Arkansas Money & Politics starts off its new series on Arkansas entrepreneurs with Kyle Tabor, the owner and founder of Blue Sail Coffee.
At age 26, Kyle Tabor has opened three coffee shops and a roastery in central Arkansas.
Tabor is the mind – and the driving force – behind Blue Sail Coffee, a Conway coffee shop that turned into two shops in the city of 65,000, then expanded into downtown Little Rock. He had the idea for a coffee shop while attending the University of Central Arkansas, one of Conway’s three colleges, but it didn’t exactly come to him while he was on campus.
“I wanted to open a coffee shop after a backpacking trip I took to Italy,” he says.
Tabor fell in love not with coffee itself, but with what he saw in coffee shops abroad.
“It was something that added value to the community. I’d never seen anything like that before outside of church,” he says. Tabor knew that churches don’t always feel approachable for those who aren’t members, or who have different belief systems, so he turned to coffee to cultivate his community.
“Coffee is just a way to bring [people] there, but my actual goal is to bring them there,” he says. “Coffee is the how to my why. Why is people, how is coffee.”
He wanted that community to be in Conway; bringing it to Little Rock came later.
“I really felt the need for Conway to have a coffee shop,” he says.
So in 2014, three months after Tabor graduated, he opened one.
Tabor majored in business and marketing at UCA, which he says helped him start Blue Sail. The idea for the first shop came to him while he was at school, and certain class projects “facilitated the idea,” he says.
The university has continued to be a source of support for Tabor; his second location opened in UCA’s Donaghey Hall in September 2016.
“They gave me the opportunity to open a brand new store right next to campus,” he says, and he’s grateful.
The downtown Little Rock location opened in April 2017, Tabor says. The expansion didn’t catch him by surprise; once he opened the first store it “was always the plan” to open more, he says.
There might be one or two more Blue Sail locations in the future, but Tabor has his hands full at the moment with three shops and the roastery, which is located inside the original Blue Sail location but operates separately.
“Right now the plan is to settle in and optimize the three stores that I have and maybe one day I’ll open another store,” he says.
Running all the locations at once isn’t as bad as you’d think, Tabor says – but only because he has help.
“It’s not bad at all because I have some really awesome people running many of the operations for me,” he says. “I couldn’t do it without them. I have no idea how I found them – they found me and I am extremely blessed to have the best people working for me.”
Tabor says he became an entrepreneur because he wanted to have an effect on his community.
“You can’t really make an impact in your community if you’re in the backseat,” he says.
Others’ doubts didn’t phase him, nor did the opinions of those who underestimated him.
“I just have an ‘I can do anything I can put my mind to’ attitude,” he says. “I never really had any doubt that I could follow through with it. “
Still, starting a business isn’t without its challenges, however optimistic Tabor may be. At the beginning, those challenges were “operational”; it takes awhile to learn how to run a business. Now, they’re more leadership-centered.
You have to take care of your people, he says.
“Make them feel safe. Make them feel inspired. Make them feel appreciated.”
That can be hard to do when you’re balancing the needs of your people and the needs of your business.
For those who want to start their own business, Tabor says to “seek relevant consulting, but also don’t overthink it.”
“You can easily overthink it,” he says. “Just get a good mentor and pull the trigger.”
Disclosure: This writer also attended the University of Central Arkansas.
Photography by Sara Edwards Neal