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Lazy Daze Coffee House: Coffeehouse brews niche market for itself Independent shop welcomes competition, even from industry giants like Starbucks

August 21, 2006

Lazy Daze is the brainchild of Jeff Coppinger, a 34-year-old Howe High School graduate who returned home after serving in the U.S. Navy. He's working on a major in political science and a minor in philosophy at IUPUI, a good foundation for creating a coffeehouse that "crafts the art of conversation," as he puts it.

Coppinger and his wife, Shelly, live in Irvington and frequented the Monon Coffee House in Broad Ripple until he asked himself a critical question while driving home one Sunday: Why not open a coffeehouse closer to home?

So in early 2001, he paid a visit to the local SCORE office, where he met with volunteer business counselors who "didn't tell me how to do it, but told me what I needed to do to get it done," Coppinger said. Although he had worked in restaurants while attending college, he had no idea how to start a business.

The first task was to prepare a formal business plan. He got books on the subject from the library and started writing. He finished it seven months later.

Coppinger's philosophy studies came in handy when he was turned down for financing 16 times.

"I read that Albert Einstein said he was no smarter than any other person and the only thing that set him apart was his persistence to never give up," he said. "Any time I try to do anything, I never give up until I get it."

Persistence finally paid off when Coppinger secured an SBA-backed loan for $32,000 from Huntington Bank.

He opened Lazy Daze in October 2003 and says the coffeehouse has made a profit ever since-despite skeptics who said it would be impossible to get started with such a small budget.

Coppinger did a lot of work himself, but hired contractors to install counters and plumbing and build a small storage and office area. His biggest expense by far was the $7,000 espresso machine, the mainstay of the business.

The father of three says his biggest challenge early on was time management, balancing 60 to 70 hour workweeks and a growing family. He also had to contend with cramped space-a mere 800 square feet that he leases in a building just south of Washington Street on Johnson Avenue.

In the spring of 2004, he built a deck to expand outside seating. As business increased, he hired five employees-all Irvington residents. This year, he expects to see revenue of $170,000.

Coppinger knows he needs to expand again to provide more seating; he'd also like to add a conference room and performance space for musicians. He's been talking to the owner of an adjacent business, but no decision has been made.

With the 800-pound coffee gorilla-Starbucks-posed to open its first Irvington store a few blocks away, is Coppinger worried?

"I think it's great that Starbucks is coming into the Irvington area because it says a lot for Irvington," he replied. "There's room for Starbucks customers and my customers because-not meaning it in a negative way-Starbucks is like the fast food of the coffee industry."

Coppinger says his focus on customer service and serving only organic and freetrade coffee sets him apart.

"Because Starbucks is so big and corporate, they're more interested in the bottom line," he said. "While I'm interested in making a profit because I am in business, I'm more socially conscious."

Irvington resident and Anderson University student Kathryn Fackenthal says that being "non-corporate" is precisely why she's a frequent customer. Lazy Daze also is a peaceful place to "relax and clear your head," she added.

And with free WiFi, the coffeehouse is a favorite place for students and businesspeople to work and study while enjoying a cup of coffee.

In addition to coffee and tea, Lazy Daze serves eight flavors of ice cream and freshly baked scones, bagels and muffins from The Bread Ladies in Greenfield.

Donna Johnson, a co-owner of the bakery, says the businesses share the same philosophy.

"It's family first and business follows," she said.

As for Coppinger, he sees a renaissance for Irvington, a community he envisions as "an artistic Broad Ripple without the bar atmosphere," and he's happy to be part of that revitalization.


Jeff Coppinger wants to expand Lazy Daze Coffee House in historic Irvington.
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