March 22, 2022
We’re excited to announce the $10,000 February Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Lindsey Ratcliff, founder of Space Rabbit Coffee.
She is the February qualifier for the 2022 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Lindsey for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Hi, everyone. Welcome to a conversation with this month’s Amber Grant winner. Today, we’re speaking with Lindsey Ratcliffe, who’s the Owner of Space Rabbit Coffee, and she’s our Amber Grant winner for February, 2022. I’m Marcia Layton Turner, and I’m a WomensNet Advisory Board member. So Lindsey, thank you so much for joining me today.
Lindsey: Thank you for having me.
WomensNet: Why don’t you tell everyone about Space Rabbit Coffee, maybe starting with the origins of the name. Is there a story there?
Lindsey: We get asked that a lot actually. But the story is probably not as interesting as you would hope. My husband was a travel nurse and we were traveling full time, living out in Arizona, and we had the amazing opportunity. I had talked about wanting to run my own business for a long time…we had a coffee shop that we always went to in Arizona. And she was selling all of her equipment. She randomly told us one day as we went through the drive through of her little shop… She said, ‘yeah, I’m selling everything and moving to New Jersey. I’ll sell it all to somebody for $5,000.’ And without really even thinking twice, I said, we’ll take it. And my husband was kinda sitting beside me, like we…we will? But he was completely supportive and on board. He knew it had been a dream of mine and we both spent entirely too much money on coffee. So it seemed like a good idea…if only for us to have coffee for ourselves.
WomensNet: Did you know at that time what you were gonna do with this equipment?
Lindsey: Not exactly. I knew that I wanted to have some sort of coffee shop. It was too good of a deal to pass up on. And what was really weird is we had joked about it so many times. When we were stationed in other locations for his travel nurse career, we would talk about this coffee shop in Arizona, because we had been there on a previous trip. And we had joked about like ‘oh, you know, we should go out there and have her teach us how she may extra coffee, and then, you know, have our own shop.’ And I would do that, and he would still be a nurse and that was the plan. But it was always a joke. It was never something we felt seriously about until this. And so, you know, we left there and he was kinda like, ‘what are you gonna do with that stuff?’ And I was like, I haven’t figured it out yet.
So we ended up buying the stuff. And in the meantime, I was thinking about different options. And we decided together that a coffee trailer made the most sense. When I was looking at different, leasing options and things like that, we were still living in Arizona. Our home is in Virginia. We knew we were gonna stop traveling full time and moved back home. But I didn’t really know where the best place to set up a new business would be. And it scared me committing to any one location. So I decided on a coffee trailer. And then I found the one that we ended up buying in Utah. We drove and got it [but] we still didn’t have a name for this business.
WomensNet: What exactly is a coffee trailer?
Lindsey: Yes. So we pull it behind our vehicle. Funny enough when we went to pick it up, the only vehicle we owned that would pull it, was our Class A 32-foot RV. So we drove from Arizona to Utah to pick up the coffee trailer in our RV. And so we had a bright blue RV pulling a bright yellow coffee trailer.
Anyways, we still didn’t have a name. I was still coming up with different ideas and I would suggest something that I thought was brilliant and my husband would be like, ‘are you sure that’s what you wanna name your business?’ So eventually I was like, I dunno…I thought about how a lot of businesses have an animal or a mascot-type logo. And so I was trying to come up with an animal and I suggested rabbit because it’s high energy, thinking like Energizer bunny. I thought I need something to go with it, you know, like not coffee rabbit. That sounds crazy. And he was like, ‘what about Space Rabbit Coffee?’ Cause it’s like blasting off into space when you drink our coffee. I was like, okay. Yeah, sure. That sounds great.
So that’s kind of how the name came about and how we ended up with this coffee equipment and this bright yellow coffee trailer. The bright yellow was never the plan. That was the color it was. And I didn’t have extra money to throw around to do anything else with it. So it was part of our brand.
WomensNet: So what’s the service area that you travel? Do you have a certain route that you take every day?
Lindsey: We opened in June of 2020, which was kind of a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the fact that a lot of other coffee shops where you have to actually go inside of a building were kind of struggling. Or they had temporarily closed, or you could only order online for curbside. So we were not really affected by any of the lockdowns and regulations. We were able to just set up in parking lots and people could just come on out. We started out in Roanoke, Virginia, which was where we lived. But the business there, it was just slower. Within the first two weeks we decided, you know what, let’s find a place to set up back in our hometown, where we grew up Pulaski, Virginia. It’s about an hour southwest of Roanoke.
It’s a small town. So we were able to use our family and friends and connections to get the word out really fast. And so we set up there on a Saturday and it was just crazy busy. It was a huge hit. So ever since then we were like, ‘well maybe we’ll do some Roanoke, some Pulaski…’ This was before gas got crazy expensive. So we were kind of back and forth. And then places in between started, you know ‘oh, Space, Rabbit Coffee, what is this?’ Or they would say, you know, ‘I saw you online. You’re everywhere online. I drove from Christiansburg and, you know, places in between like around the Virginia Tech area.’ And so then it’s became, you know, we’ll do Roanoke one day, Christiansburg one day, Pulaski one day type of thing.
Over the last year and a half, close to two years now, we’ve kind of gotten into a little bit of a routine. On Mondays we’re typically closed. On Tuesdays we’re in this town… on Wednesdays, this town. We would kind of go through the week like that. But we also are flexible enough still that if people want to hire us for private events or things like that, then we do that as well.
WomensNet: How did you hear about the Amber Grant, and what made you decide to apply?
Lindsey: We needed money. Our business has grown really fast. And just like I mentioned, we’re in different places all the time. We sent out a customer survey recently — we had 178 responses within 24 hours. And the biggest complaint was that we’re not in each location. Like, if someone lived in Christiansburg, their complaint was, we’re not in Christiansburg all the time. And that was pretty much across the board, wherever anyone lives. So between that information and also just there being so many events that we could be at, but we only have one trailer. So we can’t be everywhere at one time. And this is now our full-time job. I run the business and help in the coffee trailer. He quit being a nurse to do this full-time, so this is, you know, my full-time job. I’m actually participating in a business course and competition through our local Small Business Development Center.
It’s called the gauntlet program. In one of our classes, they were talking about grants. And the reason I’m participating in the program is so I can kind of hopefully learn and also hopefully earn more money to help us further this expansion. And they were talking about grants being a good way to fund expanding your business or growing your business. And I hadn’t really thought about that. I don’t know why. And so I was just Googling grants one day in February and found the Amber Grant. I kind of applied last minute. But yeah, that was the main reason — because we’re hoping to expand either into a second trailer or start opening up drive through only locations. That’s very popular out west; not so popular on the east coast. But the idea would be, it’s just drive through only — same thing we’re doing in the coffee trailer — but in one of our very busy, popular locations.
WomensNet: So is that how you’re planning to spend the $10,000?
Lindsey: We will be spending this money on some of the equipment that we need in order to have a second location. And then we will either finance either the second trailer or if we do a drive through only in a stationary location, it will most likely be in a shipping container. So we will either finance, or if I’m able to win this gauntlet competition, then we would use some of that funding as well.
WomensNet: So beyond the immediate investing in another trailer, what are some of your future plans?
Lindsey: I’ve been speaking at a lot of high schools recently in entrepreneur-type classes and things like that. I am really passionate about helping young, would-be entrepreneurs, kind of figure out their path and realize that they are able to do this. When I was in high school, that wasn’t really ever something that anyone encouraged in me, even though I was very entrepreneurial. I always talked about wanting a business, but it was just kind of like, ‘oh, go to college, pick a career, do that.’ So I was a teacher for three years before we started traveling. And I just think that there’s a big — at least in our community — lack of a not resources. The resources are there, but people just don’t necessarily know how to access them or what is out there, or they’re not always encouraged.
So I’ve been going around and speaking to some of these high school classes. My goal is either late this fall or early next spring to have a conference. And so I’ve been talking with some of the local people that we would want to get interested in helping plan and, you know, get this all set up. The conference would be for high school/early college students to come and learn from different business leaders in the community and have tables set up with, you know, where you might go to talk to someone and ask ‘how do you fund your business?’ Or, ‘how can I market my business?’ Things like that. So that’s one of my plans.
We also are gonna be launching a plant based energy drink line soon. We have a lot of people, especially the younger market, that wants the energy from coffee. But they don’t always like the coffee taste just yet. So these energy drinks are made with green coffee beans before they’re roasted. And so we’re gonna have energy drinks that are more fruit flavored; they’re iced or frozen. You can customize the flavor just like you can our coffees. So that’s really fun and exciting. And we’re really looking forward to kind of rolling that out later this spring.
WomensNet: Do you have any advice for some of the aspiring women entrepreneurs…anything that you’ve learned along the way that you found really helpful?
Lindsey: One thing is to just go for it. Don’t let people hold you back. When we first were telling our family that we were buying this coffee equipment…they thought we were crazy. My husband stopped travel nursing so that we could be in a set location so that I could get this business going. If we had listened to everyone that told us that this was a crazy or bad idea, then we would not be doing it.
Also, networking has been huge for us. At first, I thought that this would be so easy to just, you know, like for us, for example, to just say ‘I’ll setup the coffee trailer and people will come.’ But then the more time we have spent time talking to other people in the community or made relationships with other food trucks or even other coffee shops, the easier it has been to grow our business.
My third piece of advice is to support your other local businesses, even if they seem like your competition. We’ve made really good friends with the other local coffee shops in the area because our ideas, you know… there’s enough to go around. We don’t need every single person to come only to us. And we actually started our business because we love coffee. And so when we’re closed, we go out to other coffee shops and support them too. We’ve made really great relationships. So I think that’s super important.
WomensNet: Such great advice. Thank you so much. And thank you for taking the time today to share your story with the WomensNet community, and again on winning our February Amber Grant.