Things are perking up at The Ground Floor Coffee Shop in the historic Holt Building in Uptown Martinsville. Since the coffee shop came to town last year, it’s obvious that Martinsville is waking up to new possibilities.
“We didn’t start a coffee shop for what Martinsville is — we started it for what Martinsville can be,” The Ground Floor owner Josh Blancas said. “One of the key motivating factors for opening our business here was the amount of hope and expectation we have for the City of Martinsville.”
Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Business Analyst Michael Scales, who advised Blancas as he got his business started, agreed.
“The upper floors in Blancas’ building are filling up with apartments, as are other buildings in town,” Scales added. “In three to five years, the foot traffic for successful business will definitely be here.”
Blancas and his wife, Morgan, began planning a move from Houston, Texas, to Martinsville in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. Blancas had always dreamt of opening a coffee shop with the mission of impacting a community for the better. In 2020 the perfect opportunity came along.
“During the pandemic I reevaluated my life and decided to start a business that would make a difference,” the former Exxon executive related. “I had family and friends in Martinsville, so we decided to go for it.”
A friend, who owned the historic Holt Building in town, happened to mention that the ground floor was available. However, Blancas soon learned that starting a business from the ground up would require some business expertise.
“When I decided to take this leap and start this journey, I had no idea what I was doing,” Blancas said with a laugh. “I had never owned a business before.”
Though he had written business plans in college and had taken business courses, “it’s a whole different ballgame actually putting rubber to the road and setting out on the journey for yourself, so I was looking for all the advice I could get.”
Over several months, Blancas said he had conversations with officials in the city. “That’s when I was introduced to Michael Scales at the SBDC.”
Since then, Scales has been his right-hand man.
“One of the key relationships I developed at the beginning of my journey was with the SBDC,” Blancas said.
Blancas said Scales “was really one of the first guys who I had the chance to sit down with and talk through the details of my business plan and the strategy behind the shop.”
Scales helped Blancas develop a 40-page business plan that was essential in obtaining funds for renovating the 1914-era building. The project was focused on adding a modern feel while retaining historic features like the original hardwood floors and decorative tin ceiling tiles.
“The relationship (with Scales) is invaluable to me,” Blancas said. He said he still references the business plan he developed with Scales to this day.
Scales also encouraged Blancas to enroll in two entrepreneurial development programs, the Uptown Partnership Community Business Launch (CBL) and the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce Grow Program that includes a four-week boot camp for expanding companies.
“The Grow Program was created for established businesses to introduce a need to help that business grow,” Blancas noted. “We’re requesting $9,000 to expand our kitchen, currently about the size of a walk-in closet.”
Next on the agenda for The Ground Floor is expanding their current food service. What started with weekday breakfast burritos has expanded into lunch options (complete with lettuces and other greens grown in-shop in its hydroponic plant tower) and, most recently, a Saturday brunch menu, but Blancas said he plans to expand the shop’s food options even farther.
He said he hopes to expand the kitchen in late summer or early fall of this year.
“Once we do that expansion, I want to do a pretty different menu that goes beyond the traditional café-style sandwiches, soups, and salads. I want to do an emphasis on healthier food.”
That menu, he said, likely will include a variety of bowls including grain bowls and acai bowls.
“Pretty soon we’re going to start doing some healthier grab-and-go options like overnight oats, parfaits, fruit cups, and personal charcuterie boards,” Blancas added.
“I’m also extremely thankful for the Uptown Partnership in Martinsville,” Blancas noted. “In addition to funding, there’s training, mentorship guidance and general counsel on how to be successful. They’re chartered to define the vision for Martinsville’s future growth.”
Blancas is pleased with the growth he’s seen in the city since he opened for business in May 2021.
Prior to opening, he admitted he had his doubts. “Will Martinsville (residents) pay $5, $6, $7 for specialty coffee? Will we have enough business to sustain us? Will we have enough traffic?”
However, when he sold more than 500 cups of coffee on opening day—numbers he says are more typical of a busy coffee shop in New York City or San Francisco—those doubts began to be assuaged.
“Ever since we opened, we’ve been pleasantly surprised in every aspect. We’ve surpassed every single goal that we set for ourselves in our initial business plan.”
Ultimately, Blancas said, “just being a coffee shop isn’t the goal. The goal is being a gathering place … whatever we can do to get people in the door and create a space for people, we want to do that.”
“It’s an exciting time,” he concluded. “The infrastructure and the people are already here. I feel sure that something special is about to happen in Martinsville, and I definitely want The Ground Floor to be a part of it.”
As a small business resource for over 30 years, the Longwood SBDC’s core mission is to provide education, consulting and economic research to support potential and existing small business owners throughout Southern Virginia. Longwood SBDC works with local sponsors to provide consulting services free of charge. For more information visit www.sbdc-longwood.com.