By Keysha Drexel
When he accepted the Business of the Year Award from the Homewood Chamber of Commerce in December, Randy Adamy said it was the culmination of the vision of the man who started O’Henry’s Coffee more than 20 years ago.
O’Henry’s Coffee was first opened in Homewood in 1993 by Dr. Henry Bright, a retired orthodontist whose search for a truly great cup of coffee led him start the coffee shop and its sister company, O’Henry’s Coffee Roasting Company.
“From the beginning, Dr. Bright was motivated by wanting to create a place where the community could come together and have a quality cup of coffee,” Adamy said. “That’s what we still try to do today at O’Henry’s.”
Bright, ever the methodical scientist, did extensive research on creating the perfect cup of coffee for two years before he opened the first O’Henry’s Coffee in Homewood, Adamy said.
Bright traveled to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, New York, Boston and other major cities conducting research, Adamy said. Bright met people in the industry, attended conferences and trade shows and decided to control the quality of his product from the very beginning by roasting his own coffee beans.
Bright was ahead of his time when he came up with the idea to open a coffee roasting company and coffeehouse in Homewood, Adamy said.
“A lot of people must have thought he had a screw loose,” Adamy said. “This was before the coffeehouse scene became really popular. It was before Starbucks. Dr. Bright had a really pioneering spirit and vision.”
Adamy and his wife Mary bought the company from Bright in 1999, a couple of years after Adamy’s job in the food industry brought the family from Michigan to the Over the Mountain area.
“I was recruited here in 1997 by Bruno’s to head up Lakeshore Foods and help expand the Vincent’s Market concept,” Adamy said. “Bruno’s filed for bankruptcy shortly after I got here, and I saw the handwriting on the wall.”
By that time Adamy had been introduced to Bright by a mutual friend.
“It just so happened that around that time, Dr. Bright was thinking of retiring, and so my wife and I bought the company from him,” Adamy said. “He hasn’t had a financial interest in the company since then, but he has helped us every step of the way.”
Adamy said Bright took him under his wing and taught him everything he knew about roasting and serving coffee.
“Learning everything so quickly was like taking a drink from a fire hose, but Henry was a very patient and wonderful teacher,” he said.
Bright also taught him how to be a successful small business owner, Adamy said.
“I was a good businessman in the food industry and had been president of two companies, but I had never been an entrepreneur,” Adamy said. “Henry’s (business) records were impeccable, and it made the transition so much easier.”
And while Bright slowly pulled away to leave the company in new hands, Adamy said the retired orthodontist still has strong ties to and strong influence in O’Henry’s Coffee.
“Fifteen years later and he still helps,” Adamy said. “He has a small roaster at home and does some sample roasting for us.”
O’Henry’s Coffee now has five locations–the latest opened in December on Highland Avenue in Birmingham in December. The Homewood location is on 18th Street South, and there’s also an O’Henry’s Coffee on the campus of Samford University and at Brookwood Village. Another location is in the Regions/Harbert Tower in downtown Birmingham.
“We opened the one downtown about a year and a half after we bought the company,” Adamy said. “We knew we’d have to expand the company’s vision there and serve food, and still, about 40 percent of our sales at that location are from food.”
Adamy said as he continues to grow the business, he has kept in place the things that Bright instituted when he started the company.
“We’re still about coffee and community,” he said. “We’re still a place where people can come in, visit with their friends and neighbors and know they are getting a great cup of coffee, too.”
Adamy said part of continuing that culture of community in the business is making sure that the staff is properly trained and motivated.
“I teach an O’Henry’s Hospitality and Espresso 101 course to all of our new hires,” he said. “We have to make sure we are training the next generation of leaders.”
Adamy said he also built on Bright’s legacy of making sure that O’Henry’s is a company that takes care of its employees.
“The relationship with our employees is important to us, and that also goes back to what Dr. Bright tried to do,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of bright young people working for us and many more who would like to work for us. Now, we get about 800 applications a year.”
Adamy said he’s not certain more O’Henry’s Coffees will open in the future but that his ultimate goal is to keep the quality and integrity that have been a part of the business from the very beginning intact.
“We could probably open several more (shops) in the Birmingham area, but what’s most important to us is to make sure we keep the quality that O’Henry’s customers have come to expect,” he said.
For more information, visit www.ohenryscoffees.com.