Whilst this last year has been difficult for most of us, many small businesses have been the hardest hit by constant lockdown restrictions. Although there are many stories of struggles and strife, this story is of one local business that has managed to adapt to everything thrown at it and truly thrive amidst the chaos. ‘Thriving’ for this company doesn’t just mean financially, but serving it’s local community in ways that have been more needed than ever whilst people have been more isolated than ever. This company has not only adapted operating procedures to allow it to continue serving customers with great quality products and friendly smiles, but it has cemented itself as a truly valuable part of the local community around Rossendale. This business has spent the last year helping to support NHS staff and other key workers as well as those in isolation and unable to see loved ones. It has now extended this work to support the mental health of groups of people in the local area. This is a story of 2 of my very favourite things – coffee and hope. This is the story of Ninja Coffee Company.
The story starts back in November 2017 when Matthew Devlin found himself unexpectedly being made redundant from a job he’d dedicated his life to for the past 14 years. Having worked his way up the corporate ladder in banking, it had become so much a part of his life that he’d never really considered doing anything else. His sudden change of circumstances saw him questioning his future in a way he never had before. What would he do now? What were his real values and ideals for his life moving forwards? Had he truly been happy in his career before redundancy struck? Having been matched with a job as a learning coach that he discovered very quickly was NOT for him, Matthew had a lot to consider and was unsure of where to find the answers he sought. Like many people looking to clear their mind, he decided that a change of environment at a difficult time may be just the boost he needed.
As if straight out of a fairytale (in my opinion anyway?!), Matthew flew to New York at the most magical time of the year – the festive period. Whilst he was there he constantly had thoughts and questions about his future playing over and over in his mind. In an effort to make some sense of them and release them from his head, he found himself jotting everything down onto paper whilst sat in his hotel room. Out poured everything he disliked about his old job and everything he desired from work in the future. Still without a specific idea in mind, this was more about clarifying his values – not just what he wanted from his working life but also what he wanted to give to others and the world. The next day, which just so happened to be New Year’s Day (can you get a clearer symbol of a ‘fresh start’?!) Matthew headed to the Statue of Liberty, folded up the paper and left it there. Whilst for Matthew this was just a way of getting a load off his mind, for us spiritual types this is called ‘asking the universe!’ And, well, the universe works in strange ways…
Heading home with no clear answers, Matthew hit prolonged airport delays. Just what you need right?! As if refreshments are any substitute for getting home safe and on time, delayed passengers were frequently plied with vouchers to use in cafes and restaurants in the airport. On this occasion, however, Matthew definitely underestimated the value of these vouchers! For it was whilst he sat in a coffee shop for possibly longer than he had ever done before, alone in an airport thousands of miles from home with nothing but an open mind about his future, that the seed (or coffee bean?!) for Ninja Coffee Company first started to blossom. Matthew felt excited for the first time since being made redundant about the possibilities for his future. He started to play around with ideas for what his business would stand for, what they would do differently to others on the market and how they would add to the lives of customers in a truly meaningful way. He had a passion for good coffee and great service and had often noticed at festivals and events that people wanting a hot drink would have to stand in long queues at burger vans and other food trucks just for a lukewarm polystyrene cup of instant tea or coffee whilst those who drank alcohol had far more choice and dedicated places to purchase this without having to wait in a food queue.
Understandably, some of his loved ones were cautious about this complete change of direction and the professional and financial risks and investments it would involve. Matthew’s mind, however, was made up and business plans and decisions for the opening of Ninja Coffee Company really started to take shape. In April 2018 the business launched, delivering its products mobile from a smart car. In June 2018 a second vehicle was purchased and a 3rd was added to the fleet in March 2019. The business was doing so well and building up such a loyal customer base that in October 2020 Matthew achieved a huge dream sooner than he could have imagined and opened 2 coffee shops – at Haslingden Sports Centre and Ski Rossendale. Unfortunately, not long after opening another lockdown hit and the shops had to cease trading due to restrictions. Whilst this is undoubtedly a setback for any business, Matthew and the team approached this difficult period with all the positivity and ‘can-do’ attitude that the brand had been founded on thus far.
Whilst lockdown saw the temporary closure of the shops, the mobile arm of the business became an integral part of the community. From delivering its signature excellent quality refreshments to those working from home, home schooling or isolating and in need of a bit of comfort to pioneering it’s very own ‘pay it forward’ scheme. With this, members of the public could pay for a hot drink for an NHS worker as a way of saying thanks for all their hard work. This not only provided a real, tangible way for people to feel they were ‘paying back’ this kindness, it also proved that the smallest actions sometimes have the biggest places in people’s hearts. The reactions that Matthew and his team received from grateful NHS workers ranged from simply putting a smile on their face and allowing them 5 minutes to enjoy some peace and refreshment to heartfelt tears of joy. In a real loving touch, this scheme allowed notes to be hand written and later printed on labels onto the cups with the name of the person who had paid for the drink along a small note of thanks.
Alongside the coffee shops and mobile delivery on a day-to-day basis, Ninja Coffee Company have supplied a wide range of events since they started out, both local and further afield. From food and drink festivals, dog shows and fishing competitions to being available for private weddings and functions – their staff and quality products are fast becoming a must for a huge variety of events. As you may expect from a company with such a big heart they are also heavily involved in charity events. They are a regular at the Relay for Life in Rossendale at Marl Pitts Leisure Centre and have supported the Colour Dash for Rossendale Hospice. They have also recently sponsored local football club Shawforth Villa FC, in yet another show of how they support other local initiatives and are passionate about giving back to their community.
In May 2021 the company started ‘Walk and Talk’ and ‘Nattershack’ groups with support from other individuals and customers. These groups provide a much needed outlet for people who might need a friendly ear or somebody to enjoy a walk with or even just wanting to get out of the house and be around other people. With mental health services being more overwhelmed than ever, groups like this can be a lifeline for anyone who may be struggling and unsure of where to find support. The groups are friendly, fun and completely relaxed in that people can chat as much or as little as they feel comfortable with. Since lockdown lifted these groups are gaining more support and interest than ever before and yet again prove that Ninja Coffee Company is a business based on true passion for customers and the local area.
Whilst this story is one of overwhelming hope and success, like any new business Ninja Coffee Company has experienced obstacles and setbacks along the way. When I first heard the story of how the business started, it struck me just how far a clear vison, strong belief in your idea and willingness to ask questions instead of simply accepting ingrained rules and regulations can take you. Matthew was willing to ask questions and address the correct people to make sure trading hours suited his business, also helping other local businesses who had previously been bound by outdated rules and regulations. Matthew believes that your business is only as strong as your team and he has lead by example when establishing the business and building strong relationships with everyone involved along the way. He now has a wonderful team of 14 like-minded staff and with coffee shops back open they are welcoming and warming the hearts of more customers than ever before. I think we could all learn both professionally and personally from the example of this business and I hope you feel more inspired than ever not just to support local businesses but to support everyone around you just like they do. With a big dream, a huge spoonful of kindness, a splash of hope and a lot of coffee we can achieve great things just like Ninja Coffee Company. Give them a visit or book a mobile delivery soon and see for yourself!
Ninja Coffee Company – Instagram @ninjacoffeecompany Facebook Ninja_CoffeeCompany
Blog written by Bev Meakin – Instagram @bevs_life