Our story is unique and not what you would expect. This is not a giant coffee company. It has never been bought or sold, it has no shareholders, and our only partners are whom we do business with. This story starts with the founder, Kevin Wiesehan, a former Aeronautical Engineer at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft who remains the original and sole owner of the business. While working in St. Louis, he was sent to Seattle, Washington to help a supplier who was having difficulties producing some aircraft parts. He fell in love with Seattle, the Mountains, the clean air and the stunning National Geographic scenery that Seattle had to offer and yes, the coffee. The McDonnell Douglas Aircraft supplier who he had come to help, offered him a position as the C-17 Program Manager, and the transplant to Seattle was complete.
Wiesehan got married and lived in Seattle for 3 years during the early 90’s. He commuted 2200 miles each month to visit his fiancé, later his wife, for the full 3 years. He actually had to fly back to St. Louis for the wedding, then fly back to Seattle to return to work. He was working 100 hours a week. The pre infancy of Breve Coffee® began during his time as he witnessed the birth of the coffee phenomenon in Seattle.
Wiesehan, who had never been a coffee drinker, became a drive thru espresso bar junkie, drinking irish cream lattes and silky Ghirardelli chocolate mochas. He thought that these delicious espresso based drinks were like "hot" milkshakes with caffeine and every one should start their day off with one of these treats. He bought a home espresso machine to make his own drinks, interestingly he never owned a traditional coffee maker. Each trip back to St. Louis to visit his fiancé he realized that people in the Midwest had never heard of a latte or mocha. Coffee to Midwesterners was black, barely palateable, hot liquid, scooped from dried up grounds in a can. He became obsessed with combining his ambition to start his own business with his new found passion for delicious coffee. It was time to bring this Coffee Craze home to St. Louis, MO, the Show-Me State. Show me some better coffee!
While newlyweds living in Seattle, they had a good life living in the Emerald City . Wiesehan had a great job with the benefits of the company airplane, yacht, and company expenses. In December of 1994, Wiesehan left Seattle, his job and his career. He and his wife moved back to St. Louis to start The Brevé Espresso Company® and bring the coffee revolution with them. But when they moved back to become independent business owners, they had to limit their expenses. To do this, at age 31, he moved in with his wife’s parents and began living with his in-laws. A bizzare and early sign of his complete commitment to success. His new bride who had married a jet set Aeronautical Engineer / Program Manager, quickly found herself living back in her bedroom that she grew up in. This new venture was not going to come easily.
On March 5, 1995 they opened in 300 sq. feet of the Paul Brown Building in Downtown St. Louis with a walk-up window and became St. Louis’ First Espresso Bar. This was many years before Starbucks came to the St. Louis area. The first day in business was terrible. There was an armed robbery in the building, it was roped off and they did $58 in total sales and it went down hill from there. Nobody knew what a latté was in St. Louis in 1995, and he nor his wife could give them away. The shop was tiny but beautiful with restored 1906 wood floors and doors, mirrors and Syrup bottles that looked like wine to everyone else. They relentlessly explained what specialty coffee was, what a latté was and what a mocha was to one customer at a time, and the owners never looked back.
But Wiesehan and his wife had no income. They lived with his wife’s parents and ask Wiesehan's father to help at the café because they could not afford any employees. The 100 hour workweek had become the norm. Perhaps failure seemed obvious to onlookers, but it was not an option to them. The owners believed in their idea, their product and themselves so strongly, quitting never crossed their mind. This was going to work, no matter what. Day after day the founder, his wife and his father struggled to make each day at least $1 better than the day before. They did, and very slowly the business improved. They introduced St. Louis to the first Panini Press Sandwich later in 1995, and business continued to grow slowly. Every night the founder would sit at his Mac laptop and chart what little sales there were, planned advertising and developed a training manual. His wife would ask "Why are you making a training manual, you have no one to train". "But I will one day" was the response, and when I do, I'll be ready.
By the end of the first year they had a whopping 3 employees and customers lined up around the building, but the competition was emanating and taking notes. The company still made little to no money. Personal adjustments were made and Mr. Wiesehan's wife went back to work at a hospital as a registered nurse. All of the money she earned seemed to immediately vanish into the business. They worked 7 days a week for years. While all their friends were living normal lives, their lives were anything but normal. They did not have time to see friends who had stories of their fun weekends, vacations and parties. While the plan was to stay living at the in-laws for the first 6 months to get the company off the ground, 2 years later, they were still there. Mr. Wiesehan had left that career in Seattle with all the benefits and had earned $0 on his W-2's for over 2 years now.
But once the business got off it's feet and finally started turning a profit.... the city condemned the building for asbestos and evicted Brevé. Brevé had 30 days to evacuate. Disaster had struck. At the same time, to make matters even worse, a prior customer of Brevé was opening a large café on the corner with 2 coffee roasters and 2 espresso machines displayed inside, directly across the street. Mr. Wiesehan looked out his walk-up window only to see all of his customers at the new place across the street. The big beautiful new coffee house was packed, while the tiny pioneering Brevé simply sat empty across the street. After 2 years of relentless work the couple was broke, living with the parents, searching for answers. Dark days and sleepless nights haunted them.
This appeared as a good time for some soul searching, many suggested to stop and go back into Engineering. Friends and relatitives tried to comfort the couple by saying " Hey, at least you tried, you should be proud of that". Quitting remained the farthest thing from his mind. His wife simply supported every decision and everything he did. For Wiesehan, it was not time to end the madness, rather it was time to fight. For him, this would become a story of David and Goliath. When the competition opened that Monday, Brevé Sales collapsed to nearly $0. The store was empty. Terrible Tuesday hit and things did not improve. Wednesday was better and by that Friday Brevé had a record day. The big new competition lacked personality, they lacked many of the favorite syrups Brevé had to offer and they were not diversified enough. They had no food, no breakfast, no lunch; nothing but coffee and it was burnt and bitter. Brevé was packed again by then end of the first week, while conversely the new big beautiful corner store sat near empty. Brevé welcomed all their customers back, but the problem of eviction was still at hand.
Brevé tried to get bank loans from 5 banks for a new location and was declined everytime. They needed $150,000 to build a new store. In 1997 multiple credit card offers where in everyones mailboxes daily. The credit system in the US was different then. They offered 0% interest for up to 18 months with no up front cost and a limit of $10,000 on each offer. Mr. Wiesehan applied for and received over 30 credit cards with $10,000 limits on all of them. He borrowed nearly $200,000 on 20 credit cards and kept track of them on an excel spreadsheet. Everytime the introductory offer was about to expire, he would transfer the balance to an empty card and begin the 0% interest for another 12 to 18 month and never paid a transfer fee. He was never late on any payment and maintained perfect credit through the process of paying them all off. This method of finance was very creative and risky. But drastic times called for drastic measures and Mr. Wiesehan built a new store across the street in the at&t building and managed to pay off every credit card. The store still exist today.
It wasn't long before coffee shops were popping up all over downtown St. Louis. More and more loyal customers who had been marveled by the apparent success of Brevé were opening stores of their own. However, their entrance into the coffee market seems to have little effect on Brevés business. With dreams of their own, they too launched head first into business. While many of them looked strong upon opening, it became obvious that they lacked the structure and or will power to withstand the test of time. Brevé continued to work as hard as ever inventing new products and recipes, systems and procedures while roasting the finest coffee they could source.
The business grew and on March 21, 1997, exactly 2 years 3 months and 6 days after moving into the in-laws house, Mr. and Mrs. Wiesehan were finally able to move out and build a house of their own. Starting a new business from scratch, that could support a mortage, turned out to be much, much harder and took quite a bit longer than projected.
The word Starbucks has a memorable story in itself. When Breve applied for a trademark of the name Breve with United States Trademark Office, it was opposed, an "opposition to registration" as Starbucks had filed an "intent to use" the name Breve Bar. Breve, the small company that it was, had a two year long, $20,000 legal battle over the use of the name Breve (that is alot of coffee to sell to finance that battle). With proof that the name had been in use for nearly 2 years prior to Starbucks filing an intent to use permit, Wiesehan's Breve was granted its trademark and received a legal document that Starbucks had "abanoned" its intent to use application. Seven years after opening the first Breve, Starbucks found a location across the street from Breve, only to close about 1 year after opening their doors.
The original name, The Breve Espresso Bar, evolved into The Breve Espresso Company® when 6 retail cafes were operational. The company also began selling its proprietary house coffee blend, espresso blend, and selected flavored coffees to whole sale customers. It became obvious that the company needed to clarify its brand, so the retail side became Café Brevé® offering breakfast and lunch with a variety of grilled Panini sandwiches, soups, salads and wraps. There were franchises of Café Brevé® for a total of 6 locations including cafes in Clayton and St. Anthony's hospital which are still in busines today. Brevé Coffee® became the wholesale coffee roasting company that was built in an industrial park in Pevely, Missouri.
Today, Brevé Coffee® small batch roasts all of their coffees in 25 lb. open flame artisan roasters. The wholesale company supplies specialty coffee for discerning customers in hospitals, colleges, universities, restaurants and other coffee shops with their coffee, cups, chocolates, syrups, smoothies and tea. Throughout it all, Mr. and Mrs. Wiesehan eventually managed to spend time with friends and have children who are now teenagers. Things are different now, but the years of a brutal start-up will never be forgotten.
This is a story of success. However, only a decision to quit defines failure, so if you never quit, you can never fail. There is no secret to success, but there is a question. The question is: how bad do you want it? Bad things will happen, some can be really bad, but good things will happen too. Brevé learned to slow down and readjust when things do not work, to learn from mistakes, but most importantly to stay the course; then run as fast as you can when things are going well and claim them all as victories. The most important thing? Never, never give up. Perspective is the defining trait to maintain an objective. For Wiesehan, the perspective was an irreversable Declaration of Independance.
The Story before Coffee, Seattle and Engineering
In the Beginning:
Wiesehan went to high school at Hazelwood West in Florissant, Missouri. A huge diverse public school that gave him absolutely no direction or life skills. Counselors told Wiesehan the minimum requirement for graduation, which included painting, pottery and woodworking. During high school, Wiesehan held 3 jobs at once, all in grocery stores, working around the clock. He was always a hard worker but school seemed unimportant. Wiesehan graduated high school at the bottom of his class with only basic math skills. Algebra was not required to graduate high school, therefore he had never taken anything more than basic math. When taking the ACT test in his senior year he was instructed to just fill in the blanks. He was told that it did not apply to him and that it was merely a government requirement that the school give each student the test. Upon graduation, at age 17, Wiesehan became self employed and started painting houses by himself for cash. He realized that painting houses would never afford him a house of his own with living expenses for a normal life. He knew he needed a plan for something much bigger.
One evening Wiesehan was at a party for a friend's Uncle. The uncle was a pilot for United Airlines. When the pilot / uncle walked into the party in his uniform, he was instantly admired by everyone in the room, he was very impressive. Later that evening, Wiesehan talked to the pilot and asked him "How did you become a pilot?" He said that it began by going to St. Louis University Parks College. He told Wiesehan that it was about 45 minutes away in Cahokia, Illinois. The next day while painting a house, now at age 19, the light finally went off in his head for the much bigger plan. He thought, "I need some kind of Aircraft Engineering degree from Parks College". He sold himself immediately to the idea. He dropped his paintbrush, without cleaning it and jumped into his car on a quest to find Cahokia. There was no Internet, no GPS, and no directions other than a paper map he bought at a gas station. He stopped at many gas stations along the way and asked, "Where is Parks College in Cahokia? He eventually found the campus and asked a gardener where do "people sign up?" He was pointed to the admissions building and went inside. He said to the woman at the desk , "I want to go here!"
The admissions assistant appeared confused and told Wiesehan that this was not the time of year for registration and that he should return several month later. Wiesehan kept painting houses and returned to the college months later at the proper time. When he arrived for the second time, he was so completely unprepared that he came with nothing more than a pen. He had no high school transcripts, no recommendations, no money, nothing. He sat in a chair in the Deans office and was asked how he ended up there that day. He told him about the pilot. The Dean explained to Wiesehan that it just would not be possible to attend the college of engineering because he did not have any required prerequisite classes. Wiesehan did not know what the word "prerequisite" meant. He continued to explain that the college was very expensive and that Wiesehan would need a lot of money. If you do not have the background, or any money, you simply cannot attend Parks College. He was directed to the financial aid office and escorted out of the admissions office.
Wiesehan quickly learned the meaning of the word prerequisite, and began to understand how completely unprepared he was to attend any college at all. The first engineering class of freshmen year was calculus; to enter calculus, the prerequisite was pre-calculus, trigonometry and geometry, none of which he had. Wiesehan then went to Florissant Valley Community College and attempted to sign up for those courses, only to be told that they also had the prerequisite class of College Algebra. When he attempted to register for college algebra with the admissions director at the community college, it was not possible because the prerequisite to college algebra was intermediate algebra, and the perquisite to that, was elementary algebra and the prerequisite to that was Basic Math. I have that! He exclaimed, I have basic math skills! So that is where Wiesehan started college, at a community college in North County, taking elementary algebra.
That first math course was extremely difficult for Wiesehan as even his basic math skills were weak. But again, the thought of quitting never crossed his mind; he was determined to see this through, no matter what. He passed with a B and began taking intermediate Algebra. Wiesehan continued for 2 years taking basic algebra, intermediate algebra, college algebra, trigonometry, geometry and precalculus. He filled out every financial aid form with his startled parents and applied for every grant available.
It had been 2 years of gut wrenching math along with other courses including history, writing, and the fundamentals of physics and chemistry. etc. Most of the prerequisite courses did not count toward his degree. He then returned to Cahokia, on the proper day, with the proper prerequisites, transcripts, financial aid and grants and again said, "I want to go here!" This time he was told, "Welcome to St. Louis University's School of Engineering-Parks College Mr. Wiesehan, congratulations and good luck". Thirthy Eight students began the engineering program and only Twelve would complete.
Near the end of his final semester, McDonnell Douglas held interviews on the college campus for 1 available position. Wiesehan was offered that position and accepted it upon graduating 2nd in his class with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics from St. Louis University in 1988. He bought a nice house, all new appliances, a new red sports car and took a Caribbean vacation. Soon thereafter, he met the woman of his dreams and they moved to Seattle. The rest is history.