From the October 2001 issue of Startups

Finding a business that would allow Denise Merrill the flexibility to travel with her husband, Dan, wasn't easy. She checked out a gift store, but the long hours and weekend shifts just weren't for her. And then, at a franchise convention, Merrill found exactly what she was looking for: Café Ala Carte, a cart-based franchise that serves up cappuccino and other coffee drinks at private parties and events. "It was something different that we didn't have here in our town or the surrounding area," says Merrill, who started her Mishawaka, Indiana, business in September 2000. "Nobody around here does gourmet coffee catering."

The uniqueness of her franchise, and her husband's business connections through the pharmacy he owns, has brought Merrill her most loyal clients: pharmaceutical companies, which hire Merrill to serve drinks to doctors and their employees during product presentations. "They're looking for something different to take to a doctor's office instead of the same old doughnuts or lunch," she says, "and this is really a treat-employees and the doctors have really enjoyed it."

Merrill is also enjoying the business, especially when she makes cappuccino lovers out of uncertain customers. "We've even offered it to non-coffee drinkers," she says. "They don't like coffee, but when they taste our cappuccinos, they're like, 'We didn't realize these are so good.'"