GREENSBORO — For Branson Linnens, the idea of starting a coffee shop percolated for years.
He was indecisive. He hopped between jobs — ones that had the potential to provide a steady paycheck and benefits, but didn’t quite fit his dream.
Still, he hesitated when it came to jumping into the coffee business, wondering if it’d be worth the risk.
“I would get down a lot of times because I felt like it was never going to happen,” Linnens, 25, said.
One day, he was wandering through his family’s land. When he was younger, his dad told him that he’d found arrowheads on the property. They were everywhere out there, he’d say, although Linnens never found one.
But it’s an area he liked to walk, so he did. That day, he was feeling particularly discouraged, wondering if he was going to be able to make his dream work.
“I was praying about it,” he said, “saying ‘please let me able to make this happen somehow.’”
While he was praying, he looked down and saw it.
“There was an arrowhead sitting there.”
That’s when he decided what to name his coffee shop. But Arrowhead Coffee Co. didn’t begin then and there.
Instead, Linnens waited, and somewhat by accident, wound up going after his dream business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, unwilling to put off what he wanted to do for any longer.
For now, Arrowhead Coffee Co. lives in a mobile cart, one that Linnens made with the help of his father-in-law. Linnens, often with his wife or other family member in tow, sets the cart up wherever he can. One of his regular spots is outside The Tiny Greenhouse on Beaman Place in Greensboro.
He’s got bigger plans, but for now, he’s glad to have made the leap he contemplated for years.
Linnens said his love for coffee has been “brewing, no pun intended” since he was a teenager, but when it came to his career, he’d always had a different plan.
After graduating high school, Linnens went to GTCC and got his associate degree in criminal justice with plans to become a law enforcement officer. He graduated from basic law enforcement training, but started having doubts, concerned about the climate surrounding law enforcement and the danger that comes with the job.
Near the end of 2016, “I got hired on with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office,” Linnens said. “Right before I really got in there, I had a change of heart.”
He called his captain and said he was sorry, but law enforcement wasn’t for him.
“That’s when the panic set in.”
Having turned down a career he’d worked toward for years, Linnens took a job at Chick-fil-A. He worked there for a while, but then he started thinking — what could he do other than law enforcement? He’d been a volunteer firefighter in high school and the plan was to enter law enforcement. Could he really change his mind now?
“Everybody just knew me as ‘public safety Branson.’ It was ingrained in my mind that was what I had to do.”
So he went back to applying for positions in law enforcement, but even after being accepted at Greensboro Police Department, he couldn’t bring himself to accept the job. He considered other agencies, including the Highway Patrol. He could have had his pick, but he kept going back and forth.
He said it was Ciara, his then soon-to-be-wife, who told him it wasn’t meant for him if he was so uncertain.
“She was right,” Linnens said.
So he took a job at Guilford Metro 911 in August 2019. It was a way he could help people, so it seemed like a good fit.
“But it wasn’t me,” he said. “I hated it.”
Sitting in a dark room for 12 hours with six computer screens in front of him wore him down quickly. Sure, he was helping people, but he wasn’t seeing anyone, and being able to meet and talk with people was one of the main reasons he had been drawn to law enforcement.
In January 2020, he and his wife married. The day before they came back from their honeymoon, they were sitting in St. Lucia, waiting for a shuttle, talking about coffee.
“I just said it,” he said. “I said, ‘I want to go work at a coffee shop. I want to own my own coffee business.’”
With the support of his wife, they agreed he’d quit his job and try to get on with a local shop to learn the business. Still waiting for a shuttle, he started emailing coffee shops. The day after they arrived home, he started work at a coffee shop in Graham.
“I told the guy there that I was leaving behind benefits, retirement and a credible job to come work in a coffee shop.”
It was a risk, but he loved it. He was learning, and when they opened a second location, they were planning on letting Linnens be in charge of it.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Like so many, Linnens’ hours were cut.
“Thankfully, Ciara had a good paying job,” he said. “She was basically supporting us, but she didn’t care. We didn’t care, because I was happy.”
Still, after months of hardly any work, Linnens stepped away from the coffee shop.
In the meantime, he kept making some money on the side with a small business he’s had since he was a teenager — a sticker and keychain Etsy shop linked to his popular Instagram, @ncoutdoorculture, which posts scenic North Carolina images. Sales from the Etsy shop are how he bought his wife’s engagement ring.
The world in chaos and with more uncertainty than ever before, Linnens decided to finally begin taking small steps in the direction of the career he really wanted.
He started making lists. What would he need to start his own coffee business? He spent a small fortune on a commercial espresso maker. Slowly, he started collecting all of the necessary pieces, like the espresso he’d use to make his drinks. He always knew it would be Hatchet Coffee — a Boone-based coffee company that began with the owners selling coffee out of the trunk of their car at farmer’s markets.
In early 2021, the cart built and the prospect of launching Arrowhead Coffee nearing, Linnens said he was often panicked at the thought of trying to begin during the pandemic.
“The closer we got to me starting, everything just started getting worse,” he said. “There were plenty of nights I was almost in tears because I was so close to chasing a dream, but how was I going to do this?
“It took me all those years to finally swallow my pride. I finally made that decision, but things were going sideways.”
He said he prayed a lot, told himself it was in God’s hands.
Slowly, with warmer weather nearing, events started picking up. With the pandemic in mind, most were outside, perfect for a mobile coffee cart designed for the outdoors.
Only a couple of months into the new venture, he said he’s found more success than he anticipated. He had his first event at the Winston-Salem Junction Market in March, and since, his weekends are booked. He stays on the lookout for more businesses like The Tiny Greenhouse, where he often sets his cart up on the sidewalk.
“My goal was to bring them more business, as well as myself,” he said. “Come to find out, that’s exactly what happened.”
Now that he’s in it, venturing down the career path that pulled him away from every other job, he said he’s still scared with every event, wondering if something will go wrong.
But he’s so glad he stopped waiting for that “right moment.”
“You never know until you try. It’s like having a kid. Are you ever really ready?”
And at each event, he knows he’s where he’s supposed to be, talking to people as he makes their lattes. Visiting coffee shops and chatting with the baristas was always one of his favorite parts of the coffee-going experience.
“Baristas can be almost like a therapist,” he said. “You just walk in and feel comfortable. I wanted to be that guy.”
Being in a position to help by listening to someone’s troubles had drawn him to law enforcement, but behind the coffee cart, he finds a way to do the same. After a year of being holed up at home, Linnens said people seem happier than ever to be out, talking with a stranger.
“If I can at least have a good conversation with someone while I’m making their coffee, that means the most to me.”
Looking ahead, Linnens hope to transition from the cart to a concession trailer, one that he can set up outside of Greensboro businesses on a regular schedule.
A permanent shop somewhere in the city.
Instead of a “first dollar” hanging on the wall behind the counter in his shop, he said he’ll hang something different:
Linnens isn’t the only one to start a new business during the pandemic. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, startup business activity grew in the United States last year, from 3.5 million startups in 2019 to 4.4 million in 2020, a 24% increase.
Locally, plenty of other people chose the pandemic as the time to launch a small business. Here’s a look at three of them:
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, people turned to outdoor events, with guidance from health officials suggesting the virus was less transmittable outside.
Puja Oza Vora, 26, took that into consideration when thinking about how she could put her event planning and tablescaping skills to work during the pandemic.
“With the pandemic, I started having these small wine parties at my house,” Oza Vora said. “I thought about how neat it would be if I could just pick everything up and deliver that for someone.”
She began putting together a website and social media presence for Picnicscaping, gathering the supplies needed to create a luxury picnic experience for small groups of people.
“It’s just safer right now,” Oza Vora said. “People would rather be outside and it’s secluded.”
Her background includes a landscape architecture degree from N.C. A&T, as well as wedding planning. Weddings and large events came to a standstill, and though she still maintained work helping manage her family’s gas station business, she wanted to find a way to continue utilizing her passion for event planning.
Though the picnics can be for any occasion or no occasion at all, she sees luxury picnics as a way to still celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and engagements in a pandemic-friendly and unique environment.
“You just come, enjoy your time and don’t have to lift a finger.”
Her basic picnic packages start at $175, with prices increasing with number of picnic guests and special ad-ons like catering.
The picnics can be set up at people’s homes — she even put together an indoor picnic for a couple when the weather wouldn’t cooperate in February — or at downtown Greensboro parks, like LeBauer Park. Oza Vora is currently in talks with Greensboro Parks and Recreation with hopes of being granted permission to have picnics at city parks.
“Why not treat yourself?” Oza Vora said. “Why not let yourself have a luxurious experience?”
Looking for custom, unique rings?
NYA Hippie has you covered.
Harlee Warner, 25, started the hand-stamped ring, keychain and suncatcher online shop in late 2019, but when the pandemic began, she had to completely rework her business.
Back when she started the shop with the help of her fiancé, she was selling a completely different set of products — salt lamps, essential oils, bracelets. But their products were outsourced, and as soon as COVID-19 hit, shipping and receiving items for the shop became “a nightmare,” Warner said.
“I wanted to be able to have control and do it all from my own home,” Warner said.
“So basically,” she said, “I just flipped the business upside down.”
NYA — it stands for Not Your Average — Hippie went through a transitional phase around June 2020, with Warner trying her hand at hand stamping, a technique that involves marking pieces with unique designs by hammering a stamp into metal.
Able to produce an entirely new line of products from the comfort of her she-shed at home, Warner eliminated the products she was outsourcing from her online store and began marketing an entire new line of products — mainly rings and keychains, all of which she hand stamped herself.
“Once I got started, it was so much easier handling the products, the shipping. I’m able to do it all by myself.”
Warner first began NYA Hippie after working at her fiancé’s family restaurant for several years. Before then, she completed a two-year medical assisting program at GTCC, but knew by the time she was done she didn’t want to pursue a career in the medical field.
Neither she nor her fiancé went to school for business, so when they began tinkering with the idea of starting an online shop, they taught themselves along the way.
The idea to call the shop NYA Hippie popped into her head early on.
“We are hippie, free people,” Warner said, referring to herself and her fiancé. “But we’re not just your average hippie.
“People back in the day would associate it with drugs and dropouts, but it’s involved into a different meaning — just kind, loving people. Not your average just made sense to me.”
Her fiancé has since returned to his family’s restaurant, leaving Warner to manage the business on her own. She’s found success, fulfilling orders from across the country.
Worried what others might think, Warner didn’t share her small business success on her social media until just recently.
“After I did, the reaction that I got was not what I was expecting,” she said. “I thought nobody was going to care. But I actually got quite a few orders from people I knew.”
Warner said she doesn’t know exactly what NYA Hippie will evolve into in the future, but for now, she knows she’s doing what brings her joy.
“You spend half of your life working, so you might as well be happy with what you’re doing.”
Bloom Botanical Co.
Taylor Greeson was among those whose day jobs were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When almost all travel came to a halt last year, Greeson, a flight attendant, was left with extra time. She went months at a time without working, leading her to seek out a way to supplement the loss of income.
She’d had a passion for plants for several years, ever since she moved into her first one-bedroom apartment and slowly filled the tiny space with over 50 plants. Back then, she was working as a hairstylist on a budget. She wanted plant hangers, but they were expensive.
“So I started watching videos on YouTube and made them all myself.”
At the start of the pandemic, Greeson, 25, learned about propagating plants. She decided to put her skills to work, selling the plants she grows on Facebook Marketplace.
“I realized just how much other people loved plants, too,” Greeson said, so she decided to take it a step further.
Greeson started off by getting her business license and creating a name — Bloom Botanical Co. She struggled to find a wholesale plant supplier — there was a national plant shortage at the time, she said — but eventually found the perfect one.
She created an online Etsy shop, one where she can sell her handmade plant hangers, and began setting up pop-up shops at local vendor markets this spring.
Greeson said she enjoys selling on Etsy, but nothing compares to being able to meet people at the pop-ups who share her same love of plants.
“It makes me so happy seeing how excited people get when they’re taking home a new plant baby.”
Though she wouldn’t mind making Bloom Botanical Co. a full-time job at some point, for now, Greeson loves being a flight attendant. She plans to keep on with spring and summer pop-ups as a side business and continue selling plant hangers from the Etsy shop year-round.
“I will just have to see where life takes me.”
Contact Jamie Biggs at 336-373-4476 and follow @JamieBiggsNR on Twitter.