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Building a Local Coffee Brand by Focusing on Hospitality

Hospitality Within DSM Coffee Industry

October 30, 2023

T.J. Rude, Owner of Northern Vessel, didn't let the COVID-19 pandemic derail his small business. Learn how the small business owner took hospitality to a new level, utilizing the tools he learned from previous mentors and gaining traction through the support of his community.

T.J. Rude Q+A

When did you know to take the leap to start something?

I didn't get a college degree, and it really took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn't really feel like I had the skill set to find a job in the corporate world or that I was creative enough to do any type of freelance. So, I didn't really feel like I had a choice. I had to do something on my own if I wanted to make a living. I feel like that was really my only option — to create something myself.

What or who do you owe your success?

There are a lot of people and a lot of situational things that have happened that I would say have led to our success. Part of it has been luck, which I would describe as when preparation meets opportunity. And some of it was just timing and being in the right place, at the right time. And then there's a whole list of people on my team who work with me directly and indirectly, who over the last four or five years have really given me counsel, have pushed back on ideas and have given me confirmation and ideas. The list is extensive.

What is a routine you follow each day?

It has nothing to do with the business side. One is eating a good breakfast and then going to the gym, which has really helped me to stay sharp mentally and physically. And it's a way for me to do something that's totally unrelated to the business that has helped me in pretty much every area of life.

What do you love about building a business in the Greater Des Moines (DSM) community?

I really love the Downtown Des Moines (DSM) community. I really love the support that downtown brings to local businesses. I think that once the people of Des Moines get to know you and trust you, they are some of the most loyal people. Developing relationships with regulars and realizing you can have an impact in the city has been awesome. Des Moines is big enough where there's a lot going on, but it's also at the right size where you feel like if you do something meaningful, you can have a direct impact on the culture here.

What's the most courageous thing you've done as a business owner?

The most courageous thing I've done … and I don't know if this is courage or stupidity, but during COVID, really on a day’s notice, when I saw that everything was shutting down, I decided to start delivering coffees to people's doorstep. And there was no planning. There was no preparation at all. I just said, Hey guys, tomorrow I’m going to start delivering. And I started the next day, less than 24 hours later, and didn't stop for a long, long time. So, yeah, I don't know if it was courage or stupidity, but that's what I did.

Talk about an influential moment or a person in your life.

Oh man, there are a lot of those. I would say when I was living in L.A., I met someone named Eddie, who works in specialty coffee. But, you know, not in the way that I had seen before. His approach to the business side of things was really eye-opening to me. He gave me a new mindset on how to bring hospitality to the forefront of the service industry.

What's the best piece of advice you've received?

This is probably the best and most influential piece of advice I have received in the last year: ask yourself how much ownership you maintain or retain. You can either have 100% of nothing or you can have less of something really awesome. Recognize that by giving up a piece of ownership, you can gain so much more than if you’re just on your own.

Listen to the full Northern Vessel Startup Story or find more information about the premium coffee business at northernvessel.co. You can also follow Northern Vessel on Facebook and Instagram.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership celebrates the Greater Des Moines (DSM) entrepreneur community and helps small businesses succeed with one-of-a-kind resources and opportunities for networking. Find out how other entrepreneurs have found success by reading their stories and attending local small business events in the region.

Diana Wright

Diana Wright is the Startup Community Builder at Greater Des Moines Partnership. She has a passion for helping others bridge their ideas and create results. In her role at The Partnership she connects and leads entrepreneurs helping them speed up their growth and success.