Local Entrepreneur Finds a Lifeline with RRF Grant

Coffee Speaks N Tea Talks, LLC of Hillsborough County

Coffee Speaks N Tea Talks, LLC of Hillsborough CountyFollowing the passing of her mother in 2016, Arlene Brooks, wanted to do something with her life that would remind her of her mother every day.

After spending most of her adult life working in the corporate world, Brooks decided to take a leap of faith and launch her own coffee shop, Coffee Speaks N Tea Talks. “When I lost my mom in 2016, I asked God to give me an idea so I can hold on to her memory every day and coffee does that and that’s the reason why I founded a coffee shop.”

Coffee Speaks N Tea Talks features as many local products as it can, from the muffins to the art on the walls and the music on the stage.

“Coffee Speaks N Tea Talks is a place where you can come and enjoy coffee or tea and experience our categories of food small plates and things of that nature, and coffee speaks to everything that needs to have a voice, that need to speak or talk,” she said.

While Brooks has plenty of passion and drive to go around, she knew she needed help in making sure she got started the right way.

“I reached out to the [Florida] SBDC at Hillsborough County because first thing I needed to make sure that I was going to do everything correctly and I wanted to be able to follow all the procedures and processes that were set in place by the county because this would be my first business,” she said. “I also wanted to get guidance from Janette Blanco, who I found out was perfect for me, and that’s where I went to for help to make sure that I had everything in place.”

Blanco was there to guide Brooks through the entire startup phase, including financing the business. As the COVID-19 pandemic started forcing businesses to close their doors, Blanco kept Brooks informed of various U.S. Small Business Administration disaster programs, as well as local Hillsborough County grant programs, and helped her to pivot the business as needed. One of the ways Brooks pivoted was by taking her indoor performance artists, outdoors. At one of her parking lot jazz events, there were 400 community members who came through. “I chose not to give up even though at times I felt like I wanted to and I know this was a part of my mom and something about that just wouldn’t let me let it go,” Brooks said.

Brooks found it particularly difficult the more she was denied for disaster relief funds, but with Blanco’s persistence and confidence in the success of the company, she encouraged Brooks to apply for one last grant – the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“She helped me apply for a grant that prioritizes women and that’s where I submitted that and that’s the one that got approved, right in time,” Brooks said. It was just the lifeline Brooks needed to stay in business. “I was able to continue my business in a truly awesome way,” after being approved for more than $600,000 in grant funds.

Brooks plans on continuing to utilize the no-cost consulting services from the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County. “They have more information than you know,” she said. “Sometimes it can be overwhelming but the fact that you have an actual contact or consultant that believes in what you’re doing that you can trust and that they’ll give you all the information that you need and they’ll push and push to make sure it’s done… she wouldn’t let me give up.”