In an unassuming office suite nestled into a field of tall grass, brambles and scraggly trees, there is a room with a table. Wooden, bar-height and with a shiny varnish, the table is surrounded by eight tall metal chairs. You can see all this for yourself, but what you can’t see from looking is that more than 200 businesses worldwide exist because of folks getting up off these chairs and going out to build their dreams.
Texas Coffee School in Arlington has become a de facto entrepreneurial launch pad for nearly 200 coffee companies. The one-room “school” is filled with pour-over drippers, espresso machines, grinders and brewers. This coffee lab and its assortment of toys are the result of nearly nine years of hoarding, tinkering and testing by Texas Coffee School’s founder, Tom Vincent.
Vincent fell into the coffee business by chance in the early 2000s while working as a graphic designer in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I was at the right place, at the right time, and I was fortunate enough to realize an opportunity was in front of me, and I acted on it out of a need to survive,” he says.
In 2006, Vincent was working as a graphic designer for an advertising agency. One morning — after burning the midnight oil the night before — he was dreading his morning meetings as he got into an elevator with two other men who worked for the regional offices of a coffee company, located a floor above Vincent’s then employer. These friendly coffee folk invited Vincent to a coffee cupping — a coffee tasting similar to a beer or wine tasting — and he decided to join them, blowing off his morning meetings.
“That chance encounter turned into a two-year apprenticeship — purely as a hobby — with some of the most respected and knowledgeable people in the entire specialty coffee industry,” he says. “I just happened to hit the coffee lottery in that elevator.”
Two years later, Tom Vincent arrived in DFW to take a new post as creative services director at D Magazine. Shortly after taking the job, the economy lurched into turmoil and Vincent, like many others, found himself unemployed. Between odd jobs, he was selling plasma and standing outside of Home Depot waiting for a pickup truck to pull up and cart him off to a day labor gig.
One day, while walking to Boston Market to purchase the single chicken leg his daily budget would allow, Vincent walked by a coffee shop. “I immediately realized I hadn’t had coffee in months at this point and a cappuccino would make me feel so much better than a chicken leg, so I went in and ordered one,” he recalls. “The barista proceeded to make a mess, splashing milk all over the floor and ruining what was supposed to make me feel better.”
In the midst of his disappointment, Vincent saw an opportunity. He asked the fumbling barista if he had ever been to a coffee cupping, explaining his previous foray into the coffee world.
“Do you teach?” the barista asked.
“It hit me like a truck,” Vincent says. “I said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.’ He asked if I had a website and I told him I would by Sunday. That’s how Texas Coffee School started.”
This was the beginning of what Vincent fondly refers to as “the Rubbermaid bin era,” which saw him hauling a $150 espresso machine and grinder in a Rubbermaid bin to the homes of doctors and lawyers, teaching them how to make coffee at home. This quickly evolved into consulting for local independent coffee houses.
With these small wins, the project had gained some momentum, and a local distributor asked Vincent to sample some flavored syrups. While visiting their facility, he noticed the break room was filled with commercial-grade coffee equipment they used for demoing products. The company agreed to let him teach his classes there on the weekends.
In 2011, Texas Coffee School assisted in the opening of Oak Cliff brunch mecca Oddfellows, their most high-profile client yet. Soon, Vincent was getting inquiries from people all over the county looking to open coffee businesses of their own. Vincent was finally able to move his business into its own facility in Arlington.
As of today, Texas Coffee School sees clients from all over the United States and Canada in addition to far-reaching areas from Nepal to Moscow; he says he’s helped more than 200 entrepreneurs get out on their own by opening cafes and other coffee businesses.
“What we are doing and what we are teaching is helping people achieve entrepreneurial freedom and positively impacting communities all over the world every single day, all through sharing what we are passionate about,” he says. “It is pretty mind-blowing, but I truly believe we are making the world a little bit better of a place one cup of coffee and one human-to-human interaction at a time.”
And just what does a “coffee school” do? It’s a lot more than teaching folks to grind and pour.
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“Through our coffee education and coffee business programs, we aim to cultivate and inspire quality-oriented ‘coffee people’ that share in our passion for specialty coffee,” Vincent says. “Our main audience is people looking to start a coffee shop business or to improve a coffee shop business. We have a fully comprehensive and highly detailed coffee business class that is designed to give the student hands-on coffee education and barista training, coffee shop operations training and coffee shop business planning. We created it to be a turnkey solution to giving someone the knowledge and resources to open a coffee shop business.”
The school also offers manager development classes, business consulting, café design and barista training in everything from latte art to coffee extraction theory and cuppings — just like the one that got Vincent hooked years ago.
At Texas Coffee School, students can learn how to make coffee and manage a business, but at its core, it’s a lesson in entrepreneurial spirit. Vincent, equal parts coffee nerd and motivational speaker, found a way to shape his own destiny, and in turn, wants to help others do the same.
Texas Coffee School, 7203 S. Cooper St., Arlington