Local business owners talk openings, expansions during pandemic

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Betty Martinez-Sperry, the owner of Cuban Cousins Cafe, opened her business less than a year ago, making the pandemic her normal.

While many local businesses struggled and were forced to make adjustments during the pandemic, two Black Mountain proprietors say the timing of the COVID-19 surge actually allowed them to succeed. 

The local business owners discussed the challenges and surprising success of opening or expanding during the global pandemic. 

"It's a challenging time to be doing business," said Andy Gibbon, the owner of Dynamite Roasting Co.

Betty Martinez-Sperry, the owner of Cuban Cousins Cafe, began remodeling the building which would house her business directly as the pandemic started. However, she said this didn't change her plans. 

"I always wanted it to be a very casual cafe," Martinez-Sperry said. "I felt very confident in our initial business plan and the set up, and we'd have a lot of to-go items, would still work during the pandemic."

The cafe owner also credits her success with her particularly niche market. Additionally, given that her business opened in October of 2020, she didn't have to alter her business to fit with new guidelines. 

"I always say we opened and the pandemic was our normal," Martinez-Sperry said. 

Knowing how to prepare for the pandemic without having to alter the cafe's set up or protocols allowed Martinez-Sperry to conduct her business without adjustment. 

"It was risky to open during that but it was an advantage that we already knew everything we had to deal with," she said. 

Dynamite Roasting Co. expanded to a new location in January, during the height of the pandemic.

Dynamite Roasting Co. reopened at a new location in January during the height of the pandemic. Gibbon agreed that the planning ahead translated to success at the new location. 

"It was almost a two-year project," Gibbon said. "If we had waited a year and we were in the middle of the pandemic when we started to make plans, I think we wouldn't have had the courage to pull the trigger."

According to Gibbon, the equipment Dynamite required had been ordered just before factories shut down due to the pandemic, and the business was able to secure everything necessary for continuing at the new location. 

While moving during the pandemic was not preferred, since Dynamite had already put the plans in motion and with money on the line, Gibbon said he had no choice but to push forward. 

"There really wasn't any turning back," he said. "And luckily it worked out."

Since the old location was operating at capacity, Dynamite was unable to distribute any additional products other than what was already being offered. Gibbon said the expansion has allowed the business to reach out to new customers, as well as extend the availability of products offered. 

Gibbon said considering most of his clientele consists of service industry employees, business has presented additional challenges throughout the onset of COVID-19. He said the old facility and its equipment had reached capacity, and the business was definitely in need of an upgrade to a larger space. 

Cuban Cousins Cafe opened less than a year ago, making the pandemic their normal.

Cuban Cousins followed COVID-19 protocols throughout the initial shutdown, requiring masks, social distancing and making most of their sales through takeout. While dine-in numbers went up for the cafe as things began to re-open, Martinez-Sperry said her business saw surprising success even from the beginning.

As local officials prepare protocols to maintain safety with the onset of the delta variant of the virus, Martinez-Sperry said thanks to the preparation Cuban Cousins had at the beginning of the pandemic, she's confident they can remain open. 

"As a business, you kind of have to take it a day at a time," Martinez-Sperry said. 

The original Dynamite location was shut down for two months at the onset of the pandemic, yet according to Gibbon, the need for coffee never diminished. Dynamite transitioned to just take-out and to-go orders, only reopening their dine-in option in July. 

Online sales became key for the coffee roasters, who also turned toward their grocery partners in an effort to keep the business up and running during the pandemic. 

"Things continue to be a little uncertain but everybody loves a good cup of coffee," Gibbon joked. "Being in this town, strong local support, good tourist support helps us weather the storm."