," Koumi recalled.
He decided he had found the perfect spot.
"Elizabeth and I are so proud of Andrew," said his father, Steve Koumi. "He works hard and gives 120 percent. He took an idea, a concept and exploded it. For him, everything has to be perfect, from his products, negotiations, to quality …"
Koumi says his parents have always been supportive. So it's no surprise that when he has a test to take, he can count on family to watch over the business. What has surprised him is that Green Market Cafe has quickly become a regular stop for people of so many different ages.
"Initially when we opened, I thought we'd hit the 20-to-early-30 demographics, because they lead and everyone follows," Koumi said. "But we have families with 5-year-olds coming in and the older generation, too. I never expected a 75-year-old to come in and order a taro yogurt, but I saw it firsthand."
Koumi's father says he expected his son to excel, since he'd been coming up with business ideas since he was a child.
"He came to us with an idea," Steve Koumi said. "We felt compelled to help him follow his dream."
For Andrew Koumi, that dream has become a reality. Of course, his 12-hour workdays are a big reason for that.
"Oldsmar's a great old city and it has welcomed us," said Koumi, who tells employees that the most important thing is to smile.