I knew nothing about coffee before I met my husband. My favorite drink to order was a salted caramel frappuccino. I had maybe tried black coffee once when I was in high school, but never again. Not until Aaron.
We met at a friend’s Bible study on September 23, 2016. (That same friend would propose to his future wife at our future coffee shop years later.) During our brief courting phase, our favorite thing to do together was travel to nearby coffee shops in search of the best coffee. Our first coffee date was at thirty-thirty Coffee Co. in Peoria, IL.
I still remember listening to my husband (who was just a friend at the time) talk about his dreams of owning his own coffee shop someday. It was my first time hearing about it, and to be honest, it sounded more like a fantasy. Aaron has taught me a lot about the craft of coffee, but perhaps even more about the craft of dreaming. I know it sounds cheesy, but I never really had that kind of ambition. I was content with my head in a pile of books. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was currently at seminary learning about Christian Education even though I had no passion for teaching. It was just something to do until I figured out the next thing.
It amazes me that Aaron is completely self-taught in the craft of coffee. He went to college for music. I went to college for creative writing and theatre. And here we are, with our own coffee shop, in a city we have grown to love and call home.
April 7, 2017, Aaron proposed to me, about six months after we met. Six months after that, we were married on October 21, 2017. While we were planning a wedding, we were also constructing and planning a business. It was definitely a stressful time, with more than one consideration of eloping. But March 12, 2018, we finally opened the doors to The River Coffee Company on Water Street, right outside the edge of downtown Decatur, IL. It was a quiet open. A small beginning. We didn’t advertise on social media. For a long time, until we could afford all the espresso equipment, we only served pour over coffee and tea.
But soon the word spread and we eventually had to hire people to help us. We hired our first employee, a high school kid named Brandon Likins, on July 24th. One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a business owner has been watching him grow and learn and develop the same passion about coffee that drives us.
After a very successful year and a month of business, our coffee shop was destroyed by a fire on April 1st, 2019. We got the call at one in the morning. I had been up all night, sick from food allergies that I was still trying to figure out. We live downtown, so it was a short drive to the fire. We stood in the parking lot, and watched the fire burn everything we had worked for. My husband had built that place with his own hands. I will never forget how we tore down an old barn together in the middle of summer, so we could have beautiful barnwood floors. The rest of it, we used for our bar.
While I watched it burn, all I remember feeling is a peace that surpasses understanding. I was unmoved, unshaken. Things happen. This was just another thing, happening. The Lord had made a way before, and he would make a way again.
I was thankful no one was hurt. I was thankful for all the love and support from the community. So many stories poured forth from our customers about how they had been blessed by the space we provided, the service we gave, the friendship we extended to everyone who walked through the doors. It’s hard to see the fruit of your labor while you’re in the midst of the labor.
I was also thankful for all the quality time we suddenly had on our hands. We never really got that. We were married, and then we started a business. So it was definitely nice to have that time together. But that’s not to say it wasn’t hard. There were many times my husband wanted to give up, to not rebuild. We considered just getting regular jobs. But that’s the beautiful thing about marriage. When one is weak, the other is strong. When one wants to give up on their dreams, the other won’t allow it.
In September 2019, we found a beautiful location in the middle of downtown Decatur, and started to rebuild. On December 4th, we had a “soft” open. It was the night of the downtown Christmas walk. I don’t know how we got through it. I think we had to kick people out at one point. It was dangerously crowded and was starting to look like a fire hazard. But the support was amazing, if not somewhat frightening to an introvert like me. So. Many. People. No room to breathe. And then there were the dancing elves! It was all a blur. An exciting, exhausting blur. Much like our wedding day, in a way.
The pandemic was definitely a struggle to get through as well, and we’re not really back to normal business yet, but that’s okay. We’re so thankful for the support of the community, and also the ability to start growing our business in new ways. If you haven’t heard yet, we have finally started to roast our own coffee beans! It was always our dream to start roasting within two years of business, and incredibly, we have done just that. But if there’s one thing my husband has taught me, it’s that you don’t have to pick just one dream to pursue. We are already looking to the next thing, the next adventure, the next chapter in this crazy book called Life. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”