It can be intimidating to take over an establishment that has been a favorite community coffee shop for more than 15 years. But since Tom Watson bought Punta Gorda’s The Bean a year ago, not only have most of the restaurant’s previous customers continued to come in, but the cafe has gained a whole new group of fans.
Until Watson decided to buy what was then called The Bean on 41, the only previous restaurant experience he had was earned while he was a teenager growing up in New Jersey. He later ended up living in Hawaii for 20 years, working for a phone company.
In 2009, he moved to Punta Gorda, to be closer to his aging mother and father, and took a position as a customer service manager for two different large retail chains. Watson and his wife Moni had a young child at the time, and he began seriously contemplating his future professional path.
“I came out of the gym one day (near Jones Loop Road), and I was thinking about how there were really no coffee places around there,” he said. “I just couldn’t find a good Americano and a good smoothie.”
Watson began looking around the area where his gym was located to see if anything there might be for sale, but he didn’t find any prospects. That’s when his friend Wayne Mercer, who owns Mercer’s Fresh Roasted Coffees in Port Charlotte, told him that the then owner of The Bean was looking to sell.
Mercer provided Watson with the introduction to the owner, and a deal was made. There was just one problem — even though Watson was certainly a fan of the restaurant and its concept, he lacked the needed experience to operate it well. Luckily, Mercer was there to step in once more.
“That was in January, and Wayne needed some instant help,” Watson said. “I wasn’t getting the key (to The Bean) until April, so I went to work with him and learned the business. Wayne is really my model for excellence.”
Even though The Bean was already a popular spot, Watson implemented some needed changes immediately upon taking it over. Besides a clean-up and interior update, one of the first things he did was to install a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis water system, because as any true coffee lover knows, one of the most important aspects of great coffee is the quality of the water.
He also made the decision to use only locally-roasted beans, getting them fresh from Java Doro, in Cape Coral, and Roaster’s Choice, in Fort Myers. And The Bean now receives freshly made pastries from Punta Gorda’s Nino’s Bakery.
Watson said he also expanded the breakfast and lunch menu, featuring fresh smoothies, specialized coffee drinks and more.
“We lean towards healthy foods and drinks, even using low-salt recipes with our soups,” he said. “I’m shopping every day, to get the freshest ingredients possible.”
Watson is enjoying being a small business owner in Punta Gorda. He keeps just a couple of equally friendly staff members — besides himself, only Ingrid Hellmen and his nephew Joey Carabillo work there. On Tuesday evenings, he hosts a Christian fellowship night, from 5:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., which he categorizes as a “Bible discovery chat,” where people can come to praise and worship.
He’s also just initiated Bean on the Run, which is an outsource coffee service he can take to events and special get-togethers. And he’s mulling over ideas like running an authentic lox and bagel Sunday brunch at The Bean in the near future.
Mostly, Watson just wants to keep on making his customers happy.
“’Consistent, fresh and fun’ is our motto,” he said. “Our goal is that when people go out the door, they feel better than when they came in. The vibe here is very special — it’s a happy place.”
The Bean is located at 2705 Tamiami Trail, Unit 413, in Punta Gorda. It’s currently open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to noon. To find out more, visit the website at thebeanon41 coffeeshop.com or call 941-769-2398.