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Coffee Talk

An entrepreneur brings something new to the place she calls home.

Born and raised in Oakland, California, Mary Forte worked in IT for a large corporation for three decades before retiring to buy a franchise in her hometown. With the help of a franchise broker, she decided to become an It's A Grind coffeehouse franchisee.

Forte made the most of her hometown's resources--she sought advice from a local center for entrepreneurs, and through the Oakland Business Development Center, she learned how to get funding for construction and equipment. She also takes advantage of the Oakland Enterprise Zone tax incentive program each year, receiving tax credits for her employees who live within the zone (which is most of them).

Forte's downtown Oakland store opened in 2005 near a large hotel and a convention center. Its location on the ground floor of a 21-story building is right in the path of many coffee-loving office workers. She adds to her revenue by catering nearby meetings and events with coffee and pastries, sometimes for hundreds of people. To keep sales up on weekends, Forte books live music ranging from jazz and blues to guitar-strumming singers. "Some days when I have live music, it's standing room only," she says.

Forte, 58, recently hired a part-time marketing consultant to help assess her advertising endeavors and to make contact with local companies about partnerships and further catering assignments. Although the coffeehouse industry is very competitive, her marketing efforts and constant catering gigs have been the perfect blend. Forte's It's A Grind location saw sales of $330,000 in 2007.

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This article was originally published in the May 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Coffee Talk.

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