Extending a supportive hand to locals in need is the special ingredient Stephanie Williams, co-founder of Bennu Coffee, brings to the table.
By Phaedra Rogers, Photo by Caitlin Candelari
“I don’t drink coffee,” Stephanie Williams, co-founder of Bennu Coffee, coyly shares. “But that never stopped me from spending plenty of time in coffee shops over the years.”
You could say coffeehouses have had a positive impact on her life because it’s where she met her husband, Steve Williams. Stephanie Williams would frequent his all-night coffee shop after working long days as a social worker for LifeWorks, a nonprofit youth-advocacy organization. While most people were in need of a caffeine fix, Stephanie Williams would hit up the coffeeshop to unwind after a long shift.
After dating, the duo got engaged and opened their first Bennu location in 2009, figuring out the kinks of running a new company while planning their wedding. The two quickly settled into their respective roles, with Stephanie Williams serving as the human-resources and operational leader, and Steve Williams passionately curating the coffee menu.
“I think it’s worked out well that I love working behind the scenes,” Stephanie Williams says. “Steve has coffee coursing through his veins, so he uses his creativity toward that.”
In addition to Bennu, Steve Williams is also the co-founder of Austin-based Chameleon Cold-Brew, which is now distributed nationally.
Drinking coffee isn’t a common denominator in their relationship, but sharing a strong passion for community service certainly is. The Williamses are deeply appreciative of their success and choose to boomerang their over overflowing gratitude right back into local causes and non-profits, like United Way and Any Baby Can, to name a few.
“Growing up, my father was always giving back,” Stephanie Williams says. “We didn’t have a lot of extra money to donate, so he had to be creative. I remember him donating as much blood as he possibly could. He also helped teens who were struggling, so his hand was always extended to people in need, regardless of their age or circumstance. Observing him impacted who I grew up to become.”
By threading coffeehouse culture with community involvement, the Williamses are practicing what they preach.
“We created a program called BEVO, which stands for Bennu Employee Volunteer Opportunity. BEVO provides our employees a monthly opportunity to serve one of our local nonprofit partners,” Stephanie Williams explains. “It’s never forced upon them to do it, but it’s such a part of the Bennu culture that they tend to jump at the chance.”
Community outreach is just one shining facet of Bennu’s community-minded business strategy. Bennu sources everything it sells from local vendors and, in doing so, recirculates pro ts among local businesses. Stephanie Williams also says by using eco-friendly packaging and even going as far as donating used coffee grounds for composting, the Williamses strive to keep waste to an absolute minimum.
“In Austin, you can be successful and have strong values,” Stephanie Williams says. “I don’t know if I can say that about other places, but it certainly works here.”
Her schedule, much like the seating at Bennu, has a way of always staying full, as she multitasks between operating two 24-hour coffee shops, volunteering and raising her two young children. Coordinating Stephanie Williams’ calendar is like a real-life game of Tetris: It requires strategy to plug in her commitments. She and Steve Williams often tag team responsibilities when it comes to dashing between coffee shops and meeting family needs.
Business aside, Stephanie Williams says raising her children is her top priority.
“I have to be creative with my commitments,” she says, reflecting. “When my son was a baby, he preferred napping in the car. At the time, we lived right behind Bennu, so I once had a meeting in my car while he slept.”
Sometimes, the Williamses will do things in reverse by bringing their children to work rather than leaving work to be with them.
“We love involving our kids in the business side of our lives, like taking our 5-year-old to volunteer with us during our BEVOs,” Stephanie Williams says. “It’s priceless that they get to see what running a small business looks like from the inside. They see their parents working hard, but also, they get to see us giving back simultaneously. I’m curious how being exposed to these values will show up in their personalities as they get older.”