Like most entrepreneurs, Rob Webb’s path is hardly a traditional one. The Just Love Coffee Roasters founder grew up in Murfreesboro, had a hip-hop recording deal at the age of 18, then went on to obtain Bachelor of Arts in music from Lipscomb University and a Master of Arts in classical piano performance from MTSU. After a successful decade as an audio engineer on Music Row, Webb decided to change course and fell into a different kind of engineering: coffee.
But he wouldn’t start just any old coffee company; Just Love would have a very clear mission: to make the world a better place by providing a fundraising platform for non-profits of parents looking to adopt a child.
“It was two passions being merged together: one for roasting coffee and one for helping adoptive families,” Webb explains.
The idea came about when Webb and his wife began the adoption process. The couple, who now have four children—two biological children and two, the youngest and oldest, adopted from Ethiopia—wanted to make adopting more seamless for others by assisting in the fundraising efforts. In 2009, Just Love Coffee started out as strictly an online business with a “give-back” ethos similar to TOMS shoe company. Adoptive parents or non-profits could go online and set up their own domain through the company’s website, then share the link with supporters; for every bag sold through that link, the recipient would bank $5 for his or her own cause.
Though Webb, now 44, was no stranger to the coffee industry—his dad Bob Webb founded Webb's Refreshments, which Rob now owns, too—he had never roasted coffee before, so he taught himself how to do just that. The company raised just shy of $100,000 for non-profits and adoptive families that first year and outgrew its initial space, moving across the parking lot to the current location at 129 MTCS Dr.
“About six months after moving into this location, we realized people were wandering in to see what we were doing and wanted a cup of coffee. I realized maybe I should put up a bar around the roaster, set up a little coffee shop,” Webb says. “I did that, hired a barista, and over time, that grew—as did our wholesale.”
Fast forward a couple years and business was booming. Webb’s financial advisor put him in touch with another of his clients, Alan Thompson, who specialized in franchising. The pair partnered and put up two concept stores: one in Brentwood and on Music Row in Nashville.
“We really wanted to learn the systems and the processes involved from the beginning, because [our original store] was a very slow evolution,” Webb says. “At the time, we didn’t have a food program, so we came up with one at that time, built a kitchen, moved the roaster next door and really learned the food side. I had never been in a restaurant business."
To streamline things, the Just Love Coffee team came up with the idea of cooking on waffle irons and built out a creative, yet easy-to-execute menu that would be uniform across stores. The franchise idea took flight, and there are currently 13 new Just Love locations going up across the country, including Georgia, Michigan, Florida and Texas; by the end of 2019, Webb expects there to be around a total of 40 agreements in place. Each location takes between nine and 12 months between signing a franchise agreement and opening a store, Webb says. He wound up selling off the pair of original concept stores to franchisees but kept the original location and will serve as operations partner in the newest Murfreesboro location when it opens this spring.
And while it may not have been his original goal to franchise, Webb’s five-year plan now, he says, is for there to 250 outposts across the United States—though throughout his company’s exponential growth, he hasn’t lost sight of the original vision. A new non-profit arm, Roots of Love, is underway, as is a redesigned website to make it easier for adoptive parents and non-profits to take advantage of Just Love’s fundraising offerings.
“We’re about to do a reboot of the website as it kind of got left behind as we put so much energy into the stores,” Webb says. “You’ve got to really work an online store to get it to produce.”
Though Webb doesn’t know the exact amount of money Just Love has contributed to philanthropic causes and adoptions, he estimates it’s as much as $500,000, and the launch of Roots of Love will give the growing number of brick-and-mortar stores an outlet to help out non-profits that support causes in places like Uganda, Ethiopia and even Rutherford County.
Just Love Coffee currently has three locations in Murfreesboro: the original at 129 MTCS Dr., a franchise at 2863 Old Fort Pkwy. and the newest café at the Fountains, which is slated to open in May.