Pandemic stress closes coffee shop

Around the Corner is being offered for sale as it prepares to be closed. Jessica Quinhones said she's giving up the business, which is owned by her family. The stress from arguing with customers over face masks and other issues became too much.

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October 19, 2021 - 10:37 AM

Around the Corner coffee shop owner Jessica Quinhones is shown with her son, Jace, age 9. The coffee shop will close after eight years, after a stress-filled 18 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and customer reactions to a mask mandate. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Jessica Quinhones knew it wasn’t a good sign that her body grew tense each time a customer entered the door of her business, Around the Corner coffee shop.

Instead of being able to welcome customers, she was wrought with worry as to how they would accept her request to wear a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That worry is well-founded. Over the past 18 months, customers have pushed back against her policy. Some have become hostile.

Quinhones has decided the stress is too much. She’s closing the shop after eight years in business.

“People have told me it has changed in here, and I say, ‘How can it not after this year?’” she said.

Customers regularly argue with Quinhones and her staff member, Paige Olson, over the mask mandate. Even when she provided free masks, customers complained about having to wear them. When they stopped giving away masks, customers complained about that as well. 

Quinhones said she’s been criticized for everything from her hours and prices to her attitude, while she works 13-hour days to keep the business afloat, deal with supply shortages, minimize waste and keep prices as low as possible. 

The stress has taken a toll on her physical and mental health, and impacted relationships with friends and family. Her son also has suffered negative mental health from seeing how the stress has affected her. 

“People come here because it’s a safe space. They come when they need a laugh. And there are moments that were beautiful.

“It’s been my dream, and I’ve been working on this for eight years. But I just can’t do it anymore.”

AROUND the Corner opened under former Iolans David and Beth Toland, who sold the business to Quinhones’ stepfather and mother, John and Lucinda Lucas, about six years ago.

John Lucas had retired from Herff Jones and was looking for an investment. The coffee shop seemed a good fit.

Quinhones planned to fully take over the business as part of a 10-year plan. 

Instead, they will offer the business for sale. 

They will work with the new owners if the business is sold, but otherwise will continue to sell coffee until supplies run out. Then, they will sell the equipment.

Hours already have been reduced, and Quinhones is only offering drinks for sale.

From the beginning, Quinhones said she was concerned how many people in Allen County live below the poverty line, and she wanted to provide an opportunity to buy fresh food at an affordable price. 

The restaurant business is never easy, Quinhones noted. Customers have always been rude. It’s always been difficult to keep prices affordable yet still make enough income to keep going. She kept her annual salary below $30,000, in hopes of keeping prices low.

But the pandemic exacerbated those problems.

Costs of food and supplies have gone up. 

Quinhones took advantage of a business relief grant, hoping that would be enough to keep the business going. She didn’t raise prices at that time.

“We knew the community was hurting, and we didn’t want to add to that.”

In retrospect, she admits she should have gradually increased prices.

When she took over the business eight years ago, she charged $5.50 for a large salad. In three years, she raised the price by $1 three times. Now, they are $8.50.

Every time she increased prices, customers complained and argued. 

Now, she would need a significant price hike to meet costs. She doesn’t believe her regular customers will support that, but she believes there could be opportunities for a new owner or a different business model.

“We could have done more with it, but we chose to keep it a coffee shop,” she said.

Then, there are the complaints over the mask mandate. 

“I believe in kindness, and wearing masks is kindness to me. I can’t stand the idea that I would pass an illness on to you and your family,” she said. 

QUINHONES said she feels heartbroken about closing the business.

She’s not sure what she will do next, but is considering a return to school. She would like to be a phlebotomy nurse. 

She’s hopeful the business will be sold and can continue under new ownership; she will be sad to see the community lose the coffee shop.

“The worst thing is, this didn’t have to happen. Everyone who works in the restaurant business deserves to be treated with respect.”

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