Baxter’s Coffee builds a future around family

The best stories are the ones that make you feel something. They trigger all of your senses, and you are able to transport yourself into the narrative. The story of Baxter’s Coffee does just that.

At first glance, one would assume their story is only about the morning cup of Joe or that extra kick of caffeine on the way to work, but no. This story begins with a small video store in the mid-90s when the highlight of the week was grabbing a VHS copy of the newest release and a bowl of buttery popcorn.

Terri and Johnny Tuttle have been long-time entrepreneurs in Somerset, KY. Johnny opened a restaurant, The Waitsboro Inn, in the late-70s, while Terri worked as a dental hygienist. Together, they had three kids (Ann, Jay, and Lauren) who you would sometimes find running around the restaurant, busing tables or washing dishes. Family was important.

In the 90s, Terri decided to make a career change and build a business of her own. She wanted to focus more on her family and wanted the independence of being an entrepreneur. She opened a video store located in the shopping center on Highway 80 near where a K-Mart used to be located. She found it was a good way to combine work and family.

“It was just a small mom and pop,” Terri said.

Soon the video store became a place of familiarity, and families would come in, catch up, and get their weekend entertainment. Along the way, they added ice cream to the mix. Soon after, people started asking for coffee with their ice cream.

And So It Begins…

When Terri first started selling coffee in her video store, the coffee culture that we know today hadn’t taken off yet. Anything more than a regular cup of coffee wasn’t available in Somerset or even nearby counties.

According to her son, Jay Tuttle, his mom would often make an excuse to travel so that she could get a specialty cup of coffee – an espresso.

“The first thing I would do when I got to Lexington or Louisville or wherever I went…I would go straight to a coffee shop,” Terri said. “I loved my espresso-based drinks.”

A friend of the family inspired Terri to take her business to the next level and sell coffee along with ice cream at the video store.

“Soon after that, I knew that the video part wasn’t going to have long legs. Technology was changing,” Terri said. “It was time to renew our lease, so we sold the store. I decided to come over here (to the original Baxter’s north location) and piddle around with coffee and ice cream.”

Little did she know, her little coffee shop would soon become a pillar of the community. In September 2001, she bought a small house on Ogden Street, right off of Hwy 27. This was a pivotal time for all Americans. Communities were uneasy and grieving after the 9/11 attacks.

“It was a strange time for everybody,” Terri said. “It was one of those iconic times in our history. I think people were looking for comfort.”

For the people of Somerset, coffee and a friendly face seemed to provide that comfort.

“At that time, there was a lot of patriotism and people were looking for a sense of community. Then here opens this new coffee shop in town,” Jay said. “It was a place of gathering, a place of fellowship, and for a warm hug.”

Front Porch Sitting

Terri opened the first Baxter’s location that September, which eventually became known as the north store. On the outside, it looked like a regular home. For a while, it was quiet. She would sit on the front porch or in the back with her checkbook and would pay bills until someone came along wanting coffee.

“There were times in the early years when it was tough. Any new business start-up can be really tough. The accountant that I have today told me he remembered coming in and scratching his head and thinking, ‘Nobody is going to make any money on coffee,’” she laughed.

With time, the business evolved. They stopped selling ice cream and focused only on coffee. A few years later, they opened a location on the south end of Somerset at the Parker’s Mill intersection, the south store.

Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital reached out and they added their coffee to the hospital cafeteria, which was available to medical professionals and hospital visitors.

Soon, you could get a cup of Baxter’s Coffee on the north end, south end, and in between. The Somerset community embraced Baxter’s Coffee and never let go.

“I don’t know what it is,” Terri shook her head. “I’ve been involved in a lot of different businesses, but there is just something about coffee people. The customer base with this store is phenomenal. Our community has been so good about embracing what we are doing and has been really supportive.”

Where did the name come from?

From the beginning, as Terri would sit on the porch and deliver coffee, she had a member of her family by her side – a standard brown poodle named Baxter.

“He’d be on the porch hanging out all the time,” Jay said. “He came to work almost every day. He spent a lot of time on the front porch.”

When Terri had the video store and sold coffee and ice cream, she called it The Coffee Corner because it was literally in the corner of the store.

“Coffee Corner didn’t translate to the new place,” Jay said. “We needed a name, and we are just dog people. It worked.”

Baxter’s Coffee was born.

“It was a joke at the beginning because several people would come in and ask if Mrs. Baxter was there,” Terri laughed.

You can even find a silhouette of Baxter on the logo.

“When my daughter Lauren came into the business, she said we needed to use the dog in our branding,” Terri said. “She’s the one who brought the dog in and created the logo.”

Jay said that sometimes people come up to him and let him know that they named their dog after Baxter because he was so popular.

When they were building a deck onto the north store, Baxter left his mark.

“We went and got him and put his paws in the concrete,” Jay said. “It’s starting to wear down, but you can still see it.”

Unfortunately, Baxter passed on January 5, 2016. Shortly before that, they added Baxter II or “Deuce” to the family, who looks identical to the original Baxter. Customers might see Deuce hanging out at Baxter’s north store near the office.

A Family Affair

Today, Baxter’s is a well-known staple in the Somerset community and beyond, but Terri didn’t build the business on her own.

“I started this, but I have to give a lot of credit to my three children,” Terri said. “One by one, each of them ended up coming into the business.”

Ann, the oldest, was working in finance in a corporate setting. She decided to come back to Somerset because she had grown up in a small business environment and enjoyed that more. She began working on the financial aspect of the business.

Around 2009, Terri’s middle child, Jay, decided he wanted to explore roasting coffee. By 2012, they started selling their own blend wholesale. In 2016, they opened the Roasting Company and drive-through located just down the road from the original north location.

Her youngest, Lauren, also joined after college and focused on marketing the business. She helped design other products from their brand that are available for purchase. When you walk into the stores, you can find apparel, coffee cups, and more.

Baxter’s became a true family business, where everyone worked together to maintain the quality and mission of the business day in and day out.

“It’s been fabulous for the business,” Terri said. “They each bring their skills and that has resulted in moving things forward for us. I have to give them a lot of credit. They’ve all worked really hard.”

From Kentucky to Costa Rica

When Jay joined the business in 2009, he did so with a focus on roasting in-house and selling their coffee wholesale. Customers could then make Baxter’s coffee from the comfort of their own home.

Up until then, they were sourcing their coffee from another roasting company. Roasting it themselves would give them more freedom to develop their product.

They found roasting equipment on eBay, so they took a truck all the way to Kansas City to pick it up. Once they had the equipment, they had to figure out how to source their own beans. They eventually found a coffee bean importer that sourced the beans from multiple countries, including Costa Rica. The importer took care of getting the beans to Kentucky. Then Jay was able to start the roasting process. The first time they roasted their own batch, they burnt the whole thing.

“You could barely see our faces because of the smoke,” Jay joked.

From then, it came down to learning, trial and error, testing, and feedback. Jay worked for 18 months to get where they wanted to be. They took their time so that their customers wouldn’t experience any disruption in the quality of their coffee. They wanted to get it just right.

“We wanted to match the taste profile of what we were already doing so the customers wouldn’t be upset,” Jay said. “There’s a lot of chemistry behind it.”

Roasting their own coffee beans also came with new connections. Even though the importer took care of getting the beans to Kentucky, the family wanted to see where their coffee was coming from. Jay and his family were able to visit the Costa Rican farmers who were providing the beans on several occasions.

Their importer took them around to the different farms so they could see the harvesting process and greet the farmers. Going to another country, they didn’t know what to expect. They found that the farmers had a deep appreciation for the impact their partnership had.

Like Baxter’s, the local farmers were all family businesses.

“Most of them have three generations working on the farm,” Jay said. “Before the importer came and started buying coffee from the families, their income was just nothing. The importer told me they prioritized sustainability. They were all about paying the farmers and the families what their product was worth.”

This has such an impact on the families financially that one of the families even named their son after one of the importer’s employees.

They took their time, did their research, and they made sure they knew where their product was coming from. By 2012, they had the process down and were ready for wholesale.

Branching Out

Even though they were ready for wholesale, they were selective about where they sold their coffee. They wanted every Baxter’s experience to have the same quality and customer service.

“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Terri said. “It’s more than just going out and having an opportunity that might be productive. You don’t want to lose what it is – the customers and the family. We like to watch and make sure that everyone is being taken care of. You want to take care of your customers.”

In Stanford, you can purchase their coffee from Kentucky Soaps & Such and it is served at the Bluebird restaurant.

In 2012 when they first started selling wholesale, they met with Bluebird about a possible partnership.

“The floors were still gravel the first time I met with the Chef,” Jay said. “In downtown Stanford, it was impressive to see the level of execution they were attempting to pull off. Right then, I knew that the Bluebird crew understood quality. We don’t want somebody brewing our coffee who is going to let it sit on a burner for three hours.”

Baxter’s even gave Bluebird the exact specifications for equipment to grind and brew their coffee.

They want every Baxter’s experience to have the same quality and they like to partner with businesses that have the same mission. The same goes for Kentucky Soaps & Such, located across the street from Bluebird.

“When I go to Kentucky Soaps, it’s always a pleasant experience,” Terri said. “When I go to Bluebird, it’s always that same experience. You feel that kinship and appreciation for all of the local people.”

For Terri and her family, it’s important that a partnership is about more than just selling coffee or making money, it’s about creating something that will benefit both organizations and the customers.

“In my first conversation with every wholesale account, I always tell them that this is a relationship,” Jay said. “It is business, but it’s a relationship. It’s got to work for me, and it’s got to work for you. This is a two-way street.”

For more information on Baxter’s Coffee, visit their website. To purchase their coffee in Stanford, you can visit Kentucky Soaps & Such or dine in the Bluebird restaurant.