Bonnie Vining
Unless your home, work or personal travels take you to Rita Ranch/the southeast side much, you may not have ever heard of Javalinas. The coffee shop and live-music venue, at 9136 E. Valencia Road, was opened in December 2003 by Bonnie Vining, 53, a former accountant and software engineer for IBM who's lived off and on in Southern Arizona for five decades. By all accounts, Javalinas has been a success for the coffee-starved southeast side--but competition is on the way. Vining and others recently learned that a very, very large coffee chain is constructing a kiosk in the adjacent Safeway. For more information on Javalinas, visit the Web site or call 663-5282.

What made you decide to quit being a software engineer in favor of opening a coffee place?

I was actually in a job interview for a management position, and I was told not to smile so much. This guy actually said to me, "Don't smile so much." I said, "Yeah, you know, I tend to be a happy person." He said, "Yeah, but it's not professional." I knew right then that I wanted to do something where a smile would be an asset, not a liability; I just didn't know what, at that point.

What gelled the coffee-shop idea for you?

I was at home that night, and I started thinking about what all my possibilities were. I went online, and my first thought was a nice, cushy government job ... and there were a few I could have been qualified for, but they looked really boring. Therefore, I thought: Maybe I should go into business myself. ... And then it hit me: I just love coffee shops. I love seeing the fruits of people's labor, and I love good coffee.

You've been open about 2 1/2 years now. What's been your biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge was getting the word out there that we're here; we're open; this is who we are.

And how did you go about doing that?

Oddly enough, the neighborhood was thirsty--for coffee, but not only that; they were thirsty for a place to go. The first day, we had a line of people. Then the challenge was serving all of those people at one time. I am a pretty friendly person, and am good at networking. I spent every Saturday for a year at the Rincon Valley Farmers' Market selling coffee, but not only that; I was there to meet people on the southeast side of Tucson, and let them know about Javalinas.

From what I understand, you've got a pretty successful e-mail newsletter, too.

That has been one of my best ways of reaching people. We have more than 2,000 people on the list. Customers come in all the time and tell me they love the newsletter. Each time I send one out, I get 20 to 30 responses ... and they give me good feedback that they enjoy it. And of course, we've been offering live music for more than two years now, and the musicians all have e-mail lists. They send out to their lists, saying, "We're playing at Javalinas Saturday night." ... I consider that word of mouth: They're telling their friends about us, and their friends are telling their friends about us. That's allowed us to grow.

I saw on your Web site's "frequently asked questions" where you say Javalinas is not a franchise--yet. Does that mean there are plans for that to happen?

There may be. I won't give away any secrets right now, but it's something in the back of my mind. I really enjoy this one right now. I'd have to do a lot of thinking before we got involved in that.

I understand that there's a "corporate coffee kiosk" going in at the shopping center's Safeway. Are you concerned about the competition?

I really don't have a lot of time to worry about it. Managing a business that's open seven days a week that's open up to 18 hours per day keeps me really busy. We're just continuing what we do: providing the best espresso drinks in town. We're basically going to be continuing to do the very best we can. Our mission is not to get rich by selling millions of cups of coffee. Our mission--it's on the wall in the back; let me see if I can remember it exactly--is to delight our customers by preparing and serving the best nonalcoholic beverages in an atmosphere that encourages good, clean fun.

About 2 1/2 years in, what's the thought that first comes to your mind?

My biggest impression is that it's a lot more work than anyone could imagine, owning a coffee shop. But it also gives me greater enjoyment than I ever could have imagined having (while) working for someone else.

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