These small business spotlight articles were originally inspired by Rob Arnold, owner of Pregame Coffee, as I began Root of Pi and focusing on small business owners, I had always planned to get back together with Rob after our initial conversation to help understand the story behind his super cool neighborhood sports-inspired coffee shop concept. Each time I visit I find another reason to love this veteran-owned business, and I know you will, too.
Pregame Coffee is not a client of Root of Pi and this is not a paid advertisement.
Birds of a Feather
I met Rob about two years ago through Bunker Labs, an organization devoted to stoking and funding entrepreneurship among military veterans and spouses. I sat down with Rob at the time to find out more about Pregame Coffee, as his original location was just opening up and gaining traction. Unfortunately, everything shortly after locked down. In the following time Rob has relocated to a beautiful historic building in the Clifton neighborhood.
A Unique Perspective
This part of the story should ring especially true for the entrepreneur’s out there.
Rob doesn’t have coffee in his veins, he didn’t grow up in the industry (in direct contrast to the wonderful Fante’s Coffee House). Through working on another professional project, he discovered a gap in the coffee shop market, a need of his own that he couldn’t find a solution for…so he built it.
Rob spent 20 years in healthcare, joining the industry right out of college. He was deeply involved in corporate healthcare and education and he admittedly had grandiose designs on writing a novel on exactly how to fix the US healthcare system. He spent much of his writing time in coffee shops, and found there was something lacking.
Windy City Inspiration
Rob is a big fan of the city of Chicago, and he loves the neighborhood bars (once you visit, that will come through loud and clear, Chicago sports memorabilia and newspaper clippings are everywhere). He was disappointed in the corporate chain coffee shops’ lack of personality. He’s also a bigtime sports fan, and loves sports bars…but they’re way too loud to write a book in.
The idea of a neighborhood coffee shop that also offered a sports bar experience intrigued him.
In the absence of resolution, the daring take action
He traveled throughout the region trying to find somebody who had something along those lines, but kept coming up short. Rob became obsessed with the idea. Rob wanted a quiet meeting place that would facilitate meetings of friends, authoring a best-seller, or holding your fantasy football draft.
Marrying those things into a cohesive business is no small task.
I have fallen into the trap of trying to solve a problem I discovered, without doing diligence to find out if people wanted the solution and have paid the price in time spent that could have been more meaningful and effective.
I asked Rob about his feelings on solving a problem few others know about or have addressed, knowing it’s a well documented failing of many small businesses.
“A hole in the market can mean either you have a dumb concept…or it just hasn’t been solved yet, and I couldn’t let go of it”.
Rob dove deep into the machinations of running a coffee shop, how to source coffee, and eventually how to roast his own. He traveled to St. Louis to meet with a champion coffee mixologist, and has been studying coffee cocktail mixology thanks to the definitive resource on the subject.
In the subsequent two years, Rob’s original Nulu location was repurposed by ownership and he found a new home in Clifton, but it would take six months of construction to get the shop exactly how he wanted it while honoring the history of the building. In his words:
“The residents of this neighborhood know the history of this building very well, and it was a given that I need to honor that, while injecting my vision if I wanted to build a true neighborhood gathering place”.
I mentioned above that Rob’s shop was the inspiration for writing these articles altogether. I originally had envisioned supporting primarily veteran owned service businesses such as Rob’s…but in researching possible interviews have found a lack of available candidates, particularly in food service, which I found surprising.
I asked Rob for his take on this.
“I’ve found there are a lot of veterans in the food and drink industry, but not so much in ownership or higher management levels…which is a shame”.
I couldn’t agree more.
Local Sports Flavor
Pregame Coffee has a regular contingent of Racing FC players and fans, and Rob is a big booster of the team. There are also regular groups from a local Crossfit gym among others. I follow Rob’s business closely on social media and am happy to see that his gamble seems to be paying off. Having visited several times, I can say his drinks are quite good and the shop itself is beautiful.
The upstairs space contains a massive projector screen for events, matches and games. Rob was recasting the Racing FC’s recent win as we were speaking in anticipation of fans coming by before attending the championship match in the Women’s Cup that night.
Rob and I share several commonalities in our past, from drifting out of an aimless first year of college into the military, to spending a few decades in a profession before finding what really inspires us. I’m a sucker for a veteran-owned business, particularly one that’s boldly creating a new concept.
I hope you’ll stop by Pregame Coffee and try one of their custom coffee drinks (my fav is the ‘Sting Like a Bee’).
If you’re looking for a cool event space to host a small gathering, the upstairs is beautifully built, and you’ll have a bar downstairs to handle your guests drinks. I can see why many Fantasy Football leagues host their drafts there.
If you want to check out the upstairs in a fun after hours atmosphere, Root of Pi and Pregame will be teaming up in early October for a Website Roast for small business owners, more to come on that very soon!
Pregame Coffee is located at 1737 Frankfort Ave at the corner of Frankfort and William Streets and is open 7 days a week (more info HERE). Be sure to check out their custom food and drink creations at the Pregame Coffee website!
Let me know when you visit!
Until next time,