Two Birds Coffee: Building community, one cup at a time
Starting a business is rarely only about turning a profit—though, that’s also nice. As a business owner, you want to make a difference and create relationships with your customers. This is definitely the case with Two Birds Coffee Co.
Years ago, before Joe and Amanda Witmer ever imagined they’d be running their own coffee business, Joe was musing on two birds he saw perched on one tree’s rogue branches, sitting there thinking only of the magnificent present. It stuck with him.
When they did set out to start a coffee business, those two birds came back to mind and they decided to name their brand after those zen avians.
With Two Birds, they wanted to focus on developing community and collaboration. Not having their own public cafe, they came up with the idea of Nests—cooperating local businesses that would host Two Birds customers during certain hours. And, it's been a success!
I talked with Joe and Amanda about how they started their business, what coffee they love, and where they see Two Birds in five years.
Sendle’s small biz quiz
Joe & Amanda
Name, title, and location
Joe & Amanda Witmer, Owners | Clarksville, Tennessee
How would you describe Two Birds Coffee in a few sentences?
Two Birds is focused on connecting people and connecting with people on a deeper level than your average coffee shop.
We are genuinely concerned about people and their well-being, and always ensuring the best cup of coffee we can produce. We purpose to produce the best we can and give the best we have, giving careful attention to the quality of product we offer in an environmentally conscious way.
It's people over products. Service over sales. Community and culture over cash flow. Cooperation over competition.
We truly believe that the only way we are able to make a lasting impact in our community, let alone the world, is if we do it together.
What about in just three words?
People, Passion, Purpose.
(If you twisted my arm and made me pick three different ones it would be: Quality. Community. Culture.)
What’s the story behind the name?
Seven years ago before we knew we were going to have a coffee business of any kind, we were driving home and my wife was overdue with our first child, our son Zeke.
I looked up and saw a pair of crows sitting each on their own branches that were poking out of an otherwise perfectly spherical tree.
I said, "Hey look at those two birds just sitting there... that would make a pretty good song lyric." We got home and 30 minutes later I had written Two Birds, a folksy tune.
Those birds were not concerned in any way with whether or not they would eat, sleep, or fly to next. It made me realize that we spend so much of our life trying to get to the next thing, often not really ever experiencing where we are.
We spend so much of life anxiously anticipating what's next that we will even rush and hurry to the next red light or just to end up waiting in traffic or in a drive-thru line.
We end up missing out entirely on the opportunities we have in front of us to spend with someone, to grow a relationship, to share a moment. The moments are the memories. We were made relationally, for relationships.
When the time came, we made the decision to go with Two Birds as our name because we wanted to build our business on the model of slowing down and sharing a cup—and a moment—with the people that have been placed in our lives.
Were there any other names under consideration?
Initially, we were wanting to do something that combined a non-profit community resource with a coffee shop and call it "The Well," but it was way too big for us at that time.
It turns out that a shop called "The Well" was opening in the Nashville area anyway (which is less than an hour away from us) with a slightly different vision, and it wouldn't have made sense for us to pursue where we were at that time.
We also were going to open at another location on a street called Drinkard Dr. and were thinking of calling ourselves Drinkard Coffee Co., which has a nice ring but otherwise has no other real significance.
It would've been cool, but sometimes our plans don't work out. Sometimes it's so much better when they don't.
What made you want to start a business? Was it something you were always planning to do?
I don't think we always thought we would start a business, or that we would do it together.
We have, for a good amount of our adult lives, been desiring to come out of the typical corporate structure and have the ability to pursue the vision we have for business.
We had no idea it would work out like this.
What were you doing before starting Two Birds?
Amanda had been pouring into our children at home (we had two at the time, and have since had our third) and I was working as a bank teller.
Why coffee? Have you always been ‘coffee people’?
Coffee is a gateway into human connection.
It's a "least common denominator" for so many people and is transcendent across multiple cultures and people groups.
It's something that offers a launching point for a conversation or even just time into a relationship, that may have an impact on us as individuals and perhaps even on the world around us.
We started getting into coffee and its nuances more so after getting married and pursuing it together. We like the culture and the care and concern over something so small (and delicious) and for all those involved throughout the whole process.
What type of coffee do you most love?
Joe: I have really enjoyed a wide range of coffees—both blends and single origins.
For me, I think I am big into balance. I like having that "just right" cup of coffee. That may mean a light roast in the morning and something darker at night.
But if something is too acidic or too bitter and isn't balanced, I tend to not like it as much. Otherwise, I'm pretty open to whatever.
I'm currently enjoying a new single-origin, medium-roasted Columbian from our roaster, Peace Coffee.
Amanda: Oh man, I don't know. It depends I guess. I've been liking the mediums that are more chocolatey.
And, how do you prefer to take your coffee?
Joe: I think my favorite way to brew hot coffee is with the Chemex, but we recently got a ceramic pour-over from Saint Anthony Industries. It makes a great cup, also.
For espresso, I really like traditional cappuccinos, but they are revealing because it's hard to cover up mistakes on the espresso shot or on the milk. I'm a big fan of cafe Cubanos made with a stovetop coffee maker like the Bialetti Moka pot.
As I mentioned before, though, I'm big on brewing things the way they were meant to be, so if it's right, it's right. Which seriously, always, is our cold brew. It's super good. No bias.
Amanda: Also super dependent on my mood. Haha.
What sets you apart from other coffee companies?
We want to show people a different way of doing business, and coffee.
We like to approach coffee with passion and joy, but also try to present it from a position of humility. We are not perfect. We are not the most knowledgeable.
But this is something we are aware of and are willing to admit, and it pushes us to learn, taste, and grow as a company and as individuals in the art and craft of coffee.
Our focus with coffee is to take a more puristic approach, meaning we want to present coffee and espresso in their original forms, styles, and methods, so to speak. Along with this, we do our best to notice and focus on each individual that comes in and welcome them as if we were inviting them into our home.
Our mission is to be part of, maybe even to bolster, the fourth wave of coffee, which we believe is a movement from education to empowerment.
The Third Wave has been about transparency and an invitation to learn about and participate in, to a degree, the full range and motion of coffee as a process from beginning to end. We love that. But we want to break the fourth wall.
We want to turn that from a documentary into a tour. Not just some information and a better cup of coffee in our coffee shop, but the tools and training for the average person to end the journey of that great cup of coffee on their own tables—in their own homes.
We believe the pathway doesn't end for coffee in the coffee shop or cafe, or on grocery store shelves, but rather in the cups of each individual.
It may seem strange, but we believe that putting better things in people's hands and helping them know what to do with them will actually be better for shaping the culture around us, and our business in the long run.
Ultimately, we want people to leave Two Birds not by saying, "They had a cool shop," or "I really enjoyed their coffee," but by saying, "I had a really great experience at Two Birds."
Talk us through your Nests idea. How has that worked out for you? How close are you to building your own nest?
Nests are an idea we had to be able to shrink our footprint by having more regular delivery routes and reducing the miles we drive.
The concept is, essentially, to partner with other local businesses that are looking to drive customers into their storefront or clinic or whatever at a particular time by allowing our customers to pick up cold brew or beans that they pay for in advance during those time windows.
We currently have two Nests and are looking to put more in our community. We also wholesale to a couple of places in town who then retail or have it on their menu.
One thing that has been really cool has been collaborating with two breweries around here that have used our cold brew in a brew in each of the respective breweries. I believe this concept will continue to take root as more people hear and know about us.
As far as our own place, we are actually super close. We are looking at opening by or before summer of this year (2021). We have been fortunate and blessed to serve inside a furniture gallery for a month or so in the meantime.
What are your favorite small businesses?
We love the other restaurants and shops in town, but there have been some in other industries, as well, that have been incredibly supportive of us and we consider them friends.
Shout out (in no particular order) to:
- Evill Nash Brewing Co. (#TensOn10th!)
- Wicked Good Sandwiches
- Nicoletta's Catering and Take Away
- Zoren Pharmacy
- &Vinyl Records
What is your favorite thing to listen to when working?
Folk, singer-songwriter, big band and swing, hip hop, alternative, indie, synth-pop. Stuff you can move, groove, or soothe to. Music to help you focus or blends-in well.
Particularly though, Joe's favorite is something that has more thought to it—more creativity, more art.
What does sustainability mean to you? How does that play out in your business?
Ideally, it would be operating at zero waste entirely and being entirely carbon neutral.
We love being able to contribute in these ways, but it's not always perfect. It's really hard to completely upend every way of life that we are used to and certainly can't expect it of everyone around us.
So, we take the steps we can through reusing glass bottles and cups, serving in dishware we wash instead of throwing away and using compostable materials everywhere else.
For everything that can't be, we try to reuse and stay as natural as we can.
What advice would you give someone just starting their small business? Anything you wish you would or would not have done along the way?
Ask questions. It's ok to be ignorant. Learn! Not everyone is out there rooting for you, and that's ok. The system might not make it easy to get started, and that's ok.
Hear me when I say this though: Do. Not. Rush!
Everything will happen in the time it is supposed to. There is no failure, only things to learn from. And never make a decision based on fear.
Take your time and wait for peace. Make your choices there. As I look back at the process of all of this, I can't think of a thing that I feel is regrettable.
We have had difficulty and stress, to be sure. However, everything has happened exactly as it was supposed to and will continue to do so. We are extremely grateful for each part.
What does growth look like for your business?
Growth for us is about increasing the quality of our relationships, whether that be a handful or many handsful.
We honestly never thought this would actually happen for us, and it's surreal to see it playing out.
If we can continue to serve people well without compromising our standards of quality in product and service, then we would be happy to do that for as many people as would allow us to do that.
What do you hope to look like in five years?
Joe: I think I can speak for both Amanda and me in saying that we hope to be a destination—a place where people actually seek out.
I'd actually really like for us to have a recognizable brand in our community and abroad, and possibly even a family of brands built on these same principles.
More than either of those things, our vision is actually for what the community around us looks like in five years more than what our business will look like in five years.
We hope we are surrounded by generous, loving, culture-shaping individuals who are pouring into each other, caring for their surroundings, believing in the attainability of a higher standard of living and ultimately, of relationships.
How did you find Sendle? How’s it going?
It's possible that we actually came across Sendle through a sponsored ad on Facebook or Instagram. I'm not sure which came first, but it may have also been in researching B Corps because of our involvement with Peace Coffee.
We have been extremely grateful for the service we have received and for being able to impact our world, locally and universally, through our partnership with Sendle.
Thank you for your support of us and for believing in us. Our partnership has been part of shaping and strengthening our identity as a business and a brand.