How one local coffee company is bringing a global presence to Charlotte

By Jennifer Colter, Communications Director, Thompson Child & Family Focus
This article was originally published in the Charlotte Business Journal, Oct. 17,2019

Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day. That’s the equivalent of 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world, according to a Huffpost article. While this may surprise most of us, this is the kind of data that is paying off for one Charlotte business owner.

Meet Tony Santoro.

The former CMS teacher-turned-roaster-barista owner of Enderly Coffee is emerging as the region’s go-to source for coffee, consultation, equipment, training, and more. Like most entrepreneurs who experience the “lightbulb” moment, Santoro realized that the landscape in his chosen career, too, was shifting, and decided to make a change. For he and his wife, coffee is the tie that binds them. They fell in love over coffee more than a decade ago, and now it’s the integral element that fuels them (literally and figuratively) and their expanding business.

But founding a full-service coffee company with global partners wasn’t Enderly’s sole motivation when they set out to bring their endeavor to life. For Mr. and Mrs. Santoro, their goal is to have more than just customers and transactions. And it’s not just about selling a cup of coffee; they want guests to have authentic experiences when they step into Enderly. That experience could stem from a simple conversation or interaction with team member or another patron. Their mission is to humanize the customer or client experience. Kind of the way things were in the olden days — circa 2001.

I sat down with Santoro over a Guatemalan Finca Medina to learn more about Enderly’s “Why.” While doing things differently, doing more than what’s expected, and giving back are pillars in this entrepreneur’s business model, his approach to corporate social responsibility just might surprise you:

Is Enderly a coffee shop or a roasting company?

We started as roasting company and just sold to businesses around Charlotte. But we realized the value in being a 360-degree coffee company. We’re all-inclusive so we support farmers and growers by helping them with equipment, best practices, training, quality assurance, and sustainability — all in addition to running a brick and mortar, selling coffee, and hosting events that support other local product vendors.

A coffee shop in Enderly Park? That’s a unique location.

We wanted to create a sort of “staple” in a neighborhood that showed a lot of promise. We envisioned an entity that would bring positivity and new life to an area that needed a boost. We felt that we could create jobs and show residents what good and caring bosses were like.

Is it true that you help other entrepreneurs promote their products.

Absolutely! We understand how difficult it can be to find platforms and the means to promote your products; we provide space for other entrepreneurs to do pop-ups and special events to market and promote their products. Cultivating relationships and collaboration is how you build and elevate people and communities. When you invest in people — be it time, money, talent, or resources — everybody wins.

How did you fund your venture and prepare for the ups and downs startups experience?

Funding from investors wasn’t an option. Our operations were small and bootstrapped and instead of borrowing or seeking major investors, we focused on organic growth and made sacrifices. Seven years of laser-focused work and passion for our product was an experience that money can’t buy. By 2015, we were being 100% paid from the company.

Would you say that organic growth is key?

For us it is. Entrepreneurship isn’t cookie-cutter. The journey is often unique to each person and success is relative. We were and still are learning slowly and as we go along the way. For our business, having a slow growth mindset is proving effective because it’s allowing us to see and anticipate the pitfalls, and we’re building as we go. For us, slow and steady is keeping us in the race.

What does a typical day look like?

No two days are alike, but there are a large variety of items I address daily and that are critical to our operations. I’ll start by getting orders placed by wholesale customers; do some roasting and packing for distribution or shop work for supporting our clients; accounting, marketing, everything. Everyone on our team jumps in when and where needed. We are “all hands on deck” at all times.

With a Starbucks or Panera on every corner, are you seeing the benefits of being unique and independent? Do you feel you’re a better fit for this geographic area?

When I was canvassing potential areas, I understood that the neighborhood [Enderly Park] didn’t need me. I didn’t plan to swoop in like some superhero and save it. I just wanted our shop to reside in an area that would be a great mutual fit. Our plan was to provide a different option for people in the community and create a place they could call their own—and get an amazing cup of coffee. Like in any uptown area where the trendy cafes are on every corner, we wanted to give customers something else to set their eyes on and experience in their own back yards.

Was it an easy process?

Just like in life, your business is going to be faced with challenges. There were mixed emotions from residents; me trying to be a good neighbor, treating everyone with respect and kindness wasn’t immediately embraced. But with any good relationship, it takes time to build and trust is a factor. Slowly we began to break down stereotypes and barriers by getting people out of their comfort zones.

We’re happy to report that those community members are now our regulars. Our foundation. And they contribute to a good amount of our business.

How does corporate social responsibility play a role in Enderly’s game plan?

Giving back, being a socially responsible company that endeavors to make a real difference in people’s lives is what we strive for. While we’re not the type of enterprise to host galas and major events to raise awareness of the issues that impact Charlotte — or the world; we are, however, dedicated to contributing to the elevation of underrepresented communities and populations. Supporting our farmers and growers – from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Honduras and beyond – is our passion, as well as how we support local small business owners by hosting events at Enderly.

At the end of the day, coffee is what we love. It’s our business. But we also understand that coffee is more than just a product. It’s a thread that is creating the bigger piece that’s bringing people together and enhancing lives — from a village in Guatemala to Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We seek to encourage and inspire others to live for others. It is the best way to live,” said Santoro.