About the Episode

Running a small business can be an exhilarating journey filled with highs and lows. In this episode of Balance, Not Burnout, we sit down with Autumn Pruitt, the Owner of Hardy Coffee Co., to explore the art of balancing entrepreneurship with personal well-being.

Join us as we delve into the importance of cultivating a supportive work environment and leveraging technology to carve out essential moments for self-care. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner, this conversation offers invaluable insights into maintaining equilibrium amidst the hustle and bustle of running your own business.

Autumn Pruitt
Owner of Hardy Coffee Co.

Autumn and her husband, Luke, moved back to Omaha and started a small bakery in 2010. Initially, they subleased a kitchen and tiny storefront from Aromas Coffeehouse on the corner of 11th and Jones. A year and a half later, they purchased the coffee shop and have since opened three additional locations. In 2015, they began roasting their own coffee under the brand Hardy Coffee Co. and later brought every piece (bakery, coffee shops, roasting lab) and location (downtown, Benson, North Omaha, Chalco) of the business under that unified name – her maiden name.

Hardy now has nearly 70 employees on the team who strive to create connection in their community through excellent products and approachable experiences. The Pruitts also parent a couple of cute kids, Lawson (7) and Sawyer (5), who are actively working to perfect their latte art and mopping technique.

Episode Transcript

Balance Not Burnout:

You’re listening to Balance, Not Burnout, a podcast helping leaders rethink the speed of their business. And I’m your host Mark Williams. Join me as I explore the power of a more intentional, balanced approach to leadership. Thanks for listening

Hey, everybody, welcome to Balance, Not Burnout Season Two. Today super special guest. So running a small business is no easy feat. I’m sure I’ve never run a small business but my dad owned a few and I have quite a few friends that do. And running that small business again is no easy feat. So in today’s episode of bounce, not burnout, I’d like you to welcome the owner and partner of Hardy Coffee Company in Omaha Nebraska. Autumn Pruitt will discuss how to find balance while running your own business. We’ll give you insights into why building the right support system at work matters. We’ll also dive into how technology can help you find some time for yourself to reset. So please welcome Autumn Pruitt and honoree if you don’t mind sharing how you ended up owning a coffee shop or four of them actually in Nebraska.

Well, thank you so much for having me, you know, actually started the bakery piece of our business first. That was back in 2010. And at the time, I was just a solopreneur. I’m a corner of a little coffee shop in Omaha, Nebraska. But about a year and a half into that we had the opportunity to buy the coffee shop as well. So I started managing a team and figuring out what that life looked like. Shortly after that we opened a second location started roasting in house in 2015. And just continued to grow a little bit at a time until you look up one day and you have a very large team of people and you, you’re supposed to lead them.

That’s awesome. So currently now you have four locations in over 70 employees. And if you don’t mind Autumn, your your experience prior to this, was it managing people? Did you have a corporate job? Did you have your own business? Like describe for me? How what did you do prior to owning owning your coffee kingdom?

You know, I started young and so started the bakery. And I was 23. Prior to that I worked in a bakery to make sure that I actually liked that job and had a degree in business, wanted to make sure that I knew the backend of how that would work, had a good grasp on just the day to day from working in a shop but then had the opportunity to jump in sooner than I thought I would and so started young. And so I had experience through education and some of those other things of leading a team but never in a corporate setting until I was I was doing it.

Well congratulations again talking about super success. And what is it they say that if you if you pass the third or fourth year on your own small business that things get somewhat a little easier, I’m sure that you would have a lot to discuss on that. But I’m curious for locations describe for me your day to day activities, I have one location. So it’s easier for me all my employees are in one place. But for you you’re you’re bouncing between locations, you have a bakery, you have a coffee shop. So what is your day to day consists of?

You know, it really depends on the day, I work in the business with my husband. And so he is actually our CEO, oh, he oversees our brick and mortar, he meets with our managers on a on a weekly daily basis depending on what they need. I really oversee our wholesale operation more. So I work closely with our roasting department. I work closely with our bakery, and then overseas sales and marketing across the board. And so I tried to make it to every location every week. And then I’m available to have meetings in shop and all about and then manage a lot of events in our locations too.

Fantastic. Well, you said something and you skipped over it. So I’m coming right back your husband works in the business. So one thing we love to talk about on Balance, Not Burnout is how do you separate out the work life from your personal life. And if you don’t, and I will share with you my mom and dad similar situation worked in my dad owned several businesses, my mother worked in them. And I can’t tell you how many dinner conversations were part of the business that I picked up as a kid. And so I also know that you have some children. So how do you how do you handle all of that? And how do you separate out work from, hey let’s just talk about not work stuff.

You know, it’s it’s hard. And I think it’s one of those funny things where my husband is is relatively new in the life of the business. And so I was the person starting in 2010 all the way up until 2020 When he came on part time. And so that was the year that we had the opportunity to open our drive thru location and it felt like a great opportunity. But I just knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to oversee that myself. And so it felt like an opportunity to try it to wait in and say what would it look like if you were able to go part time where you’re at now and to be able to go part time here and let’s, let’s try this before we’re all the way in. So we did that for two years before he came on full time. Wow. So that felt like the opportunity to kind of try it on a little bit to make sure that that was a good fit for us. And, and I recognize that working with your spouse is not a good idea for everyone. But it really works well for us. And I think I think part of that is that, you know, for the longest time, every morning, we would wake up and run hard in opposite directions, you know, both of us really enjoy work. We’re, we’re hard workers, and it felt like you would do that all day and then fall into bed at night and try to like get up every minute accomplished over the course of the day. But these tiny humans that came into our life, my son and daughter, they changed kind of the way that we wanted to structure our days, it became a lot more important to be there for dinner every night and to make sure that you have the flexibility for sick days, and all of those other things that come with parenthood. And so I think for us, it was the invitation to try to create some margin and to figure out like, Okay, how do we, what would it look like if we talked about the business while we were actually working? On when we’re home, and it doesn’t neatly fall into those categories? But I think that it gives us that, that opportunity.

Are you guys actually conscious of in the evenings or at night? Or maybe when it’s with the kids? Do you guys literally look at each other and say, Hey, let’s let’s let’s couch the work conversation for now? Or is it just kind of a free flow thing where it happens, and you kind of move on? I’m wondering if it’s if a little more structured in your mind.

You know, I would say it’s a little bit of both. And so we have, like, I know that the name of the podcast. But I think we do have some work life integration to say we’re a small family owned business. And so there’s also days where like, it’s a Saturday, when the kids come to the shop to help clean up after an event or we’re running around on their part of those errands, or they, they get to see behind the curtain of what it looks like to manage people and to figure out how to balance all of the plates that were spinning.

Yeah, clearly your your plates are full, I’m assuming that it’s a seven day a week for either the bakery or the coffee shop, or both, right, seven days, seven days a week, long hours, probably, you know, six, seven in the morning until the evening hours, I would imagine so. So it’s a full time job, then you have your kids that are a full time job, then you have your husband who’s also in the business, it’s a full time job, you’re juggling a lot. How do you how do you break free every once in a while? How do you how do you make yourself saying?

Yeah, and I think that what we discovered is that that was never going to happen on accident, you know, like, there’s always something that you can be doing, there’s always something you could be responding to. And so I think what happens in your nervous system is that you can train yourself to feel like every message is an emergency. And the reality is like, we’re not saving lives, you know, we’re making Poppy. And so we had to make the decision to say, Okay, we’re gonna set some boundaries. And unless it’s a true emergency, where something is on fire or something is, is terribly broken, or someone is in danger, like we need to be able to unplug for these 24 hours and not not a vacation once a year. But like on a regular basis once a week, how do we try to protect our brains so that we can do this for the long haul? Yeah, and that was about a year ago that we started really implementing that process to say, like, we are taking Sundays off?

Well, good for you. Congratulations. And how’s that feel? How’s it worked?

Initially, it was terrible. I’m sure it felt like, you know, slamming on the brakes going down the interstate and we knew that we needed some insight from people that did it better than us. And so we talked to some other friends that also are in a small business together to say, how do you do this? And so slowly, over time, it starts to feel like breathing again, you know, and so I think for us, it wasn’t just slamming on the brakes. But we had to figure out what’s the infrastructure around this, so that we are giving the same graciousness to the other managers on our team. How do we create systems for holding communication when things aren’t urgent, but people still want to share it? So like you said, We’re open seven days a week, we’re open 16 hours a day, that means that somebody is always working, and somebody always has the day off. So how do we use technology or just clear communication and boundaries to be able to, to let people know that it’s okay to take a day off, and this is how you these are, this is what you can expect from us. And this is what we expect from you.

Yeah, so that leads to a whole bunch of questions, but I want to circle back on one thing, which I think is super important, and super thankful for you for saying that you reached out to find people that do what you do, right, you look at you found experts or mentors or something that you could reach out and say, Hey, we’re doing this, I know you do this. Fantastic. So as we talk a lot about finding someone who’s in a similar situation that you can bounce some ideas off of his fantastic. You mentioned tools, and I know you have several locations. So I have a couple questions. First, I’d imagine in your business, finding the right management is key, you can’t be at all the locations all the time. They are open and for business all the time and making sure that number one, your brand standard is being adhered to that, that the work ethic is the same as it would be for you to be there. How did you find the right people? And how did you know you found the right people? To help you run your shops?

Yeah, I think we’ve been really fortunate, I feel like there’s this mantra in our industry that you just can’t find good help. And that has not been our experience, I think that we have really good people that want to do a good job. And for us, it has so much more to do with saying like, that’s what that means here. And so it’s it’s working closely with our management, so that you’re able to just spend enough time together so that when you’re not there, they know how you would respond if you were and so all of our managers are dedicated and talented and kind. They’re gracious to us. And I think that we tend to have long relationships with people. And so that’s been that’s been really helpful in this season of trying to figure out what a day off looks like.

Yeah, good for you. Congratulations on that as well. Finding good people who are dedicated, loyal, trustworthy, and and like I said before, would act as if you were there. Right, that are that are that are that are providing the level of service that we all would if it were our own business is pretty tough to find. So congratulations on that. You had mentioned technology. And I know your your business uses slack. And I’m curious as to how you use that. Why did you use that? And what does it help you do?

You know, we started using Slack before it was very cool. Like a lot of businesses went that route when they moved remote in 2020. I, when I was pregnant with my daughter, and 2017 2018, I just knew that something had to be different than it was with my son. So when I had my son, I was still like running payroll from the hospital bed, like it’s one of those things where you don’t really know what you’re getting into. And so the second time around, I think we were just really trying to figure out what’s healthier, what are the things I can delegate, so did a good job of planning ahead when my daughter was born, but there’s just so many things that you can’t plan ahead for others, there’s things that come up on a daily basis that aren’t in the playbook already. And so trying to figure out, what does communication look like here in a business, it’s open seven days a week. And what we discovered is that almost everything up until that point was an email or a text message. And so it just didn’t feel like there was a central hub where this communication could live with shared expectations. And so when you get a text message, you just don’t necessarily have the freedom to determine like when you’re sending it or when you’re receiving it, whether it’s important or urgent or any of those things. And so we started using slack to say like this is where communication can live doesn’t need a response faster than 24 hours. And so we have everybody on our team on Slack. And so it’s this great place for things to live that are everything from like, training videos on coffee to like new promotions that are going to be coming up to I forgot to add concert tickets, does anybody want my gift on Friday? Like far enough out that that people can can get to it? Sometime in that week. And so I think for us, like I know that as the business owner, I I am always thinking about the business. But it’s not a fair expectation that the college student that works 20 hours a week is always thinking about the business. Sure. And so for slack, it created this space for things to not always be like an emergency to me, but also for them to say like, okay, you don’t need to look at this until you come in for your shift. And then you need to catch up on all of your messages before you start. And so it it’s not. It’s not an innovative idea to have like a place where you’re communicating these things. But I think specifically in our industry where it’s like it’s not a desk job. It’s not something where people have a computer. How do we use technology to help us stay connected if you’re not eyeball to eyeball with your manager owner on any given week?

How do you disseminate information? Like we have a quarterly meeting every every quarter for all of our employees. We call it our town hall. And it’s about an hour, hour and a half and we literally cover anything from financials to the things that we’re doing, maybe highlight some employee, you know, some play recognition, rewards and recognition, that kind of thing. With with an operation that’s open all the time at different locations, can you deliver a message to everyone? And is it is, is everyone receiving exactly the message that you want that you want to be received? Like, I’m curious how to communicate with everyone, especially important information, like, hey, we might be opening up another this or we’re introducing another line of that, or whatever, I could see some really important information being disseminated throughout the ranks.

Yeah, we have different rhythms for those meetings, depending on who’s at the table. And so we’re, we’re meeting weekly one on one with our managers where we can meeting weekly as a group with our managers. And then when it comes to everybody on the team, we do quarterly meetings as well. And so for us, we do that by shop instead of altogether. But it’s something we’ve built into the rhythm to say, Okay, we launch new seasonal drinks every quarter. And so if we can get together to talk through these to make sure that everybody understands the new ingredients, and how to make them. And while we’re here, let’s also talk about these other things. And so that’s something that we do after hours at those shops. And it’s a quarterly thing that happens. So we’re in the process of scheduling those right now. And we’ll, we’ll get to see every member of the team over the next two weeks.

Yep. I’m curious, do you pay attention to I hate to say this, but do you pay attention to the big boys and what they’re doing like the the national chain coffee shops, and like the gamification and the points and giveaways and all that, like, is there a, is there a feeling that you have to compete with that? Or can you really be your own brand and do things that are specific to, to your own shop to Hardy, and it kind of differentiate yourself from maybe some of the national chains?

Yeah, I think it’s important to be aware of what the big boys are doing, but to also make sure that they’re not driving your decision making. And so I think that there’s ways that you get to say, part of what sets us apart is that we’re not doing this. Yeah. But, but there’s also some wisdom in the way they’re doing that. And so I think that it’s, it’s paying attention to everybody that’s bigger and smaller than you, I’m trying to figure out, like, where do we fit? Yeah, that makes sense for who we are and what our customers are asking for. And I think that that’s one of the interesting things about my job where I, I do manage all of our social media, I do sales and marketing, and so in, I’m not face to face with customers behind the bar, like I used to be all the time, but I still get to get real time feedback from people online. And so I think to, to ask good questions, and then actually listen to what they say, is a skill that we keep trying to hone. So if someone were to come up to you and say, Hey, I’d love to start my own small business. What are the top three or four things that now you look back after being a business owner for a number of years, you could say, what tips or advice right, like the nickel advice, you meet someone in the elevator? Like, what’s the nickel advice that you would give for someone that maybe could start their path on leisure? You know, I think it depends on what business they want to start. But my my best advice is usually to work in the industry before you go all in as a business owner. I think there’s a lot of people that think that must be so fun. And they jump into it without actually knowing how, how they actually feel about it in the real life. And so I think that if you can try something, as an employee, before you are owning something that you’ve never done before, that that’s a really wise choice. It’s a lot easier to quit a job than it is to sell a business. And so if you can get some of those practice rounds out of the way ahead of time, you might even realize like, oh, actually, actually, that ownership piece of it is doesn’t interest me nearly as much as I thought it would I enjoy doing the thing, but I also really liked my weekend.

So yeah, future plans for Hardy?

Yeah, I mean, our main mode of growth moving forward as our wholesale program. So for us, that means that we’re roasting coffee, and we’re teaching other people to serve it with confidence. And so that’s, that’s other coffee shops, that’s organizations, that’s restaurants, those are people that, that have the staff to do it. But they say, Man, I don’t know a ton about specialty coffee, can you help and so we love to come alongside them to actually roast the coffee for them provide training and development. And for us, it’s such a fun way to grow, where we don’t need to have a hearty coffee on every street corner, but we can help other small businesses succeed and a place that they might have some blind spots.

Sure, that’s awesome. I want to get back a little bit to the work life because I would imagine looking roughly at the age of your kids, sports and after school, curricular activities, and all that kind of stuff is about to be your world, or may already be and so I’m curious juggling new responsibilities with two little ones and your husband in the business and a bunch of locations. We’ll go back to how do you keep it all? How do you keep it all in your head? How do you keep it all straight? How do you find the time? Just? Is there any time for autumn?

That’s a tricky question. Yeah, there is, um, I think that, you know, we say no to more than we say yes to a lot of times. These days, I think that I mentioned that, that when my husband came on, at the company, it felt like this opportunity to kind of rebalance and create some margin in our life. But we realized pretty quickly that if we weren’t careful, we would just fill up that space, you bet, in the same way it had been before. And so. So we stopped doing some things, things that were good things we enjoy, but just we had to say like, but it’s, we’re going to choose to do this instead of that. And so I think that that was healthy. And I think that my kids, my son’s almost eight and my daughter’s five. And they do a couple of things, but I think it’s okay to also have downtime for their tiny bodies to fill every moment of the day with activity you’re going to have, we’re going to have evenings together, and we’re gonna, we’re going to enjoy not just running around. And so it’s, it’s so my personality is to say, yes, my personality is to go hard and to achieve. But I think that we’ve discovered that, that’s kind of a short game. And so trying to figure out how to be healthy for the long haul. I get up before anybody else in my house. And so I spend time in the quiet before, before the day gets started. And if I if I don’t do that, then I miss it. And so I think, to have time in the morning is helpful. We have a really good support system too. And so between family and friends in the area, people that that help with childcare and Kid pick up and slumber parties now. And then like we we create space. And what about that time because that matters?

Sure. I’m curious as a CEO. And I’ve written about this, I’ve done a few podcasts about it. I take walks during the day, and sometimes it’s literally just a 15 or 20 minute walk by myself to clear my head, no shoulder taps get away, maybe work on an issue that that’s been bothering me. Do you? What are your little secret breaks? How do you how do you take 10 or 15? Just for yourself as you know reading a book or is it maybe it’s getting up early going for a run? I don’t know your routine. But how do you find that 15 or 20 minutes during the day have just some just some sanity for a minute.

Yeah, I enjoy the walk too. I do enjoy running. I think it’s one of those things to say. It’s it’s time alone, but it’s also like how am I? How am I moving my body in such a way that it also like creates mental space. And so I do like something hard on it takes my mind off of the stress that I was already in. And so I think that those are good. Yeah.

So I asked every guest if a picture a Saturday or Sunday morning, you have no responsibilities, which in your life would be a dream come true. Probably for a Saturday resort Sunday morning. No responsibilities. How would you spend your Saturday or Sunday morning? And with whom would you spend it? If you again had you could choose you get to this morning’s for you? What’s it look like for you?

I would stripe today in silence with a delicious cup of coffee, do some stretching and go for a run, I’d read a book, come back and I imagined the rest of the house would be up we would make some breakfast food and we’d start the day slow. We’re very into board games right now. So maybe that wouldn’t make it to the dining room table. And we would we’d spend the day slow and start in that way together.

I get it if I had $1 for every time I lost to sorry, the board game sorry. I think we we played that game. So often the cards bent. We bought new cards like that was we’re big board game people. So I totally get it. Probably some of my favorite memories not only as a kid, but for my kids as well as playing board games are good for you.

Yeah, and I think so that was some of the advice that we got from our friends too. When we were trying to figure out like how do we take a day off? What does it look like and and I’m a person of faith. So for us, it’s we were really like we’re practicing Sabbath. What does it look like to say like, we’re going to trust God for these 24 hours that it’s going to be okay even if we’re not part of it. Like even if we don’t feel like we’re holding things together. We’re going to trust that he is and so but to go from like striving and working and running hard all week to just like sitting quietly was not sustainable in our world. And what they said was like you have to plan your day off to like, you can’t just go from like having structural along and then sitting quietly on Sunday. And so for us that really helped to say like, okay, Luke, is my husband like, what would feel like rest to you today? You know, like, or, I would, I would be thrilled if we went on a family bike ride this afternoon or last on what do you want to do today? That’s my son. And so you know, to invite your kids into that conversation to figure out like, what looks like rest or worship or delight to you today? And then like, how do we all fit that in? Sometimes it’s a nap. And sometimes it’s watching football, and sometimes it’s going for a walk and to be able to like plan your day off, instead of just like hoping that it magically unfolds into a restful day has been helpful for us.

Yeah, I love that. Well, I can’t thank you enough Autumn Pruitt for being on today. Again, this is Balance, Not burnout. We are with autumn Pruitt, who is the owner of a fantastic coffee shop and bakery called Hardt coffee in Omaha, they have four locations. So if you are jonesing for some for some caffeine, we’d ask you to stop by Hardy and say hello. Hopefully you guys got to listen to autumn on the show. Really appreciate it. We wish you the best of luck and hopefully you’ll have more locations and more bakery goods and all that kind of stuff. So thank you very much for being on. Really appreciate it. Thanks Autumn Pruitt. Thanks so much, Mark. Bye.

Thanks for listening. If you think balance is as important as I do, at work and all throughout your life, help the show out by leaving me a five star review following me on social media, or sharing the podcast with someone you think would appreciate it. If you have comments or questions. I’d love for you to join the conversation with me on LinkedIn. I want to thank OBI Creative for producing the podcast and swells beats forgetting the music for me. Thanks for sharing your time with me today. And until next time, this is Mark signing off.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai