What I’ve learned

How Lakewood Ranch's Ted C. Abrams Turned Joffrey's Coffee and Tea Around

Within seven months of Abrams' start date, the company was profitable.

By David Hackett November 21, 2016 Published in the November-December 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Image: Chad Spencer

Ted C. Abrams faced a daunting challenge in 2001 when he became president and CEO of Joffrey’s Coffee and Tea Company. The business, headquartered in Tampa, had lost money for 17 straight years since its founding, and the chairman told Abrams he had one year to make Joffrey’s profitable.

Abrams, who knew little about coffee but had a head for numbers, took action, closing or ceding control of Joffrey’s nearly one dozen retail coffee shops, getting out of budget-crushing leases for new shops at Channelside and Tampa International Mall and putting the focus on what Joffrey’s did best: roasting and producing specialty coffees. The move cost 30 to 40 workers their jobs and elicited second-guessing from some longtime employees. 

Within seven months, Joffrey’s was profitable. Revenue increased from $3.9 million in 2001 to an expected $30 million this year, with a goal of reaching $50 million by 2020. No longer operating coffee shops, Joffrey’s has carved out a large piece of the growing specialty coffee and tea business. The bedrock is a deal with Disney that has made Joffrey’s its specialty coffee provider at its Florida theme park, resorts and cruise lines. Joffrey’s is also served in hospitals, such as Manatee Memorial Hospital and All Children’s Hospital, stores such as Morton’s Market, and restaurants, including Michael’s On East and Libby’s. Joffrey’s now has 150 employees and has seen its business line expand, with iced and specialty teas as one of its fastest-growing products.

Abrams, 54, lives in Lakewood Ranch with his wife, Penny, and their two sons.

“My first day on the job at Joffrey’s, I met with our roastmaster. Even though we had been continually losing money, I knew there must be something we were doing well. The roastmaster said, ‘We make the best coffee, time after time. We never falter.’ Then I asked what we didn’t do well. He said, ‘We’re terrible at running coffee shops.’ So I decided that we needed to get out of the coffee shop business and focus on what we did best.”

“In a turnaround situation, you first have to identify people who are willing and able to change. When I came to Joffrey’s, I gave each of my direct reports copies of the book Who Moved My Cheese. It’s a quick read, but powerful in identifying the qualities needed to embrace change. Only two of those five people are still with us. But that needed to happen if we were going to survive.”

“I learned a lot from my dad about managing people. He was the first dermatologist in southern New Jersey, and he had a great reputation. The thing that impressed me the most was how he appreciated his employees. Every day, he would thank every one of them before they walked out the door. That stuck with me, and I still do that today.”

“I was premed my first year in college, but one day my dad took me to see an operation. I almost passed out from the sight of blood. I said, ‘OK, this isn’t for me.’ But I had a head for numbers and that became my path.”

“I also learned a lot from Hugh Sawyer, whom I worked for before coming to Joffrey’s. Hugh was brought in to turn around National Linen Service. I remember him saying, ‘You can’t overpay for good talent. If you are unwilling to pay what the best candidate is asking, you’re going to end up with a mediocre team.’ This is especially true, I’ve learned, when hiring a CFO. There’s no substitute for a great CFO, and we’re very fortunate to have one [Jim Fanaro] at Joffrey’s.”

“In 2010, coffee prices were going through the roof and we were struggling to adjust. I went to our chairman and said we need to make a change at the CFO level, and I told him it’s going to cost us more. It was really the first time he ever pushed back. But I told him, ‘We’re going to know within 90 days whether this was the right move.’ In reality, you’ll know within 30 days. Six years later, we’ve more than doubled our revenue, and [Fanaro] has been instrumental to our success.”

“If you don’t surround yourself with the strongest of the strong, you’re not going to get where you need to go. I know what I’m good at and I surround myself with people who are good at what I’m not good at. That’s what makes a team.”

“I love the game of golf. I’m a member of The Concession. What I love about golf is that you can never beat the game. That’s also true about business. One day, you can shoot great. The next day you’re on the course and you say, ‘Where the hell did this come from?’ But the key is being mentally strong, being prepared and being able to stay in the game after you make a bad shot or even have a terrible round. That’s what I try to do on the golf course and in business.”

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