How Small Business Development Center helped me start a coffee shop in West Louisville

Shaun H. Ruff


I’m from West Louisville, and I have lived here my whole life. There’s a lot this neighborhood has given me, but there are some things that are lacking, too. When I looked around at my neighborhood a couple of years ago, one notable item missing was a coffee shop. I didn’t see anyone else trying to solve that problem, so I thought—if not me, then who?

I decided to open Julee’s Mocha. I was feeling burnt out in a toxic work environment and wanted to find a passion in a career again. I strongly wanted to help build the character in my neighborhood to reflect the people who live here, but I didn’t know how to pull it off.

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I started looking for resources to help me get my business off the ground. Eventually, I found the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, which has been instrumental in my business. With SBDC Day being March 16, I wanted to give a huge thank you to the SBDC here in Louisville and to my business coach, Anne Shadle.

I have worked in Jefferson County Public Schools as an educator. I have also been a barista in a major chain. I’m an educated woman who knows a thing or two about coffee. Being a barista is a skilled position, but knowing how to pour a latte does not mean you know how to stay on top of your taxes or file for a business license. That is what the SBDC helped me learn to do.

Before I found the Kentucky SBDC, I hit a lot of roadblocks. Other business owners were busy and couldn’t offer the amount of time I needed to learn from them. Some business resources offered to help, but that help came with a hefty price tag. I felt defeated.

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Ausha Hilliman

Ausha Hilliman

When I finally found the SBDC, I was immediately relieved. Anne asked me questions about my business to see where I was. She told me, “If you can answer these questions, you can write a business plan.” She started to help me organize my thoughts and ideas into a business model, one that is pretty unique: a mobile coffee shop.

Anne not only helped me develop my business model, but she also helped me make sure I was all-the-way legal. Before I met the SBDC, I didn’t know I would have to pay local taxes in addition to state and federal. But when tax season came around, I showed up with confidence to my tax preparer with everything they would need to file my taxes.

I participate in pop-ups and farmer’s markets, providing a full coffee shop bar with my espresso machine, flavored syrups, all kinds of teas and baked snacks. I love being my own boss and taking control of my future, and I also know this is a step along the way to a greater plan.

I have plans for a brick-and-mortar in my neighborhood, a place where people can gather and caffeinate, work and socialize. I envision a space where people can come to discuss literature, a venue where we can feature Black authors and stories about people of color.

That’s what makes the Kentucky SBDC so important. It has empowered me, as a member of my community, to contribute to my neighborhood to make it the place I want it to be. There might be others who have stories like mine, who would want to develop change from within our community. My first piece of advice to them? Call the Kentucky SBDC in Louisville.

Ausha Hilliman is a former JCPS employee who owns and operates Learn more about the Kentucky SBDC in Louisville at or by calling 502-977-5800.

Kentucky SBDC is funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U. S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SBA

UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, through its land-grant mission, reaches across the commonwealth with teaching, research and extension to enhance the lives of Kentuckians

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: How SBDC helped me start my own coffee shop in West End | Opinion


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