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Take the risk.
For Rachael Barlow and Heather Veik, those are words to live by.
Although they weren’t sure what it might turn into, these two good friends dreamed of doing something unique together—something they could pour their creativity into. And, while all sorts of ideas, projects, and plans crossed their minds, one in particular kept coming back to them.
“We were really dreaming of something that we could put our creative minds to work at,” said Rachael. “In a mix of lots of aspirations, we threw the idea of a coffee shop around, but put it on the back burner until we couldn't take the burning desire off our minds.”
That desire became reality when Heather and Rachael opened River Mill Coffee Co., in Neligh, Nebraska, on Sept. 27, 2021.
The road to becoming business owners had some twists and turns.
The women first turned to the Neligh Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Office for guidance. From there, they were directed to the Center for Rural Affairs and Senior Loan Specialist Lori Schrader, who helped them develop a business plan. Lori also connected them with a Center contractor who helped the entrepreneurs put together financial projections and bookkeeping options.
And, the Center worked alongside a bank to provide Rachael and Heather with a loan to help start their dream business.
“When I knew that the loan application was short on cash flow, I was determined to find a way to make this happen,” said Lori. “The passion that Rachael and Heather have for this business really played a large role in my passion to help them. So, I asked the ladies how they would feel about bringing in their spouses as co-borrowers, to help prove cash flow. They didn't hesitate, and neither did their spouses.”
In addition, the City of Neligh provided the entrepreneurs with city funds for the business. Lori and a microenterprise tax expert from the Center helped Heather and Rachael gather the documents, fill out the application, and qualify for the Nebraska Microenterprise Tax Credit. One-on-one counseling through the Center was provided with funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program.
“River Mill Coffee Co. is such an amazing place,” Lori said. “I have gone there several times after I helped them with a loan. You know you love your job when your clients turn into friends. Rachael and Heather are always in contact with me about any opportunities that may help them or their business. They also continue to work with contractors from the Center on marketing needs and bookkeeping assistance.”
Rachael and Heather are grateful for the support.
“Lori was always available, no matter if it was questions or worries,” Heather said. “If she wasn't sure of something, she would contact who she needed to get the answer to us. She felt more like a really close friend than a loan officer. We really value her support and enthusiasm for our dreams.”
They closed on their loan and received keys to the property on Good Friday 2021. Today, River Mill Coffee Co. stands as a modern coffee shop specializing in quality espresso, coffees, and teas. The owners pride themselves most on their coffee and tea beverages, as well as their homemade syrups. They also offer smoothies, crafted sodas, homemade baked goods, and unique sandwiches and salads.
Along with help from half a dozen employees, Rachael and Heather work to make the coffee shop a place that offers more than food and beverages.
“Our vision for River Mill was to create an environment that didn't feel like rural Nebraska, yet also promotes and celebrates rural Nebraska,” Rachael said. “Something that feels like a retreat immediately when you walk through the door. We also wanted it to be a comfortable space for all ages to meet friends, do work, and create.”
As business owners, Heather and Rachael get to enjoy the perks of being front and center with their customers.
“We love being able to create our own culture and have the freedom to be ourselves,” Heather said. “This also plays into having the space to create and be full of life and adventure.”
They truly enjoy visiting with their customers and learning about them, as well as spending time with each other and their employees, Rachel said.
“We get especially excited when we have travelers come through and we get to hear stories and backgrounds,” she said. “However, our absolute favorite part is all the sore stomach muscles we get because our days are full of laughter from the best friendships.”
Rachael and Heather gained much knowledge through the process of opening their business, and offer their insights to anyone else who might be thinking of taking on that challenge.
“Be ready for a drastic life change and be willing to pour your all into it,” said Heather. “Also, let the process happen. There are so many learning moments, and it's a must that they happen. Your success comes from being able to embrace those learning experiences—adjust, grow, and keep moving forward to the next one.”
They also encourage entrepreneurs to check out local resources for guidance.
“We decided to work with the Center because their core is helping small town businesses and that's what we needed—they were the perfect fit for us,” Rachael said. “Everyone from the Neligh City Chamber to the Center for Rural Affairs was so supportive. It's evident the passion each one of these individuals has for helping develop our rural communities.”
Heather said a close friend who helped her and Rachael by being a barista when they first opened recently signed a loan through the Center and is now opening her own business.
“They truly help dreams happen,” Heather said.
Taking the risk paid off for the business owners, and they’re glad they brought that burning desire off the backburner and opened their coffee shop.
“If you have something in your heart, all you can do is go for it, '' Rachael said. “We believe we were called to do this, and even in the midst of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, it's incredible to think of all the beautiful moments, details, and events that have happened because of the space and the people that have been brought in. We are always dreaming and planning. We hope and pray there is a lot more ahead for River Mill Coffee Co.”
Have an idea and don’t know where to start? Contact your regional loan specialist. Find yours at cfra.org/lending-staff.
At a glance
River Mill Coffee Co.
Rachael Barlow and Heather Veik
407 W. 11th St.
Hours: Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.