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Staying ‘Aggressively Patient’ Secret to Northern Vessel Owner Opening at 1201 Keo Way

Northern Vessel

December 1, 2022


During the latest Small Business & Startup Stories DSM podcast, T.J. Rude, Founder of Northern Vessel Coffee, discussed growing up in Johnston, Iowa and his entrepreneurial journey with Greater Des Moines Partnership Startup Community Builder Diana Wright.

Entrepreneur Influences

Five years ago, Rude moved to Los Angeles for six months. This was a formative time when he gained insight into the world and the many pathways that were available to him. While living in LA he didn’t have a car but came across a nearby coffee shop that led to a job. While there he met Eddie who took the time to invest in him, knowing he wouldn’t be in LA long-term. Rude learned latte art and met amazing people, bringing the skills he learned while he was there with him when he returned to Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Creating a Coffee Catering Company

When Rude came back to DSM, he trained with St. Kilda to learn the ropes in the service industry. In 2019, he started part-time with Northern Vessel, selling coffee as a catering company with a coffee cart. His specialties? Cold brew, cold brew latte and drip coffee. He’d never planned to be a shop. Running the cart had a huge learning curve, and Rude said they spent money they didn’t need to spend. At one point, they bought a generator for the cart before they had even built the cart. Looking back, he said they made many mistakes that first year and attended around 40 events, including graduation parties and corporate events.

In March of 2020, one week before the pandemic, Rude put in his two weeks, ready to go fulltime with Northern Vessel. He said as the pandemic began to shut down things across the country, he had to make a choice about how to proceed. He chose to stay true to his plan and on March 16, 2020, he decided to do coffee delivery. The day after he announced it, he was already out delivering, which he did for two to three months straight with no days off. At this point, Rude said, he had no system. He’d write out every address and spend hours driving across the region. Today, those customers say he helped them get through the pandemic.

Launching a Permanent Location

After getting a license to serve on the street, Rude set up a street location outside of Temple for Performing Arts while still maintaining a delivery schedule. As the weather changed to fall, he moved inside of the Temple. Without the materials they needed to do business, they used what the Temple had left from the old St. Kilda location. On the kickoff weekend, everyone helping Rude had to be out of town, and he couldn’t hire help, but thanks to his scrappiness and raw ambition, he went through with the opening and saw success.

2021 + Beyond

In March of 2021, he closed the doors of the Temple location, knowing that this temporary fix for the cold weather wasn’t a long-term option and after having to shut down for two weeks to recover from COVID himself. They did another pop-up event, serving for several hours, and this was a success so Rude knew they had support. He just needed to figure out the next steps for the business. Drained emotionally, financially and physically, he stepped away from things for a short time, but the dream for Northern Vessel never went away. Over the course of the next few months, he looked at spaces to grow the business, finally moving into 1201 Keo Way, a space that offered a great location, where he could see Northern Vessel make its home.

Learn more about Northern Vessel at nv.coffee. Or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

Listen to the entire podcast above.

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Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.