A Coffee Break with Saxbys’ Nick Bayer


This week in the Entrepreneurship Practicum, our class had the pleasure of listening to and speaking with Nick Bayer, CEO, Founder, and President of Saxbys Coffee.

Nick Bayer is a graduate of Cornell University who started Saxbys in 2005 as a welcoming space with consistently good coffee. Nick came to talk to us to tell us lessons he learned along the way so that “we can be better entrepreneurs than he was”.

Nick first shared a bit of his life story. He stated that he was the first person in his family to finish college. Seeing his parents working long hours for bosses they didn’t like and doing work they hated, Nick vowed to himself that he wouldn’t end up in this same situation. He wanted to make a difference doing something that he loved.

When he was in college there were no entrepreneurship classes teaching what we in our class are learning today. Over his summers he worked at finance and logistic firms and after graduation took jobs in consulting and sales positions for the sole purpose of learning the skills necessary for starting and running a business. During his stints at these companies he was constantly thinking of new business venture ideas and at one point got a call to check out a cool new uniquely local coffee shop in Denver. He knew that he always was drawn to the hospitality industry and opening his own coffee shop seemed like the perfect fit!

At this time Starbucks was rapidly expanding, opening store after store with a consistent atmosphere and a predictability that consumers found comforting. Nick decided to combine what he learned from the local coffee shop in Denver with what he learned after visiting all 54 Atlanta Starbucks in 2 weeks. He wanted to create a hospitality focused coffee shop with consistently good products with a local flare.

Nick offered us a piece of advice “do what I didn’t do” . In the process of opening his first coffee shop in Atlanta and looking to possibly franchise, Nick maxed out his credit cards and learned some valuable lessons about investors and choosing partners to work with. These lessons he shared with our class to help us learn from his mistakes so we could do instead what he didn’t know to do at the time.

In his search for investors, Nick found a partner in a real estate professional who urged him to move to Philadelphia. This move prompted Nick to  begin making this local area his home, opening coffee shops around the city that emulated each neighborhood’s architecture and feel. Philadelphia has become the home to Saxbys and its corporate office, where all employees can make a visitor anything from the coffee shops’ menu at the fully stocked coffee bar.

Today, Saxbys partners with many local outreach programs and works to make an impact on their community. Nick says that they are a “community serving a the community”. He also noted that money is not his 1st priority. Yes, Saxbys is a for-profit business, but Nick believes in the company’s mission statement “Make Life Better”. All the tips from the tip jar at the corporate office coffee bar are donated each month to different organizations and the office hosts events (with free coffee) often to raise money for organizations. He believes that they bigger impact on the community will lead to larger profits for all in the end.

Going back to seeing how his parents enjoyed their jobs, Nick wanted to make everyone love the company. He has created a work environment that motivates his employees and helps them live out the mission statement. He provides various fitness classes at the corporate office like meditation mornings. Additionally, he believes that the various outreach programs and community focus will allow his employees to be proud of their work.

Today, there are 30 Saxbys in 10 different states. Aligning with Nick’s position to help other budding entrepreneurs, there is also a student run Saxbys at Drexel University. Students take on running all aspects of the shop for one semester and work hard to run a full fledged $1 million business unit. Other Saxbys are found in neighborhoods with tons of foot traffic. At these locations are employees who are hired if and only if they are O.D.D.- that is Outgoing, Detail-oriented, and Disciplined. As a hospitality focused coffee shop, Nick places extreme emphasis on finding friendly, outgoing people that can work at his shops. “Anyone can learn to make a latte, but you can’t teach someone to get out of bed and smile”, remarked Nick (although if my memory serves me correctly he replaced smile with “not kick a cat” but I believe smile has the same effect).

Nick’s approach to starting Saxbys as a hospitality focused coffee shop has led to his motto “get it right, then get it fast”. You are going to gain and keep more customers if you get their order right even if it takes an extra minute, than you will by serving a disappointing product quickly. Focusing on serving the customer with a smile and handing them a great product has lead Saxbys to the success it has today.

Our class learned a great deal from Nick and his incredible success story. We want to thank him for taking the time to speak with us and teaching us to “do what he didn’t do”.