It All Started In a Diner....

"We each held our paper and pens, our smiles, ideas, and naïveté...." A Charleston entrepreneur's story that just might inspire us all to dream a little bigger, work a little harder... imagine more

By Laura Cannon


{Laura Cannon is a 2009 graduate from the College of Charleston with a degree in English and creative writing. When the opportunity to open a coffeehouse arose, she took advantage of it in hopes of creating a space for all individuals (creative or not) to sip, work, and relax together. Here's her story.}






A professor cautioned once not to write about an experience of which we are in the midst. “Step back,” he said. “Gain some time away from it and then revisit the story later.” The advice is not without reason. He claimed everything becomes too muddled to accurately write about when too close. I have often thought about the benefits to that rule. And yet, rules beg to be broken. My business partner and I are preparing our coffeehouse to open this spring; a full year and half of preparing and we are finally on the last song of this act. At the risk of creating something too muddled to enjoy, I want to share with you some of the thoughts, emotions, and tasks that have lent themselves to us these past several months.


Primarily, I remember the first business meeting. Walking into Early Bird Diner, sitting and ordering and not knowing one another too well. I watched Julie’s face in the overly bright light of the diner, studied her mannerisms, and decided this was the right decision. We each held our paper and pens, our smiles, ideas, and naïveté. We did not know what to do, so we created our mission statement. We became thrilled at the ease of that step, thrilled at the prospect it promised.


And it began. We met at every coffeehouse in town to discuss topics from a business book. We discussed past bosses and what characteristics to embody, what to avoid. We chatted about what we learned in our time as managers. We talked about our childhoods, told stories about our best friends. We wrote notes in our books as if notes were the answer. But they proved we were at least talking, at least dreaming and even preparing. The concept began to round itself. Our confidence grew along with it. And then we began the work.


We always worked late into the night after our “real” jobs. There were always meetings happening, always and then yet again another. We felt the rush of progress, poured over tedious lists and Excel sheets. The itch to go home to fall asleep and rest was both an enemy and necessity. “No, just one more cost of goods, one more inventory list, one more email about the machinery, one last idea about our paper products,” we said to one another. And on and on, etc., etc. There was sleeping, eating, working at those day jobs, and then another meeting, another day of emailing, talking back and forth, sharing exciting stories, disappointments, frustrations, and laughter. Then another day: hearing people encourage us, accepting their advice, telling one another this might be the hardest part. And then crossing that part to discover the next step is the hardest part. And then crossing that, too. It became a story about strength, the mental capacity, the work, the ever-enduring work and willpower and belief in the dream we began to talk about that night at the diner. Ending one work day and dragging to the car to leave and begin another right then, calling, meeting, talking, discussing, dozing off at Andolini’s over a pizza and a beer and deciding that was enough for a night. I think of the meetings with Christie, with Brian, with Kevin, with John, with Roger, with Cindi, and then some. We have sat in our cars on East Montague at six in the morning and counted passing vehicles. We have thrown on fancy dresses and attended more networking events, shared more laughter. We have danced on the green fields in the Charleston River Dog’s baseball stadium.


We have negotiated, we have offended, we have pacified, and we have excited people. We have served at markets and events, a whirlwind of music and arts and pouring Cha Yen. There was that freezing morning in November that welcomed us percolating coffee in a church kitchen in Park Circle at 6:30. We served hot apple cider and coffee and beans for the troops. We made friends, we were called flirts, and we had too much leftover product to be profitable.


Eventually we took tangible steps toward opening our building. We signed a lease, began the yard work, painted the house. And it was just the two of us painting that house, sizing ourselves up against the matter three times our own height. “We have tackled bigger tasks,” we said. And we did it, painted the 26 ¼ feet of its height, each cinder block and its crevices on up to the trim work. And the fresh paint soaked into the masonry and I stood and held the ladder to spot Julie as she painted. And the sun beat on our necks and cars drove by and people waved to us from bikes and then a man walking by said to his young child, “That’s The Orange Spot.”


And when he said that, for a brief moment, I stood back from our adventure and saw something. All at once my memory showed me the mess, the colors, the experiences across the canvas we began painting in 2011. And in that moment, the outcome gained outweighed every sacrifice and lost hour of sleep. In an instant I could see what we can become; a place that might gain respect through hard work, one that welcomes everyone through its doors, a business that a young child’s father will bring him to share together over a pastry and drinks. In that moment I felt like Claude Oscar Monet as he stepped back to examine the beginnings of an impressionist masterpiece. Except I am not he, I am Laura Cannon, part owner of The Orange Spot Coffeehouse. And I want to tell you about this experience in this way because it has been good and exciting. And muddled.


Photo credit: Guardian UK