By David Singleton The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Yoga studio owner Chelsea Manganaro opened a cafe behind her studio to provide healthier food choices to on-the-go customers. But for this Pennsylvania entrepreneur, the cafe is much more than a place to grab a bite...it is a place for people to connect.
When Nearme Yoga founder and owner Chelsea Manganaro decided in 2014 to turn her passion into a business, her intention was not just to open a studio but to create a community of like-minded people with yoga at its core.
That's why the original business plan for her Nearme studio at 700 Main St. envisioned renovating and repurposing unused space at the back of the building as a tea room.
"I was trying to connect people after class because there is not a lot of talking that happens in yoga. I was trying to figure out a way we can create that community," Manganaro said. "It would be tea and maybe some cookies or something for sale -- nothing crazy."
The tea room never materialized for a variety of reasons, but four years later, something else did: Nearme Cafe.
Now, less than six months after Manganaro opened the cafe behind her studio to provide healthier food choices to on-the-go customers in the Downvalley, the small restaurant and coffee shop just expanded both its menu offerings and its hours of operation.
Effective Saturday, the cafe, which had operated daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
"We will progress, I think, into a lot more people knowing about it -- not just because our food is good, but because people need this," Manganaro, 29, Moscow, said. "They need a place where they can grab healthy options, fresh and quick options, that are not that easy to find around here."
The cafe, which employs 10 people part time, represents something of a natural progression for the young entrepreneur, who holds dual degrees in finance and operations management from the University of Scranton and has worked full time in the finance sector for the past eight years.
Her parents both owned businesses, she said, and she "kind of grew up with a small business mindset."
"It's always been in my nature to want to own a business, and it really came down to what I'm passionate about," Manganaro said. "It took a few years to figure out what the best business to open was and what this area needed most."
She followed up the 2014 opening of her Nearme studio in Moosic -- in a former call center building she purchased to house the business -- with the launch of the Northeast Pennsylvania Yoga Festival in 2015 and the opening of a second Nearme Yoga studio in Peckville later that year.
Manganaro said she had so many things up in the air around that time, including a Wilkes-Barre studio that ultimately didn't pan out, that she didn't rush forward with the planned tea room. Although she is not somebody who says no to opportunity, she said, it was "just a little too fast and not the right direction."
"Then, when I decided I still wanted to pursue my (finance) career, I needed to adjust," she said. "There are just not enough hours in the day."
However, opportunity presented itself again when a prospective tenant who wanted the area at the back of Nearme Yoga for an art studio got cold feet. Manganaro said she and her boyfriend, Scott Jacoby, who manages the cafe, had already started renovating the space at that point.
"I said let's rip it up and see what happens," Manganaro said. "That's when the cafe came into full swing." Drawing her inspiration mostly from a similar restaurant she became "obsessed with" when she lived and worked in San Diego in 2012-13, she decided the cafe would offer healthy, freshly made food -- such as wraps, sandwiches and bowls -- "that you just run in quick, grab it and leave," she said.
"It definitely has developed into something a little bit more than I planned, but in a good way. I wanted to have a grab-and-go cafe, but in the months we have been open, we have realized everyone walks in and just sits down to eat. So it's not the grab-and-go setting, which is fine. It's just that we had to make adjustments."
She said the main change is a menu with more variety than she initially envisioned -- variety that is growing as the cafe adds more made-to-order items to supplement its grab-and-go staples, which include vegan and gluten-free options.
She's also trying to understand the cycles of customer preferences.
While it is not difficult to guess why the chicken chili that everyone wanted when the cafe opened in February is less popular in midsummer, it's far more difficult to understand why demand for the cafe's vegan House Sandwich can fluctuate sharply from one month to the next, she said.
Although there has been a healthy crossover between the yoga studio and the cafe, with people new to one checking out the other, marketing is another aspect of the business she needs to work on, she said.
"Getting the word out that we're new and we're here -- that's kind of the next step," Manganaro said. "Marketing is, I think, the hardest part in business altogether. There is a lot of what you do that is throwing against the wall and seeing what sticks, and this year it might stick and next year it might not."
Manganaro's original business plan called for minimal reliance on outside financing, and she has stuck with that.
Aside from the mortgage on the Main Street building, which she bought through a separate real estate company she set up, everything she has done at the studios and the cafe has been accomplished without taking on additional debt, she said.
"It's a tight ship," Manganaro said. "For example, a lot of the equipment I purchased (for the cafe) was not top of the line. For me, because I'm in that no-finance mindset, I can't buy an espresso machine for $20,000 when I know that for the duration of the entire life of this business, I won't make $20,000 on espresso.
"I can't fathom those investment decisions. So we've been developing slowly when it comes to things like that -- kind of saving up money and then when the bank account is positive enough, we'll buy that new coffee machine."
Manganaro said she eventually would like to explore franchising opportunities, noting there are a lot of people in the yoga industry who are passionate about what they do but have zero background in business.
In the meantime, she offered relatively simple advice to anyone considering starting a small business.
"Be patient," she said. "Invest in good accounting practices, whether it's you setting them up yourself or paying someone. And pay somebody to do the things you're not good at or you don't want to do -- because you won't do them.
"When push comes to shove and there is a lot going on, when the dishcloths need to be washed and you don't want to do that, they don't get washed."