The Hitchhiker's Guide to Building a Coffee Business: A Glimpse into the Frothy Monkey Story

Nestled in the heart of Nashville, a captivating tale of coffee, community, and creativity unfolds. Frothy Monkey’s journey began in a quaint 1,200 square foot bungalow in the vibrant 12South neighborhood back in 2004. Ryan Pruitt’s inspirational journey from an early employee to Managing Partner of Frothy Monkey chronicles how his passion and dedication propelled Frothy Monkey from its coffeehouse origins to a thriving and diverse business.

Follow along as we unravel the threads that weave the fabric of Frothy Monkey's evolution. It's an exploration of where they've been, who they've become, and the unique ingredients that have fostered their special blend of success. Discover the harmonious blend of sustainability and flavor, and how Frothy Monkey has seamlessly fused local charm with a vibrant, all-encompassing café experience.

Frothy Monkey Single-Serve

Tell us about Frothy Monkey's early days in that cozy 1200 square foot bungalow in the 12South neighborhood. How did this amazing coffee journey start?

The original Frothy Monkey was created to bring a neighborhood together. In the early days, our little bungalow house was just that - a house! It was small, simple, and relatively representative of the homes in the area at the time. We were one of the first businesses to set up shop on 12th Ave South in Nashville, now known as “12South”. The neighborhood was very different from the bustling area it is now. It was relatively quiet with lots of historic homes, middle class families, a few more churches, and small local hangs like a wine bar, a drum shop, and other long-gone ‘Old Nashville’ gems like Katy Kay’s Ranch Dressing. 

Our offerings were fairly typical of coffee houses in the early aughts. We served drip coffee, espresso drinks and pastries. It was a casual, cozy vibe created by locals’ and neighbors’ routine visits. The original goal, which still rings true nearly 20 years later, was to create a place where everyone was welcome and guests felt comfortable enough to hang out and connect with their friends and neighbors.

Frothy Monkey's evolution from a charming bungalow to a bustling hub with restaurants, a bakery, and roasting operations is impressive. Could you walk us through the journey of turning a small coffee spot into a thriving coffee brand?

A pivotal part of Frothy Monkey’s growth was Managing Partner Ryan Pruitt’s transition from an early employee to a manager. Pruitt started at Frothy Monkey as a part-time employee with a side hustle and quickly connected with regulars at the shop. After a few adventures in Europe traveling with his band (how Nashville!), Pruitt returned to Tennessee with a spark of inspiration from European cafes and transitioned into a management role. 

European cafe culture Pruitt experienced was mindful and relaxed. There was something for everyone. There’s beer for the afternoon, wine for the evening and coffee for a good conversation at any time. Add on some elevated food options…and now you have Frothy Monkey’s current All-Day Cafe model.

The ‘evolution’ started with losing the microwaves and improving food quality. Then improving coffee service and sourcing, and finally securing liquor licenses and expanding hours. Along the way, guests and neighbors connected Frothy with local farmers and purveyors to create relationships and growth for both businesses.

Frothy’s core values may not have been on paper in the early days, but then and now we’ve always strived for Quality, Warmth, Relationships, Grit, Execution, and Growth and Development. So, roasting our own coffee and baking our own bread allowed us to embrace all of these values and create products we knew we would be proud to serve our friends and neighbors.

Roasting your own beans was a game-changer. Can you give us insights into how you transitioned from partnering with another facility to launching Frothy Monkey Roasting Co. in Nashville?

In the early days we bought our coffee from local roasters, like many coffee shops and restaurants do. We set a goal to roast our own coffee once we had three cafe locations. Before we were ready to roast in-house, we were fortunate to work alongside friends with roasting experience to roast at their facility. 

Our first blend, now known as 12South blend, we used for all things coffee at Frothy Monkey. We dabbled in Single Origins and other featured coffees, but primarily everything from espresso to drip included 12South. 

In 2015 when we opened our third store in Downtown Nashville, it was time to meet our goal and roast in Nashville. Fortunately, we had friends who had roasting experience, and we partnered with them to roast at their facility and then eventually open up Frothy Monkey Roasting Co. in our hometown of Nashville, TN. We started by transitioning the 12South blend to our own roastery, mastered the production process, and then developed our first Signature Line of coffees - 12South, Brunch, French, and Unwind. 

At this point, we had our very own roaster “Helga” - a rebuilt 1950’s German Probat - and we were roasting at our first roastery space at the Ink Building in the SoBro/Pietown neighborhood in Nashville. We continued working with our friends to source green coffee, and expanded our roasting operations with the growth of Frothy Monkey cafes. 

The roasting company outgrew the Ink Building and established a new roastery location in South Nashville in 2020 (what a year!). We not only roast for our own cafes, but we’re operating wholesale “Happily Brewing” accounts with cafes, universities, hotels, restaurants, and bars across Middle Tennessee.
In 2022, the Signature Line had a long anticipated brand refresh and now includes six coffees - 12South, Brunch, Brute, Eventide, Midshift, and Howler. Now we’re sourcing our green coffee and roasting our own Roaster Series and Single Origins in Nashville.

The next expansion for Frothy Monkey Roasting Co, is an additional coffee roaster to increase our weekly production capacity, and continue to grow our business with innovative products like Steeped.

Despite all the growth, Frothy Monkey has held onto that warm neighborhood connection. How do you manage to maintain that local charm and engagement, no matter where you set up shop?

We carefully choose the neighborhoods where Frothy Monkey cafes open, which sets the tone for everything. When we consider a new location, there are lots of conversations around the community in the area, what neighbors might need to feel more connected, and how Frothy may fit into the existing fabric of the neighborhood.

Warmth and approachability are key. The buildings we consider are all preexisting, and often have a unique history.  We love reimagining the spaces we choose and filling them with a new sense of purpose. 

A big part of building and maintaining the community engagement is plugging into what’s already happening in the area. We love connecting with local community organizations, neighborhood associations, long-time residents, and even area historians to learn more about the community we’re joining. If we can enhance the neighborhood experience by providing a place to hang out, connect, and enjoy the company of friends and family, we’ve succeeded because it’s all about taking care of each other.

Whether it's Nashville or another location, Frothy Monkey maintains a consistent commitment to great coffee and local flavors. Can you share your secret for infusing each unique neighborhood with the same delicious thread?

It all circles back to relationships. There are a lot of folks behind-the-scenes and in the cafes making sure the quality of our products are consistent. Being physically present and dialed in to our team needs has a huge impact on how we can serve our guests. Our management team is passionate about making the Frothy experience feel “Frothy” whether you are visiting any of our cafes or roastery.

We invest in the community we serve and the people who serve. We want our team to feel supported and empowered. We encourage the team to be who they are and bring the fullness of their personality to the table, while empowering them with the product knowledge and service cycle we’ve created at Frothy. Our hospitality leadership is in our cafes weekly, helping to keep the team motivated, helping management with any issues, and getting face time with the people who do the work every day. 

The roasting company works in tandem with the retail cafes to educate all of our team about specialty coffee. Our coffee education and barista training team has a series of in-person training sessions to introduce and experience specialty coffee. If team members are baristas, or interested in becoming a barista, we have classes at the roasting company for them, as well.

In terms of the products that are consistent, our Chef and operations teams have direct relationships with the farmers and purveyors on our menu. Purveyors like Broadbent, KY Farm Fresh, Hatcher Family Dairy, High Garden Tea, and Firepot are in conversations with us routinely.

When we grow, it’s an opportunity for their growth. When we succeed, it’s their success, too. In new neighborhoods, we try to include new farmers and purveyors as well. Building the local relationships with producers highlights their products and connects guests with their community.

Ryan Pruitt's journey from coffeehouse staff to Managing Partner sounds fascinating. Could you share how he went from coffee enthusiast to the driving force behind Frothy Monkey's growth?

Ryan’s vision was to recreate the all-day cafes that he had experienced in Europe, where you can go at any time of day to meet up with a friend and feel taken care of. That feeling comes from how the spaces are designed, as well as having access to great coffee, a pint of beer or a glass of wine, and fantastic food paired with great people. The magic in our original 12South location is infectious and when you combine that with an eagerness to grow, it takes on a life of its own.

We're excited to meet the team that makes Frothy Monkey shine. Could you introduce us to the key players and share how each member is shaping Frothy Monkey's remarkable story?

There are so many people who have contributed to our story, but here are a few of the long-time contributors who have been there since the beginning. 

Ryan Pruitt - The visionary and our Managing Partner. He has taken Frothy Monkey from a cozy coffeehouse to an all-day cafe with eight locations, a coffee roastery, and artisan bakery.

Brittney Russler - The heart of our Hospitality. Britt joined Frothy Monkey when we opened our second location in Franklin, TN. She quickly became a key player in shaping the cafe experience, has grown with us by opening and managing every location since, and is now a member of our Executive Team.

Ryan Bledsoe - The guy who elevates our coffee program. “Bledsoe” is another long-time member of the Frothy team. He started as a barista in our cafes in 2013 and now leads our Roastery in Tech, product development, QC, and training.

Jennifer Sheets - The protector of the brand and head of marketing. Jenn has been with Frothy since 2012 and is one of the Partners. Whether working closely with Pruitt vetting new neighborhoods, designing coffee packaging with the roastery crew, community building, or telling Frothy’s story, she has played an integral role in growing the brand while staying true to the magic of that OG bungalow we all love that makes Frothy “Frothy”. 

Our Roastery Team - Coffee folks tend to be a passionate bunch, and our roastery team lives and breathes coffee. Led by Neal Russler, supported by Daniel Lopez (lead roaster), as well as our sales and production team, they continue to elevate and innovate our coffee program.

The Frothy Monkey Team

How does Frothy Monkey leverage Steeped’s innovative brewing method to create a unique coffee experience for your customers?

Steeped checks the boxes of convenience, taste, and sustainability that don’t exist elsewhere in the single-serve options that are on the market. We know it’s a brew method that we can stand behind that upholds our high quality standards.

Could you share how integrating Steeped has contributed to Frothy Monkey's growth and enhanced your business as a whole?

This product has so much potential, and we are looking forward to seeing the growth of this segment in the future!

Check out Frothy Monkey's single-serve options!

Frothy Monkey Single-Serve Options