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Meet Millie Finch

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Meet Millie Finch

We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Millie Finch. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Millie below.

Millie, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Almost all entrepreneurs have had to decide whether to start now or later? There are always pros and cons for waiting and so we’d love to hear what you think about your decision in retrospect. If you could go back in time, would you have started your business sooner, later or at the exact time you started?

My husband, charlie and I started our business in 2018. It began as a small homestead business. We were planning to sell fresh eggs, veg, fruit. We addition we were brewing kombucha and roasting coffee. We had played around with the idea of opening a nano-brewery and coffee roastery. We were looking for commercial properties on and off in our tiny town and never really found anything that fit the bill. Then in Feb of 2019 we finally decided to focus in on our Coffee Roastery, Night Sky Coffee Roasters! As Charlie and I were setting up the business, I continued to work in the microbiology field and Charlie in astronomy. But when the pandemic hit I resigned from my job and we started to work on our e-commerce website full steam. We also were looking very seriously for a brick and mortar location despite everything being shutdown. And in August of 2020 we purchased 47 N Jackson St in historic downtown Winder. The plan was to have the whole build-out completed by the time the world opened up post COVID. But of course fate had a different plan. We seemed to hit every roadblock imaginable, and we were not able to open until this last Feb 2024.But though the whole process took so much longer and we did not get to complete everything we had originally set out to do, I would not change anything looking back. We learned so much through out the process and were able to lay an amazing foundation in our small town.

As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?

When Charlie and I lived in Washington, DC, there was a James Beard Award winning bakery that had this one brand of coffee that we could taste flavors we had never experienced in any coffee we had ever had. After they removed it from the menu, we looked everywhere for it to no avail. Charlie ended up buying coffee beans online and roasting them in a popcorn popper to achieve flavors we liked. After we moved to Auburn, we began looking for a similar experience. Although there were places selling coffee, we were looking for an establishment that actually roasted their own coffee and that would generate discussions about the type of coffee they were providing. We always had wanted to start our own business, and the start-up expenses for a coffee business we knew would be a minimal investment compared to other businesses. We found a building in downtown Winder in 2020, which we bought for a brick-and-mortar coffee roastery and tasting room. And in 2021, we moved from Auburn, GA to Winder after buying our current house, where we converted the separate guest house/rental property into an office and temporary roasting facility until the downtown location will be a retail space in the near future. We roasted in that guest house until Feb 2024 when we were finally able to move into 47 N Jackson St in Winder GA.

Can you open up about how you funded your business?

In 2017 we moved back to Georgia and decided on starting a small farm business. Charlie and I were still working our 9-5 jobs and we bought a property on 5 acres of land and named it Five Acres Farm. We planted an orchard, gardens, purchased several pieces of heavy machinery, and invested in a laying flock of hens. We also began roasting coffee, brewing kombucha and began looking into starting a nano-brewery that would also act as a boutique grocery store for our farm business. We were looking for commercial space in Auburn, GA that was in our price range, but that also had the utility hook-ups we would require to have a business that would need a lot of water, sewer and electricity. We looked for 2 years and never found anything that suited our needs in our townships city limits, so in 2019 we decided to broaden our scope.

We had some money remaining in stocks and had been gradually using to purchase items for the farm business. But we still had some remaining for a down payment on a commercial space. And we figured we could afford about a $150k-$200K space. So when the pandemic hit in March 2020 we decided to take the leap to focus all our efforts into the coffee roasting business. We had a very positive response from the folks we had been selling coffee to in the community, and the start up costs were relatively reasonable compared to the nano-brewery. We also continued looking for commercial spaces despite the pandemic shutting down in-person business. We also took this time to set up a robust online business and began focusing on local social media posts and looking into working as many outdoor events as we could. And by August of 2020 we were able to secure a conventional loan for a commercial space in historic downtown Winder, GA.

The building was over 120 years old and in very sound condition from our inspection report, so we were not anticipating an exorbitant build-out cost since it was basically a large and open 3000 sq ft room. We immediately began working on applying for a SBA loan for out build out expenses since we had to secure a conventional loan because the SBA loan officers were all tied up writing PPP loans. We were hoping to refinance the building purchase loan with our build-out loan in one SBA loan without needing to put any more money down we had put down over 36% of the purchase price of the building. At the same time we were working on the design of what we wanted our coffee roastery and cafe tasting room to look like. We knew we wanted the design of the space to match the exceptional quality of our coffee. So by the fall of 2021, we had our designs completed, quotes from contractors, plans submitted for permitting, and all our papers submitted for our SBA loan. And in December of 2021 we were denied our SBA loan, had a laundry list of responses from our permit submission and our design plans were way over budget. So we knew we needed to re-access our plans.

We value engineered our design plans to included only what we viewed as absolutely necessary to achieve our work and design esthetic. We new we could come back and add in items in the future, but we did not want to need to redo any of the work we had just completed. We consulted a local architect, structural and MEP engineer to complete the all the responses for our permit approvals. And then we were finally able to get a pro-forma together that fit the banks requirements by the end of 2023. But then, there was a significant interest rate increase and out monthly loan payment was riskier that we would have liked as a new business opening in a new market that had already proved volatile for other business with similar models to ours. So we began looking into other loan structures and were able to go with a loan combination of a SBA 504, SBA 7A and a conventional loan in order to get a combination of interest rates, loan terms, and monthly payments that worked for our pro-forma.

Have you ever had to pivot?

When we decided to go forward with our coffee roasting business, we purchased equipment, applied for farmers markets, then COVID shut the world down. We had to build our website our and figure out E-commerce all at once. And all while having not brand recognition and social media presence. Thank fully we had plenty of time during lock-down to learn how to set up our systems, packaging, logistics, allowing us to have established diversified revenue streams when we opened our brick and mortar store.

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