We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.
Our spotlight today is on Jodi Lehr, President of Santa Lucia Estate Coffee. Here’s what she told us.
What is your company?
When was your company founded?
Santa Lucia was founded by my husband William Gutierrez in 1995, the early days of the speciality coffee movement. I was in the restaurant industry, joined Santa Lucia in 2003 and became President in 2011.
What inspired you to form your own company?
With a growing specialty coffee market and a excellent unknown coffee product from Nicaragua we saw a niche that included great Chefs and restauranteurs who knew little about coffee.
What is the best part of your job?
Meeting wonderful people and being part of Washington DC’s fabulous hospitality community
What is the hardest part of your job?
As a company that grew by word of mouth and networking, it’s challenging keeping track of all the players in today’s expanding marketplace and getting them to know the Santa Lucia brand.
Have you found that being a woman business owner has helped your business?
Yes. There is a sensitivity in communications that has assisted me throughout the years.
What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?
Like any business there are those that prefer working with me. Additionally as a working wife and mother our other jobs never seem to end…
What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.
Relationships! Relationships! RELATIONSHIPS!
What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?
Have passion for what you do, and love what you are doing.
What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?
There were a few potential clients we misread along the way and I still think about what we could have done to have been more successful in these efforts.
What is one future goal that you have for the business?
To return to post-Covid levels and then merge our e-commerce and wholesale businesses.
Who has inspired you the most in your business?
My husband William who has an incredible amount of passion for what he has done.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
With restaurants and hotels predominantly closed, our industry was devastated and sales dropped as significantly as 75%. Covid forced us to pivot to e-commerce for both the cash flow and in creating a purpose and focus in our days.
On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?
Belief in the product and what we do.
If you were not in the coffee industry, what would you be?
Perhaps an innkeeper. I love the hospitality business.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Keeping our niche and diversity and laying a ground floor for our two sons should they want to venture into the coffee industry.
What would you like people to know about your business?
Santa Lucia Estate Coffee is a cared for family business with a beautiful product that comes from the high mountains of Nicaragua. We have brought it straight from the source and in turn pay a premium to support small farmers and the coffee community in Nicaragua.
What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?
That it’s always glamorous. Instead you wear all hats and deal with all levels of stress, often too frequently!
Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?
Yes. But there were also many that suggested a “traditional” corporate life would be more fulfilling and lucrative.
What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?
If you don’t take the chance you will never know. However being an entrepreneur and starting your own business takes risks and not everyone is comfortable with that.
How would your clients describe you?
Friendly, reliable and someone who believes in a great coffee product.
What has been your most favorite project to date?
Press/client trips to Nicaragua were definitely a highlight. Unfortunately the political climate in Nicaragua has not allowed us to continue.
What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?
I was fortunate to be born into a family which ran a business and since an early age have grown up discussing business activities at the dinner table (like others talk sports). ..it’s made this lifestyle more the norm than not.
You can find Jodi and Santa Lucia Estate Coffee here: