ODU Grads Follow Through on Childhood Plans to Start Their Own Business Together, Opening Coffee Bistro
Chris Shelton ended up studying business finance at Old Dominion University because, well, he's a little color blind.
However unintended, the decision has turned out to be a good one for Shelton and his high school friend Mike Aston.
As a high school student from Smithfield, Shelton signed up for a tour of ODU. His friend Aston was already at the university studying computer engineering, so Shelton figured he'd tour the engineering school while on campus.
He discovered, however, that the tour signup sheet was color-coded. So instead of getting a look at the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, Shelton mistakenly signed up for a tour of the College of Business and Public Administration.
"The (light) green dot looked dark to me, and I ended up touring the business school inadvertently," he said. "After a few minutes, I realized that's where I wanted to be. So I stayed."
Shelton stayed all the way until he earned a degree in business administration in 2007, with a dual minor in finance and economics, magna cum laude. It was a wise choice. In February, Shelton and Aston opened Cure Coffeehouse and Brasserie, a coffee shop and bistro on Botetourt Street in downtown Norfolk.
"We'd been planning to do something in business for basically our whole lives since we met," said Aston, who graduated with a computer engineering degree in 2005.
"We'd been talking about opening a venue for live music. But I kept driving by and saw this place empty. I always thought this great neighborhood was missing something. So we thought of a coffee shop."
Cure, which also offers an evening bar and New York-style smoked pastrami sandwiches among its full food menu selections, opened its doors with no fanfare on Feb. 26 this year. In little time, however, it found a niche in the funky Lord Botetourt neighborhood, with its condos and cobblestone streets. The bistro also offers local microbrews in an eclectic atmosphere, which features musicians performing at open-mike night every Wednesday.
"In February, we literally took the paper off the windows, put an 'open' sign on the door, and had 83 sales the first day," Shelton said. "It's been just short of overwhelming."
"There's always something that comes up that you didn't anticipate," Aston added.
Shelton's parents owned bookstores when he was growing up, so he's always envisioned being his own boss. His time at ODU gave him the tools. Shelton is the financial leader of the business, writing the business plan and doing the company's books. Aston has applied his engineering mind to the nuts and bolts of being a café proprietor.
"I spent six months at home in the evening, trying different smoked-meat recipes," Aston said with a smile.
"We complement each other," Shelton said.
That's the thing about this venture. As a start-up business in a location with only 1,050 square feet, Cure Coffeehouse and Brasserie isn't a full-time job for either of them. Aston works as a software designer, Shelton works for a financial firm as a registered wealth management representative. The company's only full-time employee is Aston's wife, Kristie.
But the ODU grads both say the experience they have gained from starting a business, especially one in which they had zero previous experience, has been invaluable.
"We won't make enough to live off of, but my goal is to have this business eventually run itself so we can move on and start another business," Shelton said.
This article was posted on: June 17, 2011
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