This piece originally appeared in The Land and appears here with their permission.
by Ilona Westfall
It’s not the first place you’d expect to find an incredible cup of coffee. But tucked among the chain link fences and brick industrial buildings of Berea Road, Scoot! Craft Cold Brew seems right at home.
The off-the-beaten-path location in an industrial area instead of a more established retail one was actually a perfect fit, says Kari DeGraff, who co-owns Scoot!, located at 2085 West 114th St., along with her wife, Abby.
“That’s the kind of field I’m actually right at home with,” says the former welder and manufacturing worker. “I really liked that location because of that.”
Not only familiar, but a serendipitous choice, too. She had been eyeing up the “for lease” sign on the building during her commute to her full-time job downtown. “It chose us,” she jokes. She got the keys in November 2019 and got to work transforming the space in December—painting and redoing floors and electrical, with help from a few friends.
Opened on July 11th after the original opening date in March was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Scoot! mainly functions as a cold brew production facility delivering buzz-worthy brews on a vintage 1964 truck, catering to the events and restaurant industry (like a recent partnership with Western Reserve Distillery that incorporates Scoot! cold brew into a cocktail at The Distillery bar). A small, open-to-the-public retail storefront doubles as a tasting room, like you’d find in a brewery.
Visitors can buy cold brew to-go to drink on a nearby grassy area (where Scoot! hosts lawn games) and stock up on growlers of cold brew concentrate to take home. Pop-up partnerships with local businesses like CLE Biscuit Heads and City Hippie Granola supply occasional food items to the space.
It’s a business model and flavor that’s worked well for DeGraff. While Scoot! is new to Cleveland, it actually started in Seattle when DeGraff was living there and working in manufacturing. “My buddy and I were sick of the corporate America type scene,” she says. “Working for the man, you can feel undervalued. We just wanted something different.”
DeGraff went back to school for business and her friend quit, diving headfirst into the world of coffee roasting instead and eventually creating Stint Coffee Roasters. After her friend perfected his roasting skills, they combined their talents and DeGraff launched Scoot! in 2016 using his beans. Word got around, and DeGraff was asked to cater and sell her brew at events at her office and college. Friends and family were soon needed to help distribute the coffee. Even today, the Scoot! label mentions Seattle and features a scooter (which was used to cart the roaster around Seattle).
The mission has since evolved to focus on more than just individuals seeking freedom from corporate life, says DeGraff. “It started with the vision of being independent, so we can create something of our own,” she says. “But since then, what’s come more to light is a bigger sense of community and offering something that’s different than your typical business.”
What sets Scoot! apart, she explains, is that the goal isn’t to make as much money as possible. It’s to reinvest in the community. While what that entails isn’t set in stone yet, she cites donating money saved when folks bring in reusable cups to local schools, and paying employees a living wage while also ensuring they have a good work-life balance.
She cites the pandemic as exposing ingrained societal issues of work-life balance, something she struggles with. As the sole employee (she’s currently searching for a new hire), while also working full-time at her job at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s been a challenge to balance her day job with starting a business in a new city.
The pandemic has also thrown a wrench into her plans. Not only did it delay her opening, but her original marketing strategy was event-based. And restaurants, which she’d hoped would be her biggest customers, have been hesitant to take a chance on new products during a time of uncertainty.
Fortunately, the community even beyond her group of friends has welcomed Scoot! with open arms too. While DeGraff expected to get a small amount of foot traffic due to its proximity to I-90, she wasn’t expecting the outpouring of support it received from people that live and work in the area.
“They were ready for something and were so grateful we were there,” she says. “I really thought a lot of our sales would be external to different restaurants or events, which will be, I think, the bulk of it in the big picture. But right now, it took me a minute to get my legs with keeping up with the community.”
That response isn’t surprising to Rose Zitiello, executive director of Westown Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit serving the area. “From a planning perspective, we are trying to encourage more retail on Berea Road,” she says. “We think this is a natural evolution that we’re going to see more retail because a lot of those industrial buildings are functionally obsolete.”
And with a 2018 expansion of NPA Coatings, a Madison Avenue paint company, and Amazon slated to open a new warehouse nearby by the end of the year, the area will have plenty of workers to support more retail, some of whom will undoubtedly be looking for a cup of coffee before a shift. “I definitely think that they’re setting an example for other businesses to look differently along Berea road,” says Zitiello.
But for Scoot, taking risks, like quitting your job to become a business owner and opening during a pandemic in an unlikely spot, are par for the course. “You just have to think creatively to survive,” says DeGraff. “It’s just like, well, this is the new normal. How are we gonna operate from that? Because failing is not an option.”
Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she’s not penning articles for a variety of northeast Ohio publications, she’s roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall.