Entrepreneurs

‘I put all of my savings into this’

After serving her family and friends for years as a homemaker, Swapna Gorthi takes a chance on her own coffee-making and culinary skills, opening a shop with a unique menu. Coincidentally, it hasn’t been a direct path to establishing the Round About Caffe.

At a Texas Township traffic circle, the work done to transform this former insurance company office building into a coffee shop with personal flavor has been anything but a straight line.

“We’ve been thinking about this project for about two years,” says shop owner Swapna Gorthi.

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The aptly named Round About Caffe, at Texas Drive and 12th Street, opened in May, serving specialty coffees, teas, breakfast sandwiches, lunch, and traditional homemade Indian food on Saturdays.

Gorthi, 41, has lived in a nearby neighborhood for the past 12 years. Confident in her own recipes she saw an opportunity to fill a gap, offering beverages that are more soothing and less sugary. Her plans were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the married mother of two whose oldest child went off to college this fall was ready this year to live out a dream of hers and, in doing so, wants to inspire other prospective entrepreneurs.

“This is my first venture,” says Gorthi, who was previously a full-time homemaker.

Gorthi says she prayed about the decision to open the shop. She gained more assurance after inviting family and friends to taste her coffee, sourced from Creation Coffee in Midland. They gave her the thumbs up and two months later she opened to the rest of the community.

It takes more than fan favorites, though, as Gorthi found out the hard way. The building, Texas Township officials told her, does not yet meet the codes necessary for indoor dining, like a sprinkler system for fire suppression.

So the shop, including the food she serves, is takeout only for now.

“I put all of my savings into this,” she says. “I just want to make sure I’m not jeopardizing my business.”

Right now, Gorthi is the only employee, getting occasional help from a young cousin. She is struggling to hire a cook, which would be crucial to expanding hours. In the beginning, the shop was just open mornings for coffee and breakfast. Then Gorthi increased hours to early afternoons, offering lunch. Now, it’s open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., and closed on Sundays.

“I am just trying (different hours) and seeing how customer flow might be,” she explains.

Located conveniently on the corner, many of her customers are walkers and bicyclists enjoying nearby trails, parents who have just dropped off their children at a nearby preschool, road workers, and school-bus drivers. But Gorthi is afraid with winter approaching, she may lose many of them, particularly the walkers and bicyclists.

“People are so nice and helpful,” she says of her customers. Some have offered to talk with township officials on her behalf.

A key differentiator for this coffee shop are the Indian dishes, such as butter chicken, kadai chicken, chicken masala, egg masala, paneer curry, and rajma curry, which can be ordered all week but only for Saturday pickup.

Gorthi says she made four meals a day, including afternoon snacks, for her family for years, so her food is tried-and-true. “As a homemaker, you try to make your family happy.”

They’re not her sole attestants, Round About Caffe’s Facebook page is full of testimonials posted by patrons pleased with the coffee and meals, but also appreciative of Gorthi and her friendliness.

Among the commenters is Laurel Ofstein, a professor and faculty director for the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Michigan State University, who lives in Texas Township and stopped by the shop to enjoy an iced latte.

Ofstein says she knows from her work that starting a business is difficult, and she urged people on Facebook to give the shop some love.

A screen capture of a Facebook review by Laurel Ofstein reads "I got a delicious latte this afternoon from Round About Caffe! The owner was friendly and is working hard to expand her offerings - for example, she has Indian food you can order for this weekend. She said business has been slow and I know she would appreciate some love from this community!"
A screen capture of a review from the Kalamazoo Menu Facebook group.

“For me, personally, it’s hard to see entrepreneurs try it on their own,” she says.

Still, Gorthi is seldom without a smile and a positive attitude.

“God is standing by me and making me walk through it, so I’m glad for that,” she says. “If you are stuck in a storm, it will soon pass. We just need to keep our calm and work through it.”

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