Skills learned at Kettering University gave graduate confidence to start his own business

"Beyond just the classroom application of learning the principles of business, just the reality of having access to someone who’s run their own business before was a great asset.”

Nicholas Pidek ‘14 considers opening a coffee shop a dream come true.

But it was more than that to him. It was a way to foster community, bring people together and create success throughout the community. And even though his journey to Kettering University was an interesting one, the Business Department helped instill knowledge, problem solving and, most importantly, hard work to make it all possible.

“One of the things I think is the greatest advantages of Kettering is the ability to have such great access to professors,” Pidek said. “There were a lot of times I would go and ask my accounting professor ‘What does this mean? I don’t know how to do this.’ Or I would go to my marketing professor and ask ‘What are some concepts we can work with?’ Beyond just the classroom application of learning the principles of business, just the reality of having access to someone who’s run their own business before was a great asset.”

Pidek and co-owners Jonathan Moore and Jonathan Williams officially opened Foster Coffee Company as a storefront in downtown Owosso Dec. 11, 2015. The name Foster has a deeper meaning for the owners. For them, their vision and mission is “fostering community through coffee.”

“This really is kind of like a dream come true. Jon and I are from the small town of Owosso. It’s 15,000 people. I think it’s a perfect example of how if someone applies themselves they can make their dream a reality,” Pidek said. “A goal is just a dream with a deadline. That’s what Jon and I did. We said we are going to open by a certain date. It forced us to work really hard.”

Music, art and coffee

Pidek’s road to Kettering and his co-op was an unconventional one.

Even though his brother attended Kettering, it wasn’t the route he planned to go. Engineering and science didn’t align with his career pursuits.

He was attending a community college when a friend’s dad - a professor at Kettering - wanted to talk to him about Kettering’s Business program.

“He told me, ‘Your band, you can do this as a co-op. It’s never been done before.’ That kind of got me on the path. I was on board and I pitched my idea to the co-op department and got started,” Pidek said. “What better way to learn business than to run your own?”

It was his co-op with his band, sosaveme, that created the passion and growing interest in coffee. While traveling from gig to gig, Jon would travel with a box full of coffee stuff, like Chemex, and pour over equipment, in the band’s van.

“He would just brew coffee at each location we’d stay while on tour. It was something he was passionate about. He was a manager at Biggby and worked at a couple other coffee shops and I majored in Business and worked in marketing for two years, so those worlds started coming together,” Pidek said.

They officially opened in 2014, first starting their business at the Owosso Farmer’s Market. A year later they opened a storefront.

“It was an idea that started back in 2013 and here we are in 2016 and we are sitting in a coffee shop that we built with the help of a lot of other people. It’s kind of a surreal moment to walk in every single day and think ‘Wow, we own this. We built this.’ And we’re still building this,” Pidek said.

While Pidek didn’t necessarily foresee the path from managing a band to owning a coffee shop, he said it makes sense because music has such a community aspect to it.

“You find a bunch of strangers in a room, they paid money to be there, a lot of them don’t know each other, they know the same lyrics to the same song, resonating on the same cord in their heart or in their life. So you have this really collective community aspect,” Pidek said. “That’s really where our heart is here at Foster, to foster community.

“So creating an environment where anyone can feel welcome from any demographic -- rich, young, poor, old -- whatever it is to come in and be greeted, to get the same treatment whether you’re a millionaire or you don’t even have money to buy coffee, you just want to warm up and use our wi-fi. That kind of thinking is really our core values as people. So it makes sense for us that we would end in coffee.”

Pidek, Moore and Williams’ journey to own a coffee shop wasn’t just about having a successful business. To them it was much more about the community they were investing in.

After attending a scholarship event for local Owosso students, Pidek noticed a banner from a student that read, “To reconnect with a community that I have never given a chance.”

“That really resonated with me. Wow, I’ve lived here but have I really done anything to make an impact? What have I done to get involved to make this a better place?” Pidek asked.

Pidek hopes that younger people will see what they have done with Foster and realize that dreams can become a reality and you can help transform a community.

“We love coffee, but we love community and people more. It’s essential to our brand DNA that we not only provide a great coffee experience and great service, but also facilitate and foster opportunities for community to happen and thrive,” Pidek said. “Whether it’s through events, concerts, conversations, reading and discussion groups or inspiring and investing in the next generation, we seek to maintain a continued positive impact on the community by listening and responding to the felt needs of our constituents.”

Foster hosts game nights, live music and other various community-centric events. They collaborate with other local businesses to create products, like espresso doughnuts and espresso chocolate and foster a spirit of co-opetition, rather than just competitive thinking.

Continuing the dream

The hard work has paid off so far for Pidek and Foster Coffee.

Kettering played a role in his success, he said.

When recently asked by a young guy what he got out of his college education, the answer was simple: hard work.

“Probably one of the biggest takeaways I got from Kettering was how to work extremely hard in a lot of high pressure instances,” Pidek said. “I think that’s why people are interested in Kettering as an institution that produces a certain result. It produces people that work really hard because they’ve had to.”

In the future Pidek hopes to expand Foster Coffee into multiple locations, taking the community mindset and replicating it in other communities.

He plans to continue playing music. Pidek is currently traveling and playing music with his fiancee Mandy Senor and planning on recording an album. He also has a variety of other business ideas that he would like to work on in the future.

“I always have this dream to get off a plane from signing a million dollar deal and put on a guitar and get up on a stage and live in both worlds and inspire both worlds to be better,” Pidek said. “The music world to be better in business and the business world to be more creative and more artistic. And merge both of those in some unique fashion. Come ask me in 10 years how I’m doing!”