Serving coffee and community

PHOTOS BY SHELBY WOLFE/Newport News-Times | Ronni Larsen, owner of Espresso 101 in Waldport, and her some of her employees, are seen outside of the coffee shop on Jan. 4.

Espresso 101 celebrates 25 years

WALDPORT — Twenty-five years ago, Ronni Larsen had a conversation with a friend that started a business idea which would not only come to fruition, but last another quarter century: Espresso 101.

“I was really interested in the service industry … I waitressed a lot and did that kind of work. I love the service industry and I enjoy people a lot,” said Larsen. “I talked to a friend and he says ‘you know, you should build a little building and start selling that espresso stuff!’ and I said, ‘well, what’s espresso?’ and he says ‘I don’t know, but I think we should find out.’”

The two went to Corvallis to visit the Allan Bros. Beanery — which roast the coffee beans Larsen would later serve at her stand — as well as to check out other coffee shops in the area. Feeling inspired, Larsen began the effort to erect a stand on the side of Highway 101.

“We got the building built and got it put in,” Larsen remembered, “and people would come by and they’d go, ‘you really think people are going to spend a dollar on a cup of coffee?’ And I’d go ‘well, I hope so, I don’t know!’”

In the early days, Larsen said, around 20 people would come through the stand each day. Now, a quarter century later, she estimates that number to be around 10 times as many.

“The coffee industry has been very good to me,” said Larsen. “I’m very appreciative.”

The road has been a winding one for the stand over the last quarter century, however. In 2006, Larsen sold the operation to the owner of the property on which it stood. But she found herself regretting it, and years later told her husband that if it ever came up for sale, she’d like to buy it back.

When she went and expressed the same desire to the owner, he told her that it wasn’t up for sale. Larsen said she told him, “I know, I know — but if you ever changed your mind, would you please call me first?”

“Eight months later he calls me,” Larsen recounted with a smile laugh. “I planted that little seed!”

But employees at the shop will tell you: the secret to the stand’s success is the people inside.

“(What makes Espresso 101 so special is) probably how long it’s been here. Even after she sold it, people still came here,” said Amy Dempsey, one of the seven employees at Espresso 101. “It’s just this longevity of it is really a big thing here … And her (Larsen’s) family goes way back in this area, I think that’s part of it, too.”

Larsen’s family has also been involved in Espresso 101. Her daughter, son and granddaughter have all worked there, making for three generations of baristas in Waldport.

“I think it’s our people, our coworkers that we have,” said barista Leah Petersen. “We’re all so outgoing and kind, such different personalities.”

That kindness shows through in the way that Espresso 101 interacts with the community — at the window and beyond.

Larsen’s real passion is serving people, in multiple ways. She moved to Waldport with her family at 12 years old; she was a cheerleader in high school and loves her town. So whether it’s a warm cup and a smile, or fundraising for causes around town, she’s there and ready.

Having the coffee shop, truly, is being a part of your community,” said Larsen. “And coffee is a feel-good thing, people enjoy their coffee. So many times, we are the first person that anybody sees (in the morning), and so it’s fun to be able to pick people up and say ‘hey, how are you this morning? What can we get started for you?’ … The biggest, coolest thing for me is being part of the community.”

And that service to the community doesn’t stop at the counter; Larsen explained that Espresso 101 has supported local sports teams, reading programs and people who have been affected by sudden tragedies, as well as regularly donating coffee baskets for the Booster Club’s auctions.

“I’m all about that. I’m all about helping the community, helping the kids,” said Larsen. “That’s my biggest deal, I love it.”

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