Jenny Bonchak had been planning to launch her own line of coffee for months.
She kept her friends and family in the dark about the project until 2012, when she used Instagram to introduce Slingshot Coffee, a company that hand brews and bottles small batches of cold-brewed coffee that it gets from Counter Culture Coffee in Durham.
“Whenever we had people over to our house, I would stash bottles in closets and hide all traces of the business,” she said. “I wanted everything to be perfect.”
Bonchak, 35, had worked part-time at coffee roasters, and her husband, Jonathan Bonchak, is a regional sales executive for Counter Culture. She cultivated a love for iced coffee while accompanying him on business trips.
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“I knew I could make better iced coffee at home than I could get anywhere else, such as coffee bars and grocery stores that carry mass-produced brands,” she said.
In 2012, Bonchak, short on funding, worked out a deal with Chad McIntyre, the then owner of the former Market Restaurant on Blount Street, to brew coffee for his weekend brunches in exchange for using his kitchen at night after the restaurant closed.
That same year, friends of Bonchak’s opened Oak City Cycling on nearby Franklin Street and offered her a 150-square-foot space with a roughed in kitchen in the shop’s basement.
Bonchak brewed coffee there for about 18 months before moving Slingshot last summer to its current spot near downtown Raleigh.
Even though Bonchak had been able to find low cost brewing space, she still had to fund the operations that included purchasing coffee, materials, bottles and other supplies.
“We sold our car, and I remember going through the house looking for things of value we could sell,” she said, laughing. “We did as much as we could with as little as possible and managed to stay debt free.”
Bonchak landed her first two clients, Escazu Artisan Chocolates and Tasty Beverage, both in Raleigh, right away, and in 2013 secured a contract with Whole Foods to stock bottled coffee throughout the southeast region. Slingshot is now sold at more than 25 stores around the Triangle.
In February 2014, Bonchak quit her Wake County government job and started operating Slingshot full time.
In November, she decided to expand, and began a seed investment round and raised $400,000.
The money will help fund research and development as Bonchak works to bring more products to the market. It also allowed her to move Slingshot into its current 1,000-square-foot space.
“I was lucky. We got traction early on, and this allowed the process to happen quickly,” she said.
Last summer, Bonchak and her husband opened Weekend, a small patio and coffee bar in Slingshot’s front lobby, where they serve taps of their coffees and tea.
Bonchak employs two part-timers, who help brew, bottle, package and ship products to customers in 11 states.
In February, she earned second place in the U.S. Brewers Cup in Long Beach, Ca.
Despite the success, the hard work has not let up.
“This is not glamorous,” Bonchak said. “I work until 11 or 12 at night and then go to bed only to get up and do it all over again. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Reach Teri Saylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter @terisaylor.
Advice from Jenny Bonchak
▪ Hire a great CPA
▪ Write a business plan and keep updating it forever. Never stop.
▪ Study other businesses that have come before you, these business owners have valuable things to say.
▪ Stay humble
▪ There is no formula. It takes soul searching to know what’s right. Remember it’s okay if your path doesn’t look like the path of others.