This popular coffeehouse is really a family-owned business. Learn how its founders got started 12 years ago, and how their customer-focused philosophy brings people back every day.
Wherever she goes around town, Megan Carlson never tires of the positive comments about her family-owned business, Meg’s Daily Grind.
“It’s always neat to hear someone say, ‘I love Meg’s,” she says. “Owning a business is a lot of hard work, but it’s fun, too. We’ve been very fortunate and lucky to have been in business for 12 years.”
Meg’s Daily Grind is owned by Rockford residents Jodi and Chris Erickson, and daughters Megan and Leslie Erickson. Sons Scott and Jeff, and Megan’s husband, Paul Carlson, also lend a hand from time to time.
“This is a great opportunity to work with my children,” Jodi says. “We’re Christians who run a coffee shop. Meg’s is a place with a warm atmosphere, where you can find friends. Getting to know our customers has been a real plus.”
There are four Meg’s locations. The first opened in 2001 on East Riverside Boulevard, and later moved four blocks away to its current location at 3885 N. Perryville Road, so that a drive-through could be added. In 2002, Meg’s was approached by Rock Valley College to open a kiosk in the college’s library. In 2006, Meg’s opened a café at 1141 N. Alpine Road, and later that year opened a fourth location at Heartland Church, 1280 S. Alpine Road. Two other locations – one in Roscoe and another at the east branch of the Rockford Public Library – have since opened and closed.
Customers include people of all ages, from college students to busy professionals, all in search of a good cup of coffee and a relaxing atmosphere. Meg’s Daily Grind also hosts a variety of events, including Bible studies, knitting groups and book clubs.
“We’re truly blessed,” says Leslie. “We’ve worked hard for this but we’ve had a lot of fun along the way. And we all get along.”
The impetus to start the family business came from the daughters, both of whom had previous experience working in coffee shops during high school. Leslie earned a business degree from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., before returning home. Megan, who started college but decided it wasn’t for her, was looking for a career opportunity. That’s when the family decided to pursue their own venture.
“We went back and forth deciding on whether to do this,” Jodi says. “What really helped was my husband, Chris, who owns a business and had enough faith in us to put up the money. It’s neat how everything fell into place.”
To better understand the business, the entire family traveled to Seattle to research a number of coffee shops. They sampled coffees and snapped photos of shops, evaluating what they liked about various locations. They even brought samples home to friends for additional feedback.
Despite a lack of experience, Jodi and her daughters rolled up their sleeves and learned everything they could about the coffee industry. “We read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people,” Jodi says. “People are wonderful and will give you advice. You can either take it or not.”
One suggestion they accepted was from another local business owner who encouraged them to incorporate a drive-through into the operation. Another was from Megan and Leslie’s grandmother, who suggested the name Meg’s Daily Grind, since Leslie didn’t join the business until a few years after it opened. “Megan is humbled by having her name on the business,” Jodi says.
Megan oversees the Perryville and Rock Valley locations, while Leslie manages the Alpine and Heartland sites. The sisters are passionate about their business, albeit in different ways. “Meg is very outgoing, while Leslie is very calculated. She’s all about the bottom line,” says Jodi, who was a stay-at-home mom, then worked at First Free Church and now handles financial responsibilities for the family business. “Meg is more willing to spend money, which isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes I have to remind them that I’m the mom, especially on financial issues.
“They’re both very good with people, which has been one of the keys to our success,” she adds. “They see customers out and about and know them by their drink orders. They get to know people personally who come in all the time. It’s like ‘Cheers’ without the alcohol.”
Meg’s offers blended, organic and fair trade coffees, along with espresso, house coffees and more than 100 flavored coffees. Every week, Meg’s orders beans from small-batch roasters in Madison and Chicago.
“Rockford is a flavored coffee town,” says Jodi. “We change up our menu all the time, but we always have a Meg’s house blend, which is fair trade and organic, and a Meg’s decaf.” Seasonal brews include an autumn spice, nutcracker sweet and horchata. One of the most popular choices is coined “Jamaican Me Crazy.” In addition, Meg’s serves pastries, light lunches, desserts, fruit smoothies and hot and cold teas.
Jim Keeling, a partner with Hinshaw & Culbertson, a Rockford law firm, can be found at Meg’s every morning following an early workout. “I’m treated like a member of the family,” he says. “I set up camp in the nice lounge chair in front of the fireplace so I can organize my day and create my daily to-do list. I find Meg’s to be friendly and comfortable.”
So does John Mecklenburg, executive vice president and CEO of the SwedishAmerican Health System Foundation. He enjoys the atmosphere, size and clientele, not to mention the quality of coffee. “I catch up with what’s happening in town from the people who are regularly there, and I take some time to enjoy whatever book I’m reading at the time,” he says. “At least once a month I have a meeting there. I always tell people who need a few minutes of my time that I’m at Meg’s on Alpine at 6:45 every morning and that I’ll be glad to meet with them there.”
The business recently expanded its Perryville location by spilling into space next door. Booths also were added, at the suggestion of Megan and Leslie. “We’re always looking for new ideas,” Jodi says. “A new trend may not be your thing, but you have to look into it. In business, you have to be as creative as possible.”
Meg’s Daily Grind employs 54 people, mostly part-time high school and college students, along with a few seasoned workers. There’s very little turnover, says Jodi. The Ericksons also employ other relatives. Chris’ parents and sister help out, too.
There’ve been challenges over the years, mostly related to product costs. The price of milk, for example, has doubled since Meg’s first opened. “That’s the hardest part of running a small business,” Jodi says. “We’re competing with Starbucks. We don’t have a huge company behind our name. They’re roasting their own beans and we’re buying our beans. They’re buying cups in volume. We’re small and don’t have that kind of volume.”
Instead, Meg’s Daily Grind relies on a simple business philosophy. “We treat people the way we want to be treated,” she says. “We conduct a business that makes us proud.”
And that includes supporting the community. Meg’s hosts a golf outing that benefits a different charity each year. Proceeds have been used to fight Huntington’s disease, diabetes and cancer, and to support organizations such as Rockford Rescue Mission and local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). “Our purpose is to give back,” says Jodi.
As for the future, Jodi says her family is content with serving the community in its four current locations. “We’ll see what God has in store for us,” she says. “Right now, we have a nice balance.”