Within six months of opening their first coffee shop, Chris Timbrell and Caroline Bell were in search of a location for a new outpost; the original Cafe Grumpy was not doing very well. “We knew we had good coffee and a good concept. We just needed to find a location that was receptive to what we were offering.”

For Timbrell and Bell, Cafe Grumpy represents the confluence of an abiding love for coffee and a strong desire to see it paired with good service. “We’d always gone on coffee dates,” Timbrell shares, “but in most places, the service was quite mediocre.” The couple, who started dating in 2003, joked periodically about owning a coffee shop, but they were moved to action after a particularly bad experience. “We’d been waiting and waiting when I said to Caroline, this place is making me grumpy.” 12 months later, they were opening the doors to a new café in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

“We didn’t have a large balance sheet behind us,” Timbrell recalls, “so we did everything with a mind to managing cost.” A few friends and family chipped in, but the couple financed the bulk of the expenses. Bell, who had a background in hospitality, took on the operational management. Timbrell, initially maintained his day job in finance and worked part-time.

In Greenpoint, in the fall of 2005, Cafe Grumpy may have been ahead of its time. Patronage was quite low, leaving the couple a lot of time to strategize an alternate move. In 2006, they applied for a loan to open a second location. They were unsuccessful. Rather than compromise on their vision however, they doubled-down, moving ahead to open the new store in the Manhattan neighborhood Chelsea. It was the right move. While the Chelsea store flourished, Greenpoint was undergoing its own transformation, leading to a reversal in fortunes for the flagship store.

In the ensuing years, the Cafe Grumpy portfolio has grown to incorporate a roastery and seven additional stores, with one replacing a highly trafficked Starbucks in Grand Central Terminal. With each opening, Timbrell and Bell have sought to provide new growth opportunities for their staff. “Our roasters all started out as entry-level baristas,” Timbrell shares. Supporting the community is also a high priority. On numerous occasions, the cafés have sponsored local charity events, several at the prompting of regular customers. Their most recent partnership is with the humanitarian organization, Action Against Hunger.

In 2007 and again in 2008, Timbrell and Bell unsuccessfully applied for loans to support the business. By the time Timbrell met with a Bond Street representative, they were understandably skeptical. “We liked the platform, it seemed to have a lot of good things going for it. But, we’d come across so many people who offered to help us but just ended up being a pain.” These sentiments notwithstanding, they kept in touch. Three months later, Bond Street funded a business loan to finance the buildout of a new roastery in Greenpoint.

Timbrell and Bell are committed to nurturing their vision. “If the right location opens up and it speaks to us in the right way, we’ll go with it.” In the meantime, Timbrell has 3 simple tips for new entrepreneurs: trust your instincts, stay true to your values and stay on top of the paperwork.

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