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From BIGGBY® Employee to Franchisee: Former Coworkers Join Forces in Business Ownership

Elijah Schoonard worked for years at BIGGBY®, and later AT&T, to save up to buy his own location. Now, along with his former coworker from AT&T, he’s finally made the investment.

By Erica InmanStaff Writer
10:10AM 01/16/24

During the seven years that Elijah Schoonard worked at a BIGGBY® COFFEE location in Michigan, he dreamt of owning his own store some day. As he wasn’t in a position to do so at the time, he continued working and eventually moved to Florida and worked for AT&T. Even though Schoonard achieved great success while working in multiple different sales positions at the company, he never gave up on his passion to open his own store. While working at AT&T, Schoonard developed a friendship with his coworker, Xavier Marquez, who will now be his business partner. 

For Schoonard, achieving this goal was not just a personal victory, but a reflection of those who helped him along the way.

“I grew up in pretty extreme poverty and came from absolutely nothing. Even if you’re starting from the bottom, you can get to where I am,” he said. “I got to where I am now because of all of the amazing people in my life.”

Now, Schoonard, alongside his business partner Marquez, looks forward to opening his own BIGGBY® franchise at 9570 Southwest 62nd Ave, Ocala, Florida just down the street from his home in the first quarter of 2024. Although he enjoyed his time working at BIGGBY®, it wasn’t until he left that he realized how special the atmosphere was, and he has been missing the warmth of the customer experience the brand offers ever since. He is looking forward to bringing that energy and positivity to his community in Florida, not only to his customers but also to his employees.

1851 Franchise spoke with Schoonard about his journey into franchising and his plans for the future.


1851 Franchise: Frame your personal story for us. What did you do before franchising, and how did you decide franchising made sense for you?

Schoonard: I worked at BIGGBY® for about seven years in southwest Michigan under Kyle Kinney, another BIGGBY® franchisee. I was a manager for him for multiple years. I worked at a few different stores and was always interested in owning my own store. However I wasn't in a financial position to do so at the time, so I ended up moving to Florida in 2019. From there, I got a job at AT&T, which is where I met Xavier. We worked there for several years together, until finally I got into a position where I could pursue my dream of business ownership with BIGGBY®. It was then that Xavier and I decided to take on this venture together. 

1851: What was your perception of franchising prior to becoming a franchisee, and what do you want people to know about franchising now that you are in it?

Schoonard: It’s a lot of work and a lot of red tape, but the positive side is that you have a blueprint laid out that’s been proven to work in the past. It’s less about wondering about whether or not you are making the right decision, and more about following a plan. You get a lot of support. Everybody who came before you probably had the same questions that you do, so people can answer those questions for you. All the vendors are selected for you and the ease of decision making is super beneficial to people who are new to business ownership. 

1851: What made you pick this brand? What excites you most about this company?

Schoonard: Although I worked at a BIGGBY® location, I didn’t realize how important and unique the atmosphere was there until I left. A lot of customer service at other businesses feels cold and separated from the customer, and that's something I realized after leaving BIGGBY®. My wife and I worked there together and we often will exchange a look when we go other places, because the customer experience just isn’t as good as what it was at BIGGBY®. 

I missed that energy, environment and culture. It is missing where I live, and I am very excited to bring what I know from working in the stores in Michigan to my community here.  

1851: What do you hope to achieve with your business? What are your plans for growth? 

Schoonard: We want to be known as a store that people go to for the best customer experience, gourmet coffee and a pleasant atmosphere. I also really want to create a positive workplace environment for my employees. 

If I put the customers and my employees first, I think everything else will follow after that. We want to grow in the future with more locations after we establish some more brand recognition in Florida. 

1851: What is the one thing about your story you want us to know?

Schoonard: I grew up in pretty extreme poverty and came from absolutely nothing. Even if you’re starting from the bottom, you can get to where I am. The biggest thing I’ve had to learn in my life is that you can’t do it alone and it’s OK to ask for help. I got to where I am now because of all of the amazing people in my life. 

1851: What advice do you have for other people thinking about becoming a franchise owner?

Schoonard: Reach out to other owners and franchisees and get their advice. Find out what their biggest hurdles were. To have mentors who have gone through the process will save you so much trouble and make things a lot easier. 

About The BIGGBY® COFFEE Franchise

BIGGBY® COFFEE, based in East Lansing, Mich., was started with a single store on March 15, 1995. One year later, and on the cusp of opening a second location, Bob Fish and Michael McFall, on a handshake and $4,000, decided to franchise the concept. The brand’s cultural values of Make Friends, Have Fun, B Yourself and Share Great Coffee help coffee lovers and the coffee-curious alike benefit from a less pretentious and fun approach to the standard gourmet cafe paradigm. Besides connoisseur-worthy drinks with names like Teddy Bear® and Caramel Marvel®, BIGGBY® COFFEE baristas provide a unique experience focused on brightening their customers’ day and supporting them in building a life they love. The “Big ‘B’” on the orange background caught on, and today BIGGBY® COFFEE has 375 cafes across many states, including Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida.