Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Carl & Lori Churchill, Founders of Alpha Coffee, located in Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

We started, own, and operate Alpha Coffee in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have three coffee shops located throughout the Salt Lake Valley that serve our hometown customers and also the millions of people who come to ski the greatest snow on earth. We also sell to customers in all 50 states direct through our website. Our customers are everything from the coffee connoisseur to the coffee novice and in between. We want to help anyone who is on their coffee journey experience and try the Alpha difference. Our customers are also people who are always seeking to improve the status quo and not settle. They like to take on challenges and go beyond themselves. We call this the Warrior Ethos.

Tell us about yourself

I  am a combat veteran with 21 years of service as both an enlisted soldier and officer; I had just returned from a deployment to Central America in the mid-'80s and was serving with the 9th Infantry Division when I met Lori in Tacoma, Washington. We married a few years later in 1989, and have shared the journey that so many military couples encounter: multiple moves, challenging separations, deployments, and the pride of serving our great nation. After my retirement following 21 years of service, and with Lori by my side, we sat down together over a cup of coffee, as we had so many times before, and discussed our future. Together we discussed our passion for great coffee, our strong commitment to a warrior lifestyle, and our unwavering support for the military community. Alpha Coffee was born out of this passion, commitment, and drive to give back. That same strong motivation is visible in every cup of coffee Alpha Coffee sells and in the way we conduct business every day. From the start, we wanted to create a different kind of company guided by the principles we lived by every day. That is the origin of our Alpha Coffee mission statement: Awesome Coffee, Be a Warrior, Have Fun, and Give Back.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Over the past 12 years of running Alpha Coffee, we have learned so much. At the top of the list of things we've learned is to never quit. This was never more important than in 2020, when the pandemic hit. We had just opened our second shop and had felt like we had learned so much over the previous three years from our first shop. Everything felt like it was clicking, and in an instant, that all changed. Rather than giving in to our circumstances, we decided that we would push through this and make the best of it. In a day, we transitioned our business to online ordering and curbside pick-up for our customers. While we were proud to continue serving our customers, it was our commitment to our employees that was even more important. Our goal was to try and keep every employee with us during this time. We found some creative ways to do this, and as time passed, we could feel the positive impact this was having on our team and our culture. As things began to get back to "normal," we could tell that this "never give up" attitude had carried us through this difficult time, and they were better for it going forward as an organization.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Being a business owner is hard, plain, and simple. It's a never-ending journey of putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, year after year. There are plenty of failures along the way, but you try your best to learn from those times and improve the next time. One particular area that can be very difficult for a business owner is building culture. It is so easy to get lost in all the details of just keeping the business going that you can often lose sight of the "whys" behind what you are doing. Our mission statement of "Awesome Coffee, Be a Warrior, Have Fun, and Give Back" has been central to our success. Not only has it been a guiding light along the way, but it has provided a space to be intentional about building a company where culture thrives. Our "Have Fun" portion of the mission reminds us never to take this too seriously, and if you and your employees can enjoy what you're doing, then why do it in the first place? We love our employees and are so grateful that they continue to carry the torch of our culture forward every day.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

There could be a thousand pieces of advice to offer to anyone who is looking to start a business. To boil it down to three, we would say:

  • First and foremost, have a passion for what you are looking to do. Starting a business is hard, and if you can't wake up excited about what you are, the chances of your succeeding will be much smaller.
  • Second, we would say not to be afraid to take chances. While we have always tried to plan ahead, there have been plenty of times when we've taken more of the "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach. This doesn't mean to be reckless with your decisions, but you're probably not going to figure everything out before the press goes on something.
  • Finally, HAVE FUN! Business ownership is the craziest roller coaster ride you will ever experience. You might as well enjoy the ride. There are going to be some really stressful days, but if you can keep perspective on those days in the bigger picture, you can enjoy the journey so much more.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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