ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM STORIES
Hathaway Brown’s HathCaff
CEO of the HathCaff
A group of hard-working young women have learned to tackle challenging problems, think creatively, and turn mistakes into growth opportunities through running their school’s café. From forming partnerships with local businesses to expanding into catering, the executive team of Hathaway Brown’s HathCaff continues to innovate and challenge themselves to provide high quality service to their community.
We spoke with Madeleine Williams, CEO of the HathCaff, about her experience as the head of the executive team and her growth in entrepreneurship. She shared with us the individuals that have had an impact on her entrepreneurial journey in addition to the challenges of running a successful business as a student.
What is the HathCaff and how has it developed over the years?
The HathCaff is an entirely student-run café located in our school library at Hathaway Brown. It was first opened in 2016, and it is run by our team of executives and baristas. Each day, we sell a variety of coffee drinks, lemonades, and pastries to our school community. We are lucky to partner with local Cleveland businesses, such as the Cleveland Coffee Company and Stone Oven Bakery. Over the past few years, we have established a catering division and launched a new Director of Sustainability position. We have also begun a partnership with the fourth grade students, known as the HathCaff Express, in which they can sell coffee to the primary school parents, exposing them to entrepreneurship and customer service.
Tell us a little about your journey to entrepreneurship.
I have always enjoyed solving problems and watching ideas grow and develop into something meaningful. When I was a sophomore, I applied to be a barista at the HathCaff and loved the whole atmosphere. I enjoyed helping make students smile when I handed them a cup of coffee or a warm chocolate croissant, and I liked the challenge of a huge rush of customers each morning. I was later asked to take on an executive role as Director of Catering. As a member of the executive team, I loved getting to be a part of such a passionate group of girls and to learn about how much went on behind the scenes of the business. The following year, I served as the Director of HR, in which I helped to interview, hire, and train baristas as well as to ensure day-to-day operations went smoothly. This year, I am very excited to be the HathCaff’s CEO.
Who helped you get started as an entrepreneur?
Our past HathCaff executives have played a huge role showing me the ropes of the cafe. Our faculty advisor, Mrs. Molly Krist, has been an amazing mentor and taught me so much over my last three years with the HathCaff. My Dad also manages a business and has helped me by listening to my ideas and offering advice.
What is a day in the life running the HathCaff look like? How did COVID impact this?
The HathCaff executive team is constantly working to help make sure that the cafe functions efficiently and that customers have a good experience. We meet weekly to discuss how the cafe has been doing and to make plans to help it grow. We are required to think on our feet to solve any problems that might come up, such as a shortage of items or the register not functioning properly. Due to COVID last year, we unfortunately had to scale back several aspects of the business, but we were able to be flexible and stay open. For example, in order to avoid the congestion of the line, we pivoted to a mobile ordering system where customers could order on an app and pick up their beverage at their specified time.
HathCaff Executive Team – Pictured left to right: Kaila Morris (Director of Sustainability), Rhea Mahajan (Director of Marketing), Madeleine Williams (CEO), Marianna Steele (Director of HR), Katie von Zedlitz (COO), Ami Hashimoto (Director of the HathCaff Express), Alisha Vasavada (Director of Catering), and Maisie Yan (CFO)
Outside of actual business hours, what do you and the team work on?
The executive team works on a variety of important projects. It has been a lot of fun to establish partnerships and negotiate deals with other local or student-run businesses. We monitor the daily sales of the café, and we take inventory weekly to ensure that we have enough available supplies. We plan sustainability initiatives and catering events for the school community. We are also always looking to develop promotions, launch new items, and market the HathCaff to the school community.
What are the biggest challenges you face as the CEO and how do you overcome them?
As CEO, it can be difficult to keep track of everything that needs to be done and to maintain clear communication between each of the executives. I have become a big fan of making running lists and keeping an organized calendar. It has also been tricky to anticipate demand, especially at the beginning of this year. We were very excited to have such a great turn out of customers, but because it was higher than we had planned for, it was difficult to estimate the necessary number of supplies. This required flexibility and improvisation, and we have been able to learn from the past few weeks to better predict the correct number of supplies to order.