Typically when Monument Coffee Company owner Jerry Watson interviews job applicants he wants to know if they have any babysitting experience.
While the Memphis native does consider the Clinton drive-thru coffee shop his baby, there is a deeper meaning to the question as he hunts for traits of stewardship and accountability in each potential employee.
“We look for folks who are faithful, available and teachable,” Watson says, his rich baritone voice rising over a screeching milk steamer.
Small businesses don’t get much smaller than the 300-square-foot building at the corner of Northside Drive and Clinton Parkway which opened last October. The branding and name for Monument Coffee was born after an inspirational trip Watson took to the Grand Canyon.
“Our tagline is faith, family, freedom and great coffee,” he says.
Watson acquired sound business principles at an early age from his father who worked as a concrete contractor. After graduating from Belhaven University in 1984, Watson started in the food business literally at the ground level, running orders from a downstairs kitchen to the second-floor dining area at the original Iron Horse Grill in Jackson.
While hoping for a career as a radio announcer, a management stint and mentoring from Iron Horse owner John McWilliams Jr. gave Watson the teeth-cutting he needed to one day make a name for himself in the food and beverage industry.
“Nothing goes to waste in God’s economy,” Watson says. “When you see a turtle on a fence post he didn’t get there by himself.”
Watson gained more experience working for a food preparation non-profit, growing it from a shoestring budget, church-based operation to 11 locations with more than $2 million in sales servicing daycares, schools, churches, and camps across the state.
His first foray into the coffee business came as an operations manager for Seattle Drip, a popular drive-thru coffee chain in Jackson. The Clinton location Watson currently leases is actually an old Seattle Drip shop that had previously closed.
“There’s such a loyal following,” Watson says of the customers. “Those folks came right back.” One recent customer didn’t even realize the name change until he saw it on his cup label. “We’re about the business of recapturing,” Watson says.
Monument’s prime location gives it a good chunk of morning commuters, neighboring retailers and students and faculty at nearby Mississippi College.
In exchange for their hard work and loyalty, Watson gives back to his employees. When federal pay increases pinched profits, he changed the pay structure to a team commission incentive that helped drive and inspire his staff to pull together.
“Its a tiny little piece of real estate but we’re making it,” he says. Less than three minutes expire from order to service. Coffee is actually roasted in Seattle and shipped to Watson every week.
Watson says there are three types of restaurant owners. “You’ve got folks that take what comes, folks that are well-heeled or have resources, and the rest of us that take something out of nothing and by scratching and clawing turn it around into something that has momentum.”
Monument’s five-year plan includes more company stores and licensed locations throughout Greater Jackson and along Interstates 55 and 20. A breakfast menu and several fruit smoothie and milkshake products are being planned to hold them up during the triple-digit temperatures of the summer months.
While Watson has a conservative advertising budget he goes beyond it by delivering complimentary coffee to local offices and companies, meeting people in their environment and putting a face on what Monument does.
“If you’re redundant there’s no reason for you to be there,” Wilson says. “The market won’t bear it. I don’t need to be Starbucks. I don’t need to be Cups. Competition is going to be in place. We have a little different vision of capturing revenue and sales.”