In 2010, Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down. In 2021, he opened his very own coffee shop.
This month we celebrate the opening of LeGrand’s Coffee House and its founder, Eric LeGrand. LeGrand has been a Bellissimo Coffee Advisors client for the past few months, and I got to chat with him about his journey so far.
LeGrand Coffee House’s online storefront opened just a couple weeks ago to spectacular sales out of the gate, and LeGrand plans on opening a retail location in his hometown of New Jersey this summer.
Eric LeGrand’s Story
In 2008, Eric LeGrand began a promising football career at Rutgers where he racked up tackle after tackle as a defensive lineman. LeGrand’s game seemed to be getting better and better only for it to be tragically cut short in 2010. While playing against the Army Black Knights, he performed a tackle that fractured his C3 and C4 vertebrae. Just like that, LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down, and the doctors were not optimistic about his recovery.
But Eric was determined to get better. Just a year after his accident, Eric was starting to regain feeling in his body through rigorous rehab and was able to rejoin his team for a home game at Rutgers. Just a few months after that, LeGrand was able to stand with the help of a brace and regained some sensation in his hands.
“After I fractured my C3 and C4 vertebrae 10 years ago, things weren’t always looking like they were going to shape up into what they have now,” LeGrand told me. “But I’ve been able to overcome many obstacles that the doctors told me I would never be able to. I was 20 years old when I got hurt, but God willing if I’m living a nice long life, I don’t want to be miserable. I want to be my same happy self I’ve always been.”
LeGrand’s recovery continued and he became an author, inspirational speaker, and philanthropist, receiving numerous awards. He is also a regular sportscaster for Rutgers.
So how did all this lead to Eric opening up a coffee shop?
How LeGrand Coffee House Came to Be
“It’s funny because I hadn’t had my first cup of coffee until [last year],” LeGrand said. “My whole family are coffee drinkers, you can’t talk to my mother before she’s had her two cups of coffee in the morning, but I just never felt like I needed it… Anyway, I knew this independent roaster who kept telling me ‘You gotta try this!’ Well finally I did and went ‘Woah, what have I been missing for the last 29 years of my life.’” The seed for LeGrand Coffee House had been planted.
A short while later, the seed grew. “[The concept for LeGrand Coffee House] all started in a group chat with friends sharing pictures of their coffee,” LeGrand told me. “I wanted to find a way to unite a community,” an especially admirable goal during the pandemic that has kept us isolated for so long. Early on LeGrand decided he would start by launching his online store first. “I wanted to take this brand nationally,” he said. The plan was to open online first, get a solid infrastructure in place, then open a retail location (a strategy similar to Samantha Ribb of Chug Coffee at a much larger scale).
Deciding to focus exclusively on the online sales turned out to be absolutely the right call. In just two weeks, LeGrand Coffee House has been consistently flooded with orders. “Shipping is something we’ve had to learn more about quickly,” LeGrand told me. “We’ve had to figure out how to be really efficient and keep costs down because you can get destroyed in shipping costs.” Now LeGrand is looking for a larger space to base his shipping operations out of. “It’s a good problem to have,” he said.
We’re immensely proud of Eric’s success because it perfectly represents what we set out to do here at Bellissimo Coffee Advisors: help you succeed in specialty coffee.
“I Googled you,” Eric told me, laughing, “and I was able to get on the phone with Matt, and I was sold. [Bellissimo] has been absolutely amazing and my coffee shop would not be where it is right now without your help. Matt’s been over the top, jumping on calls with retail brokers and just being there every step of the way.”
To get up to speed as fast as possible, Eric went through our coffee startup business course and had several consulting sessions with our team. His advice to anyone looking to open a coffee shop soon is to “Educate yourself as much as possible. I get all kinds of questions now and it’s important to know what you’re talking about.”
“Obviously being my first coffee endeavour, I was a little bit nervous.” LeGrand told me. “But having Matt there and the knowledge I got from Bellissimo made people realize ‘Oh, this guy’s in good hands. He’s going to be alright.’”
The future of LeGrand Coffee House
I asked Eric more about his plans for his retail location in the summer. “Of course my home town is going to love it, but I want it to be a destination,” LeGrand told me. “If people are drinking our coffee all throughout the entire country and they ever come to New Jersey, I want them to stop by the shop and check it out.”
With any meaningful end to the pandemic still a ways off, I asked Eric how he would be adapting his shop to account for COVID restrictions. “We’re in the process of planning things right now,” LeGrand said. “We’re definitely looking at walk-up orders and outdoor seating.”
Besides planning for COVID, LeGrand is hoping to incorporate an even more unique design decision. “I’m trying to make the whole place wheelchair accessible,” Eric told me. “Even behind the bar.” His goal is to be able to employ wheelchair bound baristas. “I want to show that it’s still possible for people in the disabled community to seek out work and even run a business.”
LeGrand’s story is incredibly inspiring. I finished up by asking him about any future plans for LeGrand Coffee house. “I see multiple locations. The sky is the limit,” he said, and so far it certainly seems that way. Between a stellar few opening weeks and national media attention, LeGrand Coffee House is getting some serious buzz. Actor Bryan Cranston even posted a picture of himself drinking from LeGrand Coffee House mug on Twitter.
“Oh yeah I’m pretty good friends with [Bryan Cranston] because of the movie he made called The Upside. He came to my rehab facility to talk to me and study how I move for the role,” Eric told me.
At Bellissimo we believe anyone can open a coffee shop with enough commitment and dedication to learning. The pandemic has hit the coffee industry especially hard, but it’s people like Eric who inspire us and prove that it’s all still possible. We couldn’t be happier for Eric, and can’t wait to see what’s next for LeGrand Coffee House. You can check out the LeGrand Coffee House website here, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
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