Get Your FixHeartbreak Coffee, the brainchild of Ole Miss alum Gretchen Williams, has Oxford buzzing.
BY ETHEL MWEDZIWENDIRA
PHOTOS BY PAUL GANDY
On any given day, Gretchen Williams can be seen performing every important role at Heartbreak Coffee—roaster, marketer, barista, and occasionally, woodworker.
She toils in her warehouse near Highway 7, entertaining herself for hours at a time, recording 30-second coffee roasts on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
The Ole Miss graduate’s coffee journey is unforeseen and starts 1,600 away in Long Beach, California, where she fell in love with the beauty of coffee and its industry. Time after time the universe gave her signs to not continue but she did, anyhow. With limited knowledge of roasting and operating a business, Williams bought a little half-sized roaster, a half beige and off-white Volkswagen bus, and explored the many triumphs and heartbreaks of being a business owner.
A spontaneous coffee-cupping gathering with friends in late 2014 inspired the concept of Heartbreak Coffee. Williams, and her then girlfriend had a small gathering in their backyard and towards the end of the night the idea of a business commenced.
“I had four different origins of beans and had everyone try them and rank them by five’s to get feedback,” Williams says. Shortly after, news buzzed around town and demands rose creating a snowball effect. “We literally didn’t sleep for two weeks straight after that because we were trying to get people coffee. I started thinking, maybe it would actually be a business and I could start making money doing this.”
Williams served as the brains behind the coffee, while her girlfriend ran the marketing and design – from Instagram to painting the logo on their mobile business. The collaborated efforts of the couple brought the business success. But with the success came defeat.
And that’s how the company’s name was born.
The name is a tribute to Williams’ journey in coffee, from might-have-beens to opportunities that failed, completely. A series of events is what Williams ultimately credits the name to. After the company was established, and the name created, came the journey of getting a storefront. The general rule of thumb was to get a space that was affordable. Heartbreak was close to moving into a 12,000 sq. ft place that would comfortably seat coffee craving customers because to Williams, creating conversation with coffee and bringing people together was important. 12,000 sq. ft shortly turned into 900 sq. ft and Williams failed to progress. In the two and a half years since the business had been created everything suddenly came to a halt. Then came the loss of her business partner. So, Williams packed her bags and moved back to Oxford last September, a foodie town where her company would be accepted.
“When I turned 30 I was thinking of a lot. I was thinking how I was over the hustle of L.A. just the lifestyle – the constant go go go,” Williams says.
She gave herself the choice of directing the business like how she had in the past, where it wasn’t supposed to be a business, or operating the company like an actual business. Like California, Oxford had everything to offer for a business owner but for a much cheaper price.
“I probably work harder here than I did out there, but I was ready for a slower paced and more affordable life. I feel like since I moved back my life has become slowed down for me to catch up with things which has been nice and refreshing.”
She finds joy in roasting her beans, comparing the process to wine and making the beans distinct from her competitors. For the coffee to be considered a specialty it has to be grated at a certain level. By roasting lighter than any of her competitors in town Williams is able to extenuate the naturalness and nuances of her products.
The craft to Williams is also like bread.
“You can have all these different types of bread, sourdough, rye, or cinnamon raisin, even whole wheat, and if they’re toasted to perfection with some butter then it’s going to taste delicious and you’re going to taste all different ingredients, but if you’re going to leave them in the toaster then you’ll taste the burntness of the toast.”
Her brew methods are different and so is the operation of the business.
As it did in Long Beach, the business operates in the microbus and does pop-ups. In Oxford, Williams stops at the University Museum and the Farmer’s Market once a week. The concept makes for a social experience for people and brings them together. Every Tuesday Williams loads the bus with beans, a roaster, and two items she believes create a community – a tent and chairs.
It’s a powerful thing – coffee. And being an entrepreneur is just as powerful, even at times challenging.
For Williams you’ve got to love the process and what you do enough for it to consume your life because it’s never ending.
“It’s rewarding though and at the end of the night, I am exhausted when I lay my head down but I’m grateful to do what I love.”