“We both grew up in West Virginia, right across the Ohio River. Being so close to the border, people travel back and forth from West Virginia or to Ohio often. You make friends or you have family close by.
Larry went into the Navy and was stationed in Virginia Beach for 10 years. Candice went to Columbus for a little while, went to school at Ohio State, and then moved to Virginia Beach where we got married. We lived down there for about 10 years, but we felt a draw back to the area. Ultimately, we decided we were going to come back.
When we moved back, we both started jobs. We drove through Pomeroy daily and appreciated the beauty of the river and the sunrise as we were going to work. It’s just an amazing place to be—without even mentioning the people. The shops, the location, just the sheer beauty of the river every morning is awesome.
We started to make friends with the people at Court Grill, a blues bar and grill with awesome food and music. We love music. We’re musicians. I play guitar and Candice sings. We got into that scene, started going to see live music, and we started to really fall in love with the entrepreneurs around the area that we would meet who were doing cool things. Sometimes, especially in a rural community, you have to dive a little deeper to really understand what’s going on there and where the community support is. We saw that there were things happening in the community and that everyone around here cares about this place. We started to understand that there was a lot more to ‘here’ than what you initially see on the surface if you’re just driving through.
The day we decided we could be part of that momentum, we were walking through Pomeroy one morning as people were setting up for the Big Bend Blues Bash. We were craving a cup of coffee and thought, ‘It would be so nice if somebody would open up a coffee shop in Pomeroy, right here, downtown…’
And then we said, ‘Maybe that somebody is us.’”
“We walked through the park near where our shop, River Roasters Coffee Co., is now. The building has really cool, old brick, and, as we were walking, this lady said, ‘Hey, do you guys want me to take your picture next to the brick?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, that’s random, but here’s my phone.’ So now we have a picture from that day taken right beside where we would eventually open our coffee shop.
Over the next week or so, we started to dive a little deeper into what it would cost, what we would need to do, how we would raise the money. We started to make a Spotify playlist for the coffee shop because we’re huge musicians and fans of music. We know music kind of sets the vibe for a place, so the music was part of the business plan. The first song we added to the playlist was ‘Hold On’ by Alabama Shakes. It’s funny because all of that stuff shaped what we eventually became.
And after that, we started to look at what buildings were available. Entrepreneur friends we had made here on Main Street suggested that we speak to the owner of the building we’re in now. It needed a lot of work, so we initially passed on it, but later came back and decided that this was the place.
We sold our house to help with the initial investment. We put a ‘for sale’ sign in our front yard and took our dogs for a walk. When we got back, there was a guy sitting in our driveway.
The house wasn’t ready—we didn’t think somebody would want to look at it that same day, but he came in, looked at it, and said he was going to talk to the bank. It was the next day when he said, ‘Let’s get this thing rolling.’
We realized we had to find a building. Tomorrow.
We lived with family for several months while we renovated the building and continued to work our day jobs. We put everything we had into this business. We had a lot of volunteers from our church, the community, our friends, and even people who would stop by and say, ‘Hey, I want to demolish some stuff.’ We’d give them sledgehammers and show them where to dump the debris. We tore the entire building down to the bones and built it back from there.
We worked with a local community bank, Farmers Bank, and the thing I remember most about COVID is the day they announced we were going on lockdown and businesses were closing, the president of Farmers came walking down Main Street – he’s in the coffee shop every day anyway – but he came in and he said, ‘You guys, I just want you to know, you don’t have to worry about any of what’s happening affecting your business loan. Don’t worry—we’re going to work this out and we’re going to take care of it.’”
That would never happen in a big city. We were lucky to have selected a community bank that’s community-first. They’re really invested in making this area thrive.”
“River Roasters has a creative menu inspired by our travels. We’re not afraid to get on a plane and jump down to a different city we’ve never been to and explore, or explore a different culture. For example, we love Miami because you can go down and get authentic Cuban sandwiches and Cubanas and things you may have never tried before. On a recent trip to Miami, we tried the pastelitos de guayaba, which is a guava pastry, and we both bit into it and were like, ‘We’re bringing this home.’ It’s a simple pastry, but it tastes phenomenal.
Our customers would have to go to another city to get what we’re offering here, so it was time for something like this in our area. They understand what we’re trying to do, trying to bring culture. I think they’re excited to support something like this.
And when it comes to our coffee, we found the best roaster we could possibly find. We searched the whole area and had this guy from Ridge Runner Coffee send us samples. We tried the coffee and immediately said, ‘He is unreal. He’s just so good.’ Plus he’s out of Athens, so he’s a local guy.
It’s specialty-grade coffee, which means it’s the highest grade you can get. We also do fair trade, and we’re going to continue that as we start to roast our own at the new facility we’re building. It’s important for us, coming from a small community, to support farmers and growers in other small communities and other countries. That’s what fair trade is all about. It’s so important to us to be able to say, ‘This farm in Mexico, run by a family—we’re helping support that.’
We also serve Herbal Sage Tea, which has its headquarters located on the same block as us in Pomeroy. Our chai blend is a custom blend that we created with the owner. People are really excited about our chai. We take a loose-leaf tea created on the same block as our shop, get it bagged, cook it down and make the concentrate in-house, and then serve it in a chai latte.”
“When it comes to local coffee shops, most of the time, they’re community-focused so it kind of becomes this hub for people. So you can walk in, see people you know, see your friends, have conversations.
It can be a meeting space. It can be all these different things throughout the day that are important for our community. We have community leaders who come in and make themselves available to residents. Just to be that spot, that hub for all these conversations happening in the community, is special. Coffee is at the center of a lot of communities and people don’t realize it.
It drives deeper, more meaningful conversations as well because you go there to kind of hang out or get some time to yourself, but also you’re open to those conversations. There are those chance encounters that happen at other stores and restaurants and things, but it’s different at a coffee shop.
Most of our customers are repeat customers, so we have relationships with all these people. And our employees get it. They get what we’re doing. The center of our business is love. We love people as soon as they walk through the door until they walk out the door. And they grasp the whole of that and they’re doing it and it’s amazing.
In a big city, you may see 15 to 20 tenants go through the same building over a three to four-year span. That’s not the case in a small community like this. Candice and I bought this building and we plan to stay, and the same goes for almost all the businesses around here. There are people who believe in what they do and they don’t want to see a community lose that.
With a big chain, it’s not really like that. There’s no connection with people besides through branding and the marketing they do. There’s no real connection. Here, we work right alongside our employees. We wash dishes, take the garbage out and clean the restroom. That’s not happening at the big chains. And that’s special for our employees, but it also makes a difference for the customer experience as well because it means we care, and care means everything. ”
“When we opened the doors and there were people lined around the corner, that was a surprise to us. We thought we were going to staff this thing with three or four people and now we have 16 employees. When we were first coming up with a business plan, we thought we were gonna get about half the amount of customers that we have—we could have torn up our business plan and thrown it out the window because of the awesome reaction from the community we just didn’t expect.
We opened for business in 2018 and now we are expanding. We bought a piece of land, about 20 acres, 15 minutes from our location, and our plan now is to build a 1,200-square-foot facility that’s going to be split down the middle: one side for roasting coffee, the other side for food production. We’re going to be baking a lot. We’re going to be doing wholesale accounts out of there, as well. Not only are we going to be supplying River Roasters, but there’s an opportunity for other cafes, other coffee shops to buy into the popularity of our products, the fresh ingredients, and the thing we create that’s special that our customers enjoy. Hopefully, it spans beyond Pomeroy.
We needed more room to grow. We are just as much of a restaurant and a bakery as we are a coffee shop. I’m amazed at what we have been able to pull off in this tiny space. But we have excellent bakers and we have some pastries that are so popular that we need to make them at the facility and package them because people order them to be mailed out. They’re buying them by the dozen. We created an original recipe for an oatmeal cream pie and people just love it.
I think the baked goods were a natural complement to our traditional Italian-style drink menu. When we created River Roasters, we knew we wanted a La Marzocco espresso machine and a traditional Italian-style menu that started with the basics: latte, breve, cappuccino. And from there, we could add other fun stuff.
There’s something about sitting down with coffee or a cappuccino and having some kind of sweet pastry to go with it. Whether you’re in Italy, France, Cuba, or sitting down next to the Ohio River in Pomeroy, that’s a great thing. Does it get any better than that?
The progress we’ve made since opening for business in 2018 is overwhelming. It almost doesn’t feel real at times. How did we even do this? ‘Surreal’ is the way to describe it but in the best way possible.
We feel like we are the managers of this thing that has become River Roasters, but the community members have created the success. Day after day, they’re here supporting the business, they’re online telling their friends about it, they’re doing whatever it takes to push this thing forward and we’re at the helm. It’s awesome. This is what we wanted and this is what the community wanted.
It’s got to be the people. That’s the thing that we keep coming back to is just how special the people are around here.”
—Candice and Larry Hess, River Roasters
Pomeroy, Meigs County