Classmates' kick sparks entrepreneurship major's coffee venture

Senior Caleb Graffam with a caramel latte drink at his pinNaCle Coffee table during a recent Canyon Activities Board-sponsored student market at Prescott Field.

Caleb Graffam smirked as he surveyed the persistent crowd waiting for their affogato and energy drinks in front of his pinNaCle Coffee table adjacent to the Colangelo College of Business courtyard in early February.

“It’s unbelievable,” Graffam said. “On a cloudy day, 60 degrees, people are cold and they’re still buying iced stuff.”

Graffam, an entrepreneurship major scheduled to graduate in December, was stunned by the instant popularity of his business. What’s nearly just as baffling is that he needed convincing from his fellow students in a business execution class taught by professor Robert Vera, founding director of Canyon Ventures.

“We have to come up with a business,” said classmate Jackson Godwin, who has built Jack’s Detail Garage into one of Canyon Ventures’ greatest success stories. “Robert is persistent about that. And Caleb’s idea was to make a coffee cart but said, ‘I’m not ready. I don’t have this or that.’"

But a majority of the class told Graffam to take his available supplies and sell his beverages at an IDEA Club Marketplace event with two days’ notice.

Within five hours, Graffam – assisted by friends who volunteered their time and labor – sold 130 drinks.

“We saw the potential in him,” Godwin said.

Senior Caleb Graffam (left) concocts a drink for a customer at his pinNaCle Coffee table.

The instant sales alleviated Graffam’s concerns. Classmate and friend Lucas Patten noticed Graffam was “super stressed out and doubtful” as a project deadline approached, but Graffam and classmate Joanna Dowdy persuaded him that pinNaCle would be successful.

While buying supplies the morning of the first Marketplace, Graffam became convinced that coffee would be a big hit.

That potential is growing steadily, although he knows he must take methodical steps before building and sustaining a successful and profitable business.

First, he knows he will need a bigger espresso machine. He said his current maker is designed to make no more than 10 drinks a day, which he has easily exceeded on three occasions during an eight-day span.

“I was waiting for it to just conk out and die, but it’s held through,” said Graffam, a native of Shoreline, Minnesota. “So we’ll just hold on to this until we buy the next machine that we hope is built for something like this.

“But that was my only hesitation (about participating in the Marketplace), whether the machine was just going to hold up.”

Graffam thought about a small coffee business for a while, adding that the peer pressure in his classroom was “a good kick, just what I needed.”

Ironically, Graffam said he did not like drinking coffee until a few years ago and began to explore assorted flavors with his mother. That adventure led him to buy the espresso machine for fun and serve his friends.

Fun became business when students persuaded Graffam to execute his business plan. That meant a 48-hour window to put his plan together, which included meeting with graphic designers to create a logo, devise a menu and get advice from wholesalers.

A customer watches senior Caleb Graffam prepare some espresso for a latte drink.

He also received help from roommate Colston Blackwood, who was preparing the drinks at a feverish but controllable pace.

“(Blackwood) really likes Red Bull drinks, and he said, ‘I’ll take care of the Red Bull,’" Graffam said. “I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’"

Despite brisk elements, students perked up after consuming a small bowl of affogato – an Italian dessert consisting of espresso poured over ice cream.

“It’s been a smash hit,” Graffam said before scooping ice cream out of an insulated ice chest. “But we also have Red Bull infusions and iced coffee, iced mochas, iced lattes, stuff like that.”

It also does not hurt that the Stampede power drink shortage since Christmas has encouraged some GCBC customers to try pinNaCle’s infused drinks – including the Cactus Flower (Red Bull, prickly pear, lime), Arizona Sunset (Red Bull and raspberries) and Strawberry Shortcake (Red Bull, strawberry and vanilla cold foam). PinNaCle also offers sugar-free syrups and Soft Top On Top cold foam.

“We’ve been smoke testing, trying a lot of recipes, taking notes and seeing what’s working and what’s not working,” Graffam said.

During one 7-9 p.m. market, Graffam discovered affogato was a big hit because it did not contain as much caffeine and served as an evening dessert.

“It was good pivot to that time,” Graffam said.

If you are wondering about the odd spelling of the company, Graffam said NaCl is the chemical formula for salt, in which a “pinch” is used in each drink to balance the flavor.

Senior Caleb Graffam's pinNaCle Coffee table attracted a lot of customers during a recent CAB-sponsored student market.

He admits he is fortunate that his friends have volunteered to help him set up a table at the market, to serve and tear down his workplace, and to clean the materials.

For now, “This is the perfect place,” Graffam said. “I’d like the idea of the market right now for the student thing, but I want to expand to farmers markets, and I love the idea of serving at weddings. That’s my main (goal), to cater for people’s special day. Just roll the cart in there, and I want to be a part of people’s special day.

“The first step is we’re going to get a good machine, make this consistent and then do farmers markets. Honestly, wherever we go from there, I’m open to anything.”

As part of the Colangelo College of Business' Conscious Capitalism mantra, Graffam would love to give back to CCOB and the community.

“There’s a lot of potential,” Graffam said. “But the business is young. We’re thinking it through.”

The results have been impeccable so far.

“Caleb is now continuously selling at the markets and creating smiles across the GCU campus,” Patten said.

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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