Meet the Solid Grounds Cover Model: She’s a Coffee Roaster!

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I’m fortunate that I get to give input into the covers of my books. While I had some vague ideas on what I would like to see for this one, I also know that my Tyndale House cover designer is brilliant and will always exceed my expectations. The one thing I did insist on was that the cover model be Filipina to match the heritage of the heroine, Analyn Sanchez.

Enter Melissa Villanueva, the CEO and owner of Brewpoint Coffee in Elmhurst, Illinois.  Considering she’s intelligent, business-minded, and beautiful, she was already a shoo-in for the cover model job… but coupled with the fact that she and her husband own a coffee-roasting business complete with three shops in Chicago? I couldn’t ask for a better person to fill the role of Ana… and I knew I had to interview her both about her crazy journey to coffee maven as well as her experiences being a female minority business owner.

Melissa’s journey to this point has been an unconventional one– she and her now-husband were looking for an espresso machine on Craigslist and ended up buying a coffee shop instead! In the meantime, their business has grown to include three coffee shops, a coffee roastery, an event space, and a wholesale operation that focuses on helping other business owners institute similar models in their own community. Melissa and Brewpoint Coffee has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Sprudge, and a number of other publications for their inspiring small business journey.

CL: Hi Melissa! Thanks for agreeing to the interview. The story of how you and your husband opened Brewpoint Coffee is an interesting one. Can you tell us about how that came about?

MV: Angelo often jokes that we did everything backward. And we both agree that if a friend were to tell us that they were opening a coffee shop with their boyfriend of seven months, we would be very concerned about their decision making. But that’s exactly what we did. The short version is that we started dating at the end of January 2014, he accidentally convinced me to quit my job, then I went on a 3 month self-discovery trip, when I was thinking about building a 3 year plan to open a coffee shop. The first step was going to be to buy a used espresso machine and make sure I still liked making drinks. Instead I discovered a coffee shop on Craigslist. We ended up purchasing the shop at the end of August. Seven months. That’s all it took to transform our lives.

Neither of us had an extensive dating history, but I knew that I wanted to be with someone who I could partner with, someone who I could make more of an impact with rather than if we were apart, and Angelo was that person for me.

We quickly got engaged in November and were married by February 2015. We like to joke that his engagement gift to me was the coffee shop, which is a perfect representation of our relationship because since we have been together he has given me everything I need to accomplish our dreams.

CL: I love that. I always say that I wouldn’t have gotten to pursue my dreams if it wasn’t for my husband’s support, and it sounds like you’ve found the same relationship with Angelo. Though my husband and I are so different, I don’t think we can work together. Do you and Angelo work together on a daily basis? What are the benefits and challenges of working so closely with your spouse?


MV: Yes and no. It depends on the day. We’re both full time at Brewpoint now but when we hit tougher times financially, Angelo did work outside of the shop. At this point, I’m the CEO and he is the jack of all trades helping where ever we need.

I don’t think working together would work for every couple, but neither of us can imagine not working together at this point. Though we don’t have kids, partnering on this business is what I would imagine parenting  would be like together. Definitely different, but tag teaming as much as possible and taking pride in the growth of something we really care about.

Since we were so early in our dating life when we bought the shop, working together helped us build a solid foundation of communication. We also established early on that I would be the leader and visionary for the company, so if we disagreed on a decision I would be able to keep moving forward with the vision I had for the company.

As for the challenges, it’s a bit of a double edged sword. We have the ability to do so much good together, but if we are out of sync it can affect a lot more than just our personal lives. We haven’t hit too many bumps like that, but I know that taking care of our relationship is vital to us taking care of the business.

CL: That business has grown to much more than that first shop you opened. Did you always intend to roast your own beans, and if not, how did that come about? What is the most difficult part of this “back end” part of the coffee business?

MV: We didn’t have much of a plan when we started Brewpoint, nor did we have much experience. In the beginning, our focus was a coffee shop and creating a space for the community. About 18 months in, we started gaining a bit of popularity and some really dedicated staff. We realized a coffee shop could provide for Angelo and I, but it would be difficult to take care of our employees without a more robust business. I did some research and the biggest opportunity for growth and creative control was in roasting our own coffee. This would be what we needed to do to create a thoughtful ecosystem that takes care of our employees, our community, and our farmers; so we worked to achieve that.

Five years in, we now have three coffee shops, a wholesale roastery, an event space, and a book called, “Starting and Running a Coffee Shop”. The most difficult part of this part of our business is that it’s truly and completely separate from the cafes. Not only does this entail learning a whole new business/segment of our industry but finding and training people that are not connected to the rest of the team in the usual way. We’re still figuring out how to bridge the gaps but it entailed a whole new set of skills and considerations.

CL: I love that concern for your staff and not strictly profit grew into a thriving endeavor. Incidentally, that’s similar to the reason my character started his business in The Solid Grounds Coffee Company. In addition to taking care of your Brewpoint family, your messaging highlights that you’re a woman-owned/minority-owned business. Why do you feel this is important to call attention to? What do you hope others learn from your experiences?

MV: Growing up I didn’t see a lot of women or minorities in leadership positions, let alone CEOs. Truthfully I still don’t see that many.

I often felt ashamed of my disposition to be a leader because that didn’t fit what people thought an ideal woman should be. Obviously, now I don’t believe that. Representation is extremely important for people to believe that we are more than the stereotypes and categories we are normally lumped into. Being an entrepreneur is not just about making my own dream come true, it’s about sharing our stories, so that others believe they can be unconventional, driven and take a risk.

CL: I think that’s so important. That’s actually similar to my mission in writing strong, unconventional women in my books. Obviously, I’ve benefited from the privilege of being white in America, but as a woman, I always felt like I was too ambitious and assertive, too career focused. I wanted to be able to show that women could have a career and a personal life, that there were men out there who could love and respect us as we are, without trying to change us. Which, I think we can both attest to in real life.

Getting back to the idea of empowering others to develop similar coffee shop models in their own areas, what role do you think spaces like Brewpoint have in the larger community?

MV: Coffee shops are a modern day watering hole for communities. Coffee shops aren’t just about the product, they’re places to connect, to work, to study, to read. They’re hubs for all kinds of people. People invite each other to coffee even if they don’t drink coffee because it’s more about connection than anything else.

Coffee shops tend to be more accessible than a lot of  other hospitality businesses because they have a lower cost of entry.  It isn’t alcohol which you have to be 21 or older, and it isn’t  a restaurant where you’re likely to spend at least $10 each visit. You can get a cup of coffee, tea, or a pastry for as low as $2 and often stay for as long as you like. It’s not the most profitable business a person could run, but I think spaces like this are truly special and important. We get to be the place where people meet face to face and connect.

CL: I would have to agree. As I’ve gotten to know the owners at my favorite local independent shop, I’ve seen their strong link to the community in a way that maybe corporate shops wouldn’t have. But that doesn’t come easy, and I know it takes a lot of work and planning to keep moving forward, being profitable, and making a difference. What are your goals for the next five years?

MV: Our biggest goal right now, is perfecting our ecosystem (The operations/communication/values by which we run our business). We have our shops and our roastery, we want to continue growing but to do it intentionally.

We have submitted B Corp assessment paperwork and are working towards being an accountable company that is not only profitable, but is committed to social, economic, and environmental good. Honestly, I believe the world would be a better place if more people with power and privilege created systems that were not just about taking care of themselves and/or their shareholders, but were about their communities; in our case this is our employees, vendors, farmers, and the environment.

So with that said, five years from now, I hope to not just have a thriving business, but to have a robust business structure that is replicable. Ideally we’ll be able to help others build similar spaces in their communities. From there maybe we’ll look at things like helping form government policy.

CL: I have no doubt that you’ll continue to accomplish those goals moving forward. We’ve touched on all the serious business stuff, so let’s sign off with a fun question: what are three things that no one would ever guess about you?


1) I wanted to be an NPR reporter in the Middle East before starting Brewpoint. I spent a year in Jordan and was studying at UChicago before meeting Angelo.

2) I am hopelessly dedicated to the Bachelor TV franchise. It’s full of drama and so utterly ridiculous that it helps me fully detach from all my responsibilities…so it’s more of a self-care thing than anything else.

3) When considering buying our coffee shop off Craigslist, someone swooped in and purchased the space first. We were hesitant before that but it left me deeply heartbroken. It was about a week later when the owners called and said that the other buyer could not move forward with the purchase because of a caveat in the lease. Losing the opportunity brought a new sense of urgency and certainty that we had to make this work.

CL: That’s so much fun. Thank you again for sharing your experiences and your background with my readers. It’s been a lot of fun learning about the coffee business through your eyes and I’m sure my readers have enjoyed hearing about your experiences as well!

Friends, before we go, if you’d like to learn more about Melissa and Brewpoint, check out her Linked In profile, which has links to some great posts about her coffee journey. If you’re in the Elmhurst, Illinois area, don’t forget to stop by one of their three locations.

Now for the super fun part: leave a comment below and tell me your favorite coffee drink is. I’ll be drawing one lucky winner to receive a hardcover copy of The Solid Grounds Coffee Company and a copy of my PDF coffee cookbook, Coffee House Favorites. (Hint: the latte drinks inside go great with Brewpoint’s Stargazer House Blend!)

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  1. Gretchen Garrison says:

    I would pick a peppermint mocha. I really enjoyed reading this interview, and I love knowing the story behind the cover.

  2. Traci says:

    MOCHA all the way!

  3. Lisa Kelley says:

    I love that a real person was behind the cover, not a stock photo. I like iced coffee with almond milk and Truvia.

  4. Kerri Norrod says:

    I would say that pumpkin spice latte is my favorite. I love finding out about the story behind your cover for this novel.

  5. Michelle says:

    My favorite is an iced caramel macchiato 🙂

  6. Joan Arning says:

    Americano – Hazelnut flavor is good!

  7. bn100 says:

    any kind of espresso drink

  8. Angela Visnosky says:

    It’s so cool that someone knowledgeable about coffee was on the cover.

  9. Angela Visnosky says:

    My favorite drink is a Chestnut Praline Latte or a Nutella Latte!

  10. Megan says:

    I like just plain, decaf coffee with a splash of cream.

  11. Rebekah M says:

    It was so neat to learn the history of the cover model! I think it’s fascinating that she and her now husband have become business partners and I admire her tenacity.
    My favorite coffee is a salted caramel frappe. ❤️

  12. Caryl Kane says:

    I enjoy spicy chai tea. I’m excited to read this series.

  13. Jerrye says:

    Either an iced Caramel Macchiato or an iced cinnamon dolce coffee.

  14. Linda says:

    Love learning the background of the cover and that it features a REAL person. So very cool! I love a good cup of hot, black coffee and for a fun treat, a peppermint mocha. Thank you for the opportunity to win this book. Either way, can’t wait to read it!

  15. Tayo says:

    A mocha – the mix of good quality cocoa with good quality coffee to make a not to sweet and not too bitter hot drink with a perfect froth on top and chocolate sprinkles…

    Carla, thanks for this great peek behind the scenes. Loved the interview, the business, family and social mix of your very special and on-point cover model. It is the research and attention to detail as well as the relate-able engaging writing and characters that has really confirmed you as one of my select band of favourite authors. I savour and re-read your books and recommend them to my book reading loved ones. Keep publishing! 🙂
    God bless MV and you Carla in all your endeavours.

  16. Christina Simke says:

    I’d have to say I like coffee best in ice cream form. 🙂

  17. Jennie says:

    I usually drink coffee at home with flavored creamer, but if I am going to buy one, it’s a caramel frappe. Interesting interview, by the way!

  18. Wesley E Douglas says:

    My hands down favorite has to be the Vespucci because I guess I have a sweet tooth. Every time I go in I try to rename it “Wespucci” because I know the staff writes the drink order right on the cup and I think it’s fun to have my name and the drink name on the cup. They usually humor me because they are cool people.

  19. Rosalyn says:

    I loved reading this!! It’s always interesting to me to hear someone’s story, how they were able to go beyond their initial hopes and make their dreams come to life.
    I love coffee, especially a caramel macchiato or a mocha.

  20. Teri DiVincenzo says:

    What an awesome interview! I had no idea that life truly inspired fiction in this case. My favorite coffee house drink is a vanilla chai latte, but I also love a good caramel latte every so often.

  21. Janis Rich says:

    I did not start drinking coffee til I was in my 60s. I love subtle flavors and right now am drinking hot buttered rum from a local coffee shop.

  22. Al Navata says:

    My favorite is actually the Bartolome from Brewpoint 🙂 I was the one that introduced the book designer to Melissa. When, we were brainstorming that book at our design meeting all I could think about was . . . “Melissa would be perfect for this.” 🙂 So glad you got to interview her and have her share her story.

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