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TJ Zimmerman '04 is the owner of Concord Coffee in downtown Lakeland.

Brewing Success

Jul 7, 2023

When it comes to coffee, success can be measured in cups.

And when it comes to Lakeland, there’s no shortage of places to satisfy your coffee needs especially if you’re looking to support local businesses.

National brands Starbucks and Dunkin’ might be the most famous brands around town, but they face stiff competition from several well-known local spots.

The Coffee Hub

So what is it about Lakeland that it has sprouted so many local coffee shops? One answer to that question centers on demographics.

According to the National Coffee Association’s National Coffee Data Trends report released in the fall of 2022, more young adults in the U.S. are drinking coffee than ever before. The report revealed that 51 percent of 18-24 year-olds surveyed had drunk coffee in the past day.

Customers enjoy some downtime and a chat over coffee
in downtown Lakeland at Concord Coffee.

Not surprisingly, many of these coffee hot spots can be found clustered around the campus of Florida Southern College.

With 10 craft coffee shops located within 3.5 miles of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed masterpiece, students in search of their favorite flavor can easily find options in taste, vibe and price.

They even don’t have to venture off campus as Tutu’s can fulfill any student’s coffee fix.

Planting the Seed

What about the consumers who prefer drinking their favorite brew in the comforts of their own home? Well Lakeland has you covered there too.

Concord Coffee, co-owned by FSC alum TJ Zimmerman ‘04, is one such spot that offers bags of selected roasts that anyone can take home to savor or help keep them up for that all-night study session.

“When we first got started we were having to teach people what craft coffee was,” said Zimmerman, who helped get Concord Coffee started in 2005. “A lot of people were used to Starbucks, or Dunkin’ coffee. Craft coffee is becoming more popular. People are not ordering the drip coffee they grew up with.”

A rapidly growing population and its location are reasons Zimmerman thinks the coffee craze has sprouted in Lakeland, which is also home to two other downtown roasters that are conveniently located.

There’s also the youth movement.

“I’ve seen more high schoolers that have come into the shop,” he said. “These spots are almost like a safe hangout spot where they feel comfortable. Every day after school these kids will come into our shop. We’re seeing more people come in, not just older people.”

Brew U.

If you’re a student, and you really want to get a taste of what these businesses are brewing, then Florida Southern is literally your cup of coffee.

The Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (CFEE), part of the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise, anticipates launching 10 student-run coffee businesses by the end of 2023 thanks to its Seed-to-Scale Program and a partnership with Concord Coffee. Students can get started for as little as $20 and have their own branded coffee bag in as little as two weeks.

FSC also offers a class that is designed to help walk students through starting their own coffee business. New Venture Finance and Operations is offered as a Business Entrepreneurship (ENT2100) class with the goal of the students going through CFEE’s white-labeling program and learning the financial, operational and presentational skills need to start and grow a business.

Adding to that, FSC will have its own coffee cart, which will also double as a learning lab where students learn how to operate a coffee shop. Students will be the managers and employees as they figure out all other aspects of the business from marketing, to pricing, and inventory.        

“Lakeland is a special location for coffee entrepreneurship,” said CFEE director Justin Heacock. “With our high concentration of craft coffee shops and roasters along with our vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem we have everything that’s needed to support the student coffee entrepreneur.”