Here in Vermont, we are crafters – from beer making to chair making and even to snowboard making. Jake Tran is a master in another popular craft, coffee making. Jake, owner of the Firebird Cafe, opened Nest Coffee and Bakery after realizing that what the community of Essex Junction needed and wanted was a coffee shop. Not a native Vermonter, Jake and his family moved to Oregon from Vietnam in the 70s, and, after visiting New England on a vacation with friends in the 80s, he decided to move east for college, attending the University of Vermont to study Recreation Management. Jake fell in love with Vermont and the access it offered to the outdoors and natural recreation activities, and decided to stay after college.
Also the owner of Firebird Cafe in Essex Junction, Jake realized his career passion while at UVM, “I discovered around college that I loved food. I got tired of Ramen noodles so I started getting creative by adding ingredients to the Ramen,” he reminisces. In the early 2000s, he purchased a small deli in South Burlington and gained an abundance of firsthand experience. The time, however, came when Jake longed for something bigger, and he jumped at the chance to purchase a restaurant space on Pearl Street in Essex Junction, naming it the Firebird Cafe . After a year of operating both Firebird and his existing deli, he realized that he should turn his focus to Firebird alone, closing the deli in which he began his career.
I feel like I’m in this sort of cool Opportunities customer circle.”
After five years of running Firebird, Jake again craved expansion, and began talking to his customers at Firebird, asking them what they think the town needed. Jake recalls, “Just talking with my customers at Firebird who actually live in Essex Junction, I have a little bit of insight on what the community needs. There are a lot of demands, but one thing I know for a fact at least, is that people are longing for a coffee house.” With the responses and insights given by his clientele, that’s what Jake set out to create. A regular customer of Firebird informed Jake that he had a space to sell just down the street, and Jake took up his offer on the building that would soon become the Nest Coffee and Bakery.
One of Jake’s core values is community, so this was a key aspect in mind when creating his new space. He wanted the coffee shop to be a place to socialize and take part in the community, observing, “A coffee shop is sort of a place where people congregate—sort of like the village green, but this has a roof and it has business hours.” To build this new community-oriented space was not an easy task. The building was not set up to be a kitchen and needed total reconstruction to convert, estimated to take about six months, as well as a great deal of money. Jake remembered his friend and frequent customer of Firebird who also happened to be a former manager at Jake’s previous bank, Laz Manrique (Small Business Lender). “Going back to talking about community, the person who helped me secure financing with Opportunities used to be a bank manager right up the street [from Firebird] so I got to know him before Opportunities and now he’s working at Opportunities. He’s the epitome of small town community-oriented banking… He would come in, he would talk to me, at that time I was banking at a different bank,” Jake explained. After speaking with Laz, Jake sought the support of Opportunities Credit Union to help make his dream of a coffee shop a reality.
Opportunities Credit Union is one of the few community development credit unions in all of New England. They work tirelessly to help support those who otherwise may not have had the chance to venture out and start their own business. Opportunities is devoted to helping the community flourish in any way it can, lending to those in need as well as to aspiring business owners; anyone who needs money to continue serving the community and growing the economy. By providing extraordinary customer service, Opportunities makes the somewhat complicated lending process easy to understand by sitting down with you both before and throughout your time working with them; they do all they can to ensure your success. This is exactly what Laz Manrique did for Jake, “We had chats and over a series of just a few weeks he walked me through the paperwork process, and made sure I followed up with what I needed to send in. He really helped me out,” Jake notes.
With the help of Opportunities, Jake was able to renovate his space, purchase the necessary equipment and open his business. Upon visiting Nest Coffee and Bakery, we can see that Jake’s business is loved by the community. Large windows bring warmth and light into the coffee shop, while customers relax on handmade wooden tables or comfy couches, inhaling the sweet aroma of coffee and decadent baked goods. Open doors make for a delightful breeze and soft jazz music lends rhythm and character to the atmosphere. Everyone in the shop is smiling, no muffin is left unfinished, and customers are served with a smile by young Essex residents, including Jake’s son, home from college for the summer. The small coffee shop has become a place where people come to reconnect and relax as well as somewhere to go for a fantastic cup of coffee or even a great first job. Nest has exceptionally filled the hole in the heart of Essex Junction and has improved the community in many ways.
When asked if he would recommend Opportunities to others like him, Jake stated, “Based on my experience, yeah!” For Jake, Opportunities not only provided him the chance to expand and offer Essex Junction with a great business, it also gave him a new-found sense of pride and community with the credit union. Jake adds, “Once a customer at Opportunities, I realized there were other business owners like myself that I know that had already been with Opportunities and I think they went through the same process. I feel like I’m in this sort of cool Opportunities customer circle.” Not many people can think of their credit union as positively as this, but at here Opportunity Credit Union, you can.
“My philosophy is to keep things simple and keep things small, and I think that Opportunities Credit Union sort of works with small business owners like me. I just feel that I’m grateful and also I’m just proud to be a part of the community and part of a small town” Jake claims, and “Knowing what they do for the community, I’m more than happy to do what I can to support that kind of bank.” Jake can speak personally for the great services that Opportunities offers and appreciates all that they’ve done for him, recommending them to anyone who wants to start their own business, stating, “They’re doing great things for my business and it seems like they’re doing great things for other people like me and I’m all for that.”
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