Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Cherita Rice, Co-Founder of Mad Priest Coffee Roasters, located in Chattanooga, TN, USA.

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

My husband, Michael, and I started Mad Priest Coffee Roasters in 2015 as a small-batch specialty coffee roasting company & social enterprise with the mission to “Craft excellent coffee. Educate the curious. Champion the displaced.” We currently operate our roastery and two retail locations in Chattanooga, TN.

From the beginning, our goal has been to run a sustainable, for-profit business with a triple bottom line (people, planet, profits) that includes social and environmental goals alongside economic ones. We also like to have a little fun with our brand! Our customers are folks who like coffee (obviously), may or may not know about specialty coffee, and are curious about the world.

From the back of our coffee bags:
"To curious people who are sick of the bland, corporate, heretical coffee experience, Mad Priest Coffee Roasters is the unconventional, creative, sacred coffee choice. While we may be irreverent, we always take our coffee and our mission seriously. Because we are mad about injustice, especially societal inequality...and bad coffee."

Tell us about yourself

I've done a lot of different things in my life, but I never thought that I would end up as a business owner! My background has always involved some sort of creativity & communication - first as a hairdresser, then as an English teacher abroad, and most recently in copywriting & marketing. But it's cool to look back and see how that prepared me for where I am today - founder & director of operations of a coffee roasting company!

Our business was born out of a combination of necessity & passion. My husband had been in & out of the coffee industry for a while and came up with the idea of starting our own roastery, but the timing was never right. But then, one day, when we had a newborn & a two-year-old and had just moved to a new city, we decided the timing would never "be just right," so carpe that diem! We built a brand and a mission and started selling coffee, and here we are doing the same thing six years later.

I'm definitely motivated by my team - because we are a small company, every employee makes a huge difference! So we are very intentional with our hiring process to make sure that someone is a good fit for our team — both professionally and with their personality (because we are a little crazy over here, haha). I'm also motivated by our customers when they appreciate the mixed bag that we serve of specialty coffee, humor, and social justice.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Whew, man, there's SO much! I could list all of the awards we've won for our coffee, but even more than that, I would say I'm proud of the team we've built and the brand we've created. If we just roasted good coffee but didn't try to make an impact on the world around us, that would be a failure to me.

To put it another way, we are imperfect humans, trying our hardest to roast the best coffee possible that wins awards, pay their employees fairly, convert Folgers coffee drinkers into specialty coffee drinkers, contribute to the actual well-being of coffee farmers, educate the consumer on their coffee, use their business platform to speak out against inequalities in the world today... and has some fun in the process!

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

The hardest thing for me is the need for constant flexibility and change in small business life. I am a very organized person & love planning stuff, but the best-laid plans don't always work, and it's all about flexing and adapting to what comes your way.

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

  1. You are going to work hard, really hard... way harder than you ever worked as a 9-5 employee. And it will probably take way longer than you think for your hard work to pay off. But be patient. And keep working hard. ;)
  2. Get professional help! Don't try to figure out stuff for your business that isn't your area of expertise, whether it's finance, marketing, systems, etc. So basically, work hard, but also work smart! Make use of any & all online programs, small business development centers in your area, and consultants. We did the Co-starters business development program when we first started. And six years into our business, we still meet regularly with two separate business coaches!
  3. Brand, brand, brand. Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business - even if you aren't, particularly in a "customer facing" industry, retail space, etc. It can be as simple as having a well-designed logo, website, and brand position statement. But you need a clear, attractive description of your brand (check out StoryBrand or similar resources).

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Have fun with your business! Don't be afraid of getting creative, thinking outside the box, and trying something new & different.

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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