By TAMMY LEYTHAM
GAUTIER — Ask Delorise Nettles what makes a business successful and she doesn’t hesitate to answer.
It’s all about knowing your customers, said Nettles, owner of Delo’s Heavenly House of Coffee in Gautier. And it’s obvious she does.
She chit chats with customers, asks about their school work, encourages their artistic aspirations and remembers their favorite drinks.
The mornings are busy, while afternoons are more of a down time. Delo’s is warm, with local art adorning the walls (it’s for sale) and an upstairs room that’s used like a community center.
Nettles asks a customer if she’ll be back in school next semester (Nettles herself recently went back to school and is working on her associate degree). She encourages another customer — an artist — to hand out her business card and put one on the bulletin board. “I’m everybody’s agent when they walk through the door,” she said.
She started the Heavenly House of Coffee in July 2005 as something to do in retirement. That was just one month before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But, Nettles was blessed, she said.
The coffee house re-opened two days after Katrina, one of the few opened businesses in Gautier. “People from everywhere were needing coffee,” she said.
A Hurley native who retired from the Ingalls credit union and also worked retail, Nettles said she thought the community needed a place where students could go for coffee. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is just around the corner from the shop in the Bayview Commons shopping center at 3880 Gautier Vancleave Road.
“I wanted to give kids a place to come where they didn’t have the temptation to hang out in the mall, get a credit card and get in debt,” she said.
Building the business has been a slow process. But it’s paid off. Word of mouth has helped. Now, she says, she has between one and four people come in daily “who have never darkened the doors.”
“Hopefully, they’ll come back, but if not, hopefully, they’ll tell someone,” she said.
Nettles, the mother of five and grandmother of three, bakes the muffins and other sweets in a display counter. “If I get a wild hair, I’ll bake a cheesecake,” she said.
She expertly mixes the drinks – chai with honey and milk; a French Kiss blended coffee with vanilla and caramel; or the best seller, Alice in Wonderland, named for her older sister who created it. It’s made with white chocolate, caramel and hazelnut.
“If I had to pay her for every one I sold, she could quit Chevron,” Nettles said.
And she’s learned hard lessons in the nine years she’s ran the coffee shop. “I’m only here truly by the grace of God,” she said. “If He wasn’t keeping it going, I would have done some things to shut it down.”
A partnership in a business in Georgia that “went south” is one example she gives of a hard lesson learned. Another is making sure she is always stocked with the basics after a friend came by to get decaf coffee and they were out.
“Since then, I may not have every pastry in that case, but I promise, I will have coffee,” she said. And she keeps extra decaf under a counter.
The espresso beans come from Orleans Coffee Exchange and the house blend from CoffeeAM in Canton, Georgia.
Employee Jessica Drongowski updates Delo’s Facebook page and selects seasonal coffees and teas. On an October day, Vermont maple nut is the flavor of the day and spiced apple cider is available.
Other fall flavors include pumpkin creme brûlée, and coming soon, cranberry creme and cinnamon sweet potato swirl.
And soon, Drongowski will choose Christmas flavors.
Delo’s is also starting Coffee and Cupcake Saturdays to help launch another fledgling entrepreneur. A woman who works at Ingalls wants to bake cupcakes, Nettles said, so she’ll bake a batch each Saturday to complement the flavor of the day coffee.
Nettles has another bit of advice for anyone thinking of starting a business. “Make sure you’re committed,” she said. “There’s lots of times I didn’t want to get up.”
She gave an example of one night she left class at 10 p.m., had to make sandwiches for the next day’s business and still had to stop at the store for ingredients.
And, if an employee calls in sick, it’s the owner who cancels plans to fill in.
“The commitment here is a little greater.”
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