Shannon and Mark Hartman, the owners of Priscilla’s Coffee Shop in Toluca Lake, visited the School of Business on September 30, to engage with a standing room only class of students as part of the first Entrepreneur Lecture of the fall semester.
The couple proved to be an instant hit with students — sharing their passionate story including some moments that triggered chuckles from their audience. In a full classroom, moderated by faculty member Jack Condon, the two entrepreneurs shared their experiences without holding back. They spoke about their entrepreneurial concerns and dreams, and how they dealt with the threat from a major coffee chain opening a store right across the street: a peril that ultimately turned out to be far less challenging than they feared.
As entrepreneurs who have run their own business for over two decades, Shannon and Mark reflected on their approach toward employees. They suggested that, while it is critical to be attentive and accommodating to customers, it is equally important to protect your co-workers when dealing with customer conflict. While 99.8% of any businesses will have customers who are courteous and kind, there is always a small group that may come off as difficult and as managers, the Hartman’s mediate the balance between these relationships.
Shannon and Mark are still very involved in their business, and plan to be for many years to come. They can be found on a daily basis, doing anything from serving coffee and watering plants, to chatting with customers or scrubbing floors. As seasoned entrepreneurs they have learned that there will always be rough moments to overcome, but that the art, especially in case of self-starters, is to turn anything bad into something good, and emerge stronger from every setback.
Managing a gourmet coffee house in an era of major franchises has shifted from being an ordinary trade into an extraordinary endeavor. Shannon and Mark revealed that much of what the coffeehouse currently serves began as a suggestion by a customer, since they are the ones that ultimately drive the direction into which a business will be most successful.
As in any business, the Hartman’s shared their secret of success and maintaining their livelihood throughout the years. Because Priscilla’s is nestled within the media district of Burbank and Toluca Lake, unforeseen situations such as the writer’s strike in Hollywood can affect them adversely. However, being submerged in the entertainment industry also introduces the coffee shop to the likes of Academy Award writer Quentin Tarantino who scripted part of his Oscar winning screenplay, Pulp Fiction at Priscilla’s.
Today, Priscilla’s is known for its gourmet coffee and teas, especially its flavored coffee (particularly blueberry), and the business has been recognized over the years as “Business of the Year” and “Best Coffee House.” It has also been recognized by the City of Burbank and the State of California for exemplary recycling efforts.
Questions from students ranged from issues related to marketing to competition, to customer service and employee relationships.