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Royal Bean redux: Yarmouth coffee shop reopens as multi-owner collective

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Royal Bean redux: Yarmouth coffee shop reopens as multi-owner collective

YARMOUTH — After nearly shutting its doors, a last-minute effort by a hastily formed group of neighbors and patrons has acquired the Royal Bean on Main Street, forming a new coffeehouse collective.

The coffee and tea shop's 17 new owners will have varying levels of involvement, with three directing day-to-day operations with the help of a manager, veteran and rookie employees.

The cafe closed last Friday and through the weekend to paint, hang art, redesign new menu boards and make other renovations, and reopened Monday morning.

"I'm pretty excited about handing it off to the community to come in and continue to build what I started and make it a new, but still have it be the same community coffee shop," said Jim Meek, the former owner and now part owner of the coffee shop, who had been trying to sell the business for about six months. "It's a great outcome and a lot better than closing." 

Meek, who was working more than 60 hours a week at the cafe, said his future role in the business is undefined, but he'll continue to work as an employee during the transition period.

"I'm looking forward to the personal time and to reconnecting with family and friends," he said. "It'll be a new face for the Royal Bean. It's a pretty rare thing when a community comes together to save a thing they believe is a community asset."

The idea for collaborative ownership came up a few weeks ago between four of the shop's regular patrons, who heard a potential buyer had disappeared and that the shop might close.

"There was a lot of us around just watching the months tick by," said Kent Simmons, a Freeport resident, who not only frequents the coffee shop, but also owns Freeport Coffee Roasters, which supplies the shop's coffee. "Was somebody going to keep the Royal Bean around, or was it going to turn into an office? Nobody wanted to see it go away."

"We we're sitting there thinking, man, next week this place is going to close," Simmons continued. "We got on the phone and five days later, we had 16 people."

The small group sent out a two-page letter on an e-mail listserv inviting people to come to a meeting about potentially buying the business and put together some financial projections, said Rebecca Rundquist, one of the three partners directing daily operations.

A group of about 12 people attended the meeting and they began moving forward, finding more investors later in the week. They rounded up enough investors and collectively used their different abilities to purchase the coffee shop about a week ago as a limited liability company, Rundquist said.

An LLC is business structure that allows multiple members to own the company, with limited liability for debt.

"My interest was to have a nonprofit, co-op, community side of it," she said.  "But with an LLC, there were other people who said we can make money off this. It's serving kind of both, now, some people are in it because of the team and it's fun, and also because we can make money."

The major immediate changes the group has made to the coffee shop is installing an art gallery that will cycle local artists' work. They're also going to work to have an ongoing set of events, like poetry readings, music and comedy. They may also extend the hours to be open at night and could potentially accommodate some outdoor seating during the summer.

The shop is also working with some nearby businesses to bring in Maine-based food, including Frosty's Donuts, which investor Rob Billings will provide until they establish a more efficient system.

Simmons, a health-care conference organizer who roasts coffee on the side, said the group has a wide range of abilities, all of which will come into play as they move forward with operations.

"It's amazing to be in these meetings and have a lawyer there and have another person say, 'hey, I'm a carpenter,' or 'I'm a risk manager'," he said. "How often does a small business get to have access to all that?"

Matt Owen, one of the three operations managers, is originally from Maine, but lived in Seattle for 12 years. He said he invested in the shop mainly because it has high-quality coffee.

"Whenever I come back to Maine, I always look for good coffee," Owen said, who envisions his role in the business as the "coffee czar," but will also handle vendor relations and check writing. "When I happened into Maine five or six months ago, I was delighted to find this coffee shop in the town I was going to live."

"My first value was the quality of the coffee and I didn't want to see it go away," he continued. "I really want it to be what they call the 'third place' – a place that's not work or home, where you can interact differently with people than you do at home and work."

Although the investors agreed that it'll take time to work out the kinks, they said the employees who have stayed on during the transition have made it possible.

"It's been smooth," said Matt Knuppel, who's worked at the coffee shop for about two years. "So far, so good."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.