Connor Williams graduated in computer science and thought he might be what he called a digital nomad. South America looked like his first stop.
And yet, he said this from a booth inside Alley Cat Coffee as students sipped drinks, laughed or buried their noses in laptops.
“I’ve spent so much time here,” Williams said. “If the choice was to have it close or sell it to someone random, I didn’t really have a choice, in my mind.”
Williams, 27, calls the cafe founded by his father, Mark, his second home. He was homeschooled, and most of his lessons took place at the counter.
He said his father, Mark, talked him into taking over, but all it really took was a little reassurance.
He hesitated, he said, because he was afraid of the responsibility. Jumping into it helped, as well as making a deal with his business partner and friend, Hunter Horsfall: Horsfall could handle the bar downstairs if he managed the coffee house. They still trade off at times. He backs up Horsfall during concerts. One of his main jobs, he said, seems to be sweeping up broken glass.
Williams said the vibe is “an alternative library,” meaning it’s one of those coffee houses where students go to study together. There is a quiet room without music for more serious students, but even there, it’s stocked with art supplies that customers donate. In the noisier section, students crowd tables with their laptops in every booth. Students are most of his business, and he’s learned to like it that way.
“I’d love it to be busier,” Williams said. “But I don’t want to cut out students.”
Saturdays are good, he said, and when there are midterms, he’s packed every night. Winters are generally strong. Summers are slower.
“We have busy weekends and weekdays are pretty chill,” Williams said, “but we are trying to figure that out.”
He handed out free chai cards on campus at the beginning of the school year. He gave most of his 1,000 away to freshmen until he found a graduate student party and dumped his last 200. He got 300 cards back, which made him happy. He doesn’t like to advertise on social media and leaves marketing to a couple of chalk messages on campus.
“The best thing I can do is try to make it a good experience,” Williams said, “and hope they come back.”
He knows he’s young to own his own business, but he considers that an advantage. He likes his employees: They’ve made the adjustment much easier. He’s run the place for four years now.
“I’m only a few years older than most of my workers,” he said. “I know what they want.”
Perhaps another country will beckon him away one day, but for now, he’s glad his father pushed him into the family business.
“I don’t know if I’ll do this for 20 years,” Williams said. “But honestly I’m happy where I am right now.”