According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.9% of all U.S. businesses. What’s more, Utah has been credited as the most pro-small business state in America, thanks to our state’s pro-business initiatives and support systems. Each month, the Salt Lake Chamber will highlight a small business in Utah to emphasize its importance in our economy and encourage local support.  

For many entrepreneurs, the hardest part of running a successful business is starting it — identifying a need, finding a customer base and marketing a product. But for Carl and Lori Churchill, founders of Alpha Coffee, their small business seemed to fall into their laps just when they needed it most. 

“I was a partner in a software as a service (SaaS) business, serving the construction mortgage industry back in the 2000s until the Great Recession hit,” Carl explained. “We went from a 10 million dollar offer to nothing, and then we went bankrupt.”

The financial crisis brought Carl and Lori back to square one in their careers, with only their savings to support them. The couple decided to sit down and talk about what to do next while drinking coffee brewed from beans roasted by Lori’s brother-in-law when Carl had an idea.

“My brother-in-law, Josh, had just won a roasting award in Washington state,” Carl recalled. “We were drinking some of his coffee, and I said, ‘Hey, babe, I have a crazy idea.’”

Lori agreed, and in 2010, the couple cashed out their life savings to run an online coffee company out of their basement. Josh provided coffee beans roasted to perfection, and Carl and Lori managed the website. Their two kids even pitched in, learning how to package and attach mailing labels for incoming orders. 

“It was a way for us to turn a really bad situation into something positive,” Carl said. “We bet on ourselves.”

Their coffee business continued to grow larger and larger as Carl and Lori accumulated regular orders and loyal customers. In 2016, they agreed that they were too big for their basement, so they bet on themselves once again and opened their first physical location at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

“We wanted to build a coffee business that was different,” Carl explained. “We weren’t looking for a drive through. We were looking for a way to build community and give back.”

Through Alpha Coffee’s Grounds for Good program, Carl and Lori were able to do exactly that. They began donating over 10% of their profits to organizations supporting veterans, the community and the planet. They continued their longtime Coffee for Troops program, sending thousands of bags of coffee to deployed service members at no cost.

“We’ve donated over $100,000 to nonprofits and sent over 22,000 bags of coffee to deployed troops,” Carl said. “And because Lori and I both love nature, we’ve been big supporters of outdoor recreation and protecting wild places for all of us to enjoy.”

Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, VETPAW, The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Foundation are just a few of the organizations that Alpha Coffee is able to support through the Grounds for Good program. It’s not just nonprofits that the coffee business is able to support, either — Carl and Lori make sure that other local and small businesses have a place to shine at Alpha Coffee.

“When you come into our coffee shop, you are supporting at least 10 other small local businesses, whether they be our two local bakers, Ritual chocolate company, the local beekeepers who we get our honey products from, or other local beverage companies like Luma Juice or Mamachari Kombucha,” Carl said. “For us, it’s really important that we support other small businesses to keep money local and build financial resiliency within the community.”

Keeping in line with their mission to build community, Alpha Coffee also works to provide meaningful and educational employment to its staff. Since the majority of their staff are younger individuals, Carl and Lori ensure they have access to healthcare options, bonus programs and learning opportunities.

“Owning a small business allows you to provide people with jobs and livelihoods, and it has allowed Lori and I to connect with the youngest generation in a way that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” Carl said. “We’ve had people that started as baristas who are now part of our executive management team. That’s really satisfying for us.”

Most recently, Alpha Coffee opened a second physical location in the heart of Salt Lake City. Despite being one of the newest coffee shops downtown, the business has already become one of the most highly-rated in the area, according to Google Reviews.

“We always say that good things happen over coffee,” Carl said. “That’s our goal at both locations. We want people to come and meet and have a cup of coffee and connect.”

Alpha Coffee is a veteran and woman co-owned company dedicated to offering customers awesome coffee, promoting the warrior lifestyle, providing the highest levels of service, and giving back to veterans, the planet and the community. Click here to support their small business.