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The Balance Feature: Debby Johnston on Following your Passion and Becoming an Entrepreneur

Welcome to the Balance Feature! Each month Believe in Balance features an individual or organization striving to make a difference in the lives of the communities and the people they serve.

This month I spoke to Debby Johnston. Debby is an entrepreneur who has a passion for coffee. Debby is the owner and operator of Debby’s Drive-Thru, a coffee shop and scratch bakery the size of a mouse house in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

I’ve been a regular customer since we moved to Sudbury 8 years ago. Debby always meets me with a smile, knows me by name, and immediately tells me the coffee of the day, which I inevitably never refuse.

Her blends are unique to anything you can buy in a supermarket and with each sip, I’m instantly happy and excited to start my day.

On occasion, I’ll treat myself to one of her delectable baked goods. Her banana bread is OUTstanding and always warm, and her granola bars can’t be beaten.

Meet Debby Johnston…

Tell us a little about how Debby’s Drive-Thru came to be?

I was a down-sized office manager looking for a new administrative job when I learned that the coffee shop was being sold. Luckily, the deal on the table fell through and I jumped at the opportunity to own my own business.

Why coffee?

I love coffee but that is not why I bought this business. I had always wanted my own business of any kind but was afraid of the monetary risk of a start-up and didn’t think I had the money to buy an existing business. This opportunity fell into my lap when I went to buy my coffee at my usual coffee spot and found out that the owner had a sale pending with an owner of a local coffee franchise. She shared the sale price with me and I realized it was sometime I could afford. Lucky for me, the sale fell through and I jumped on the opportunity.

Your space is rather unique. Can you describe it?

It is a prefab former Fotomat building placed in the middle of a parking lot in the 1960s. When digital photography made film obsolete, it was converted into a coffee shop in the 1990s. I don’t know the square footage; I never measured it. But I can stand in the middle and put my arms out of both windows simultaneously. The other dimension is just a bit longer.

You have a size-able menu. How do you possibly serve so many items in such a small space?

Obsessive organization. Everything has its own place on a particular shelf or counter.

How many items are on your menu?

I never thought to count them all. I sell locally micro-roasted hot and iced coffees, in addition to espresso drinks. I also serve a variety of small batch-made from scratch baked goods and fresh breakfast sandwiches.

What’s your best seller?

Besides the regular coffee, I specialize in brewed flavored coffee. My customer favorite is called Jamaican Me Crazy, which is a blend of vanilla, caramel, and Kahlua. The scones are currently the favorite baked item.

There is a Starbucks, Pete’s Coffee and Dunkin Donuts within a quarter mile from you. What makes Debby’s Drive-Thru so special?

The customers. We have the best customers in the world. Their welcoming, smiling faces every morning keep us going day after day.

What is the craziest thing that’s ever happened at Debby’s Drive-Thru?

Last fall Mother Nature dumped an unprecedented amount of rain in a couple of hours. It overwhelmed the storm drains and the parking lot flooded. The water rose so high that a cooler I had placed up against the building started to float away. At that point, we decided it was time to evacuate.

What do you love most about your job?

Making people happy. Nothing makes me feel better than seeing the smile on the face of a customer, especially the children, enjoying one of my freshly made treats.

What is your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?

My biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is the amount of time I spend on my business. I wear all the hats in this venture which makes it fun for me because of the variety of tasks I get to do. I love them all (ok, except for the shopping for supplies; I hate shopping). The problem is that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

How do you maintain balance in your work and life?

The number one thing is that I prioritize my time with that which means the most to me and to realize that it’s ok if other people might not understand my priorities. It’s my life, not theirs. Currently, the two things that I choose to give my time to are my husband and my business. I know that if I opened my shop on the weekends I could probably earn double what I earn on a weekday but my husband has a business where he works Monday through Friday, therefore I refuse to open my shop on the weekend so that we can be together on the weekends. I still need to do between 8-12 hrs of behind the scenes work each weekend but I can fit it in with the fun plans we want to have together. I work a 90 hr work week but each night I make dinner for us because it is something he looks forward to each day. My business has grown every year; yesterday I had my biggest sales day ever. After 5.5 yrs of business, that doesn’t happen without the continued dedication and the commitment of time and passion. I guess the balance for me comes with the love I have for my husband. He keeps me grounded and my desire to spend time with him reminds me that there is more to life than earning more money than I did the day before.

How can our readers learn more and find you?

You can find me on Facebook. The shop is located at 425 Boston Post Road in Sudbury, MA in a supermarket parking lot out by Route 20.

I love supporting local businesses. What local businesses do you support? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below and be sure to tag them!

Of course if you enjoyed this post, I’d love it if you share it with your world.

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