As of two years ago, Crystal VanNieulande was still searching for her “dream job”. Now, her business Cup of Joy is a staple in her community and is expanding with a second location next month. She credits her staff, her community, and her faith as the leading forces in finally finding the job of her dreams.
LOCAL219: For those who may not know, could you give an explanation of what Cup Of Joy Cafe is and your goal behind it?
CRYSTAL VANNIEULANDE: Cup of Joy started, and was supposed to be a little place where you could get a good cup of coffee. It’s really turned into, I feel like, more of a gathering place. Cup of Joy was never created as a money maker, it was created out of a desire to drink coffee with my friends and have a place to gather. I felt like my daughter was a really cool barista and thought this would be super cool to do with Paetyn.
I walked into the Willow Switch in Rensselaer and the owner knew everyone’s names, there was an older gentleman sitting reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, there were a couple ladies up in the loft that appeared to be doing a bible study, and it smelled amazing. I just thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.”
L219: That’s amazing, I love that you were inspired to bring the community together through your experience. Was the Willow Switch what inspired the idea of opening a coffee shop entirely or have you always wanted to own a business?
CV: My husband is self-employed, so there’s no big 401K that someone’s putting money in for us. In realizing that he can’t do drywall and painting into his 60s as it’s hard on your body, we’ve always thought, “We’ll probably have to work into our retirement years, so what is it that we can do?” I’ve never known what I wanted to be when I grew up- two years ago I said “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
When we walked into Willow Switch I said “This is it.” I don’t know what it was, I just knew this was it and I had the follow through. I actually started researching and making phone calls and I would just run into the next right person who would have the next piece that I needed to keep going and it happened.
L219: I know Cup of Joy is planning to expand into Rensselaer where the Willow Switch was located now that they announced the closing of their business, what are your hopes for the building?
CV: We are looking forward to expanding into Rensselaer which is one town south of us, in the same county. We’re really excited to build upon what the Willow Switch already has going. They already have a community going. They already have customers that know the people there will know their name and what they drink, and that’s what we want. We don’t want to come in and hand people coffee and take their money. We want to build on those relationships and I want that place to be an even bigger, better gathering spot. I love to see people’s lives happening around that place.
We still would like to have rental space and in our off-hours we would love to be able to offer that space for showers or rehearsal dinners. While it is a bit scary of an undertaking to have two places, my staff here has been the most amazing. Almost everyone who works here has worked here since we opened. We couldn’t have done any of this without them.
L219: I love how that all fell into place for you. With what you said about walking into the Willow Switch and it being a little community- something I think is really interesting about Cup of Joy is that local businesses are incorporated. Why did you want to do that and how did it help you grow the community through COJ?
CV: That started in thinking about wall space, you know, decorating the walls and I remember seeing a lady online, Jan Terpstra, that did signs that were faith-based and inspirational signs. They were the kind of decor that I would have wanted to hang and I thought “Maybe she would want to display her stuff here”.
I thought that would help her because as far as I knew she only sold online at that point through Facebook, but it would also help me to decorate my walls with the things I really like without having to purchase them. It probably started somewhat selfishly and unintentionally, and then I got feedback and people liked that and I thought it sounded fun to maybe incorporate other local artists.
L219: That’s amazing, it’s an experience unique to Cup of Joy! I’m curious to know what has been your biggest learning lesson so far.
CV: That I’m not in control of anything. That I can do all the things, and it still has to be a part of His plan or it’s not right. We have all these ideas and all these ways we think it should go, and if I stay in my prayer journal and read the word and connect to Him, I can trust that it’s going to work out the way it’s supposed to work out. When I get all in my head, and I think I need to do it this way or I think I need to get this done, I can run around in circles and accomplish nothing. That’s really the biggest thing I’ve learned personally.
I’ve learned that I’m not a business person, I’m a people person, but you have to be able to do both. So I work really hard at the business side because I’m so naturally drawn to the people side. I could spend all day talking to the customers, but then everything falls apart.
L219: I want to touch on who is your biggest influence and what keeps you motivated?
CV: What keeps me motivated is the feedback. It’s coming in this room and seeing it filled with children and mothers engrossed in conversation because this is a space that allows them to do that. There are a few relationships that I’ve made with people inside of here that would’ve never happened, and then watching their relationships grow.
We have a Saturday morning group of ladies that started with one lady I never met before in my life before this place. Through our relationship and the connection we made, she literally fills this room with friends on Saturday mornings.
If it were about the money, I would have quit a long time ago. The Willow Switch expansion is not about money. This is just all the ways that God has confirmed to me that it’s just the way we’re supposed to go. The way that it came about- we were approached, we did not seek out opening a second location. The fact that Willow Switch is the place where Cup of Joy was inspired, how do you say no to that?
It’s the people, it’s the feedback from our customers, it’s watching the interactions that happen in this place- that’s what makes it worth it for me. It has to be about community, it has to be about relationships. If this place ever became about money, I’d have to go.
L219: I’m excited to see where this new journey takes Cup of Joy! Is there anything else you want to share about COJ?
CV: If people want to hear our story, the reason behind our logo and the blue butterfly, our story is on our website. We have a prayer request line on our website and a prayer request jar in the front of our shop and we really do pray for everyone.