Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Dustin Rockwell, owner and operator of Cool Beans Cafe on California Ave. behind the biomedical engineering building, across from Griff's. [wpvideo PhnkGKD4]

You got the red beans and rice already?

Yes. Lunch special!

That's cheap. ($3.99) 


Do y'all make it here?


Can you tell me why you decided to open a coffee shop?

I've always wanted to. I found the perfect location, so I went ahead and did it. Other than that, you know, I just had to do something with my life, and this is what I decided to do. I can't really say why.

Tell me what you've done previously career-wise.

Previously, just a bunch of joe jobs. I worked convenience stores. I worked construction. I worked at a tattoo parlor. Nothing like this, I can tell you that. I've always just had a boss and worked a 9-5.

So this is the first business that you've owned and operated yourself. How does it compare to what you expected it to be like?

It's a lot more work, obviously, than I expected. It's just something you've got to have patience with. Got to be creative. You've got to be able to attract the customer to come in. It's just different. It's not the same as working for somebody, you know. Making a pay check. You really have to work for your customer base.

Let me ask you, what all do you serve and offer now?

Coffee. We're doing the lunch specials. Red beans and rice. Tomorrow I'm going to do barbecue. Pulled pork sandwiches. Pizza rolls. All kinds of sodas, chips. Juice. Snickers ice cream bar. Whatever I feel like could be handy for the students to take out and eat on the way to class.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to get more art in here. I want to sell t-shirts. Expand my menu. Just listening to the customers and see what they want, and I'll go get it. Hopefully they'll come back and keep coming back.

You have Ricky Sykes' work on the wall now. How'd that come about? How'd you meet him?

I went to the Turbo Goat. I'm friends with Chris Bartlett. And I saw his work in there, and I thought it was really interesting. So I picked up one of his cards and just called him. And he was really excited about hanging a few pieces in here. So it's just a matter of getting out there and talking to folks.

Do you ride a bicycle?

I do.

What are some of your other hobbies?

I used to be a dj. As a matter of fact, we're going to throw a party up here Saturday night. Other than that, I just like to hang out. Haha. Right now I'm too busy for hobbies, to tell you the truth. I'm up here six days a week, and I'm constantly just trying to figure out ways to get people in the door. So I don't really have much time for a hobby.

Yeah, so you guys open at six, and you're open until . . .

Ten o'clock at night.

How does it compare to working for someone else?

It's very much more stressful. I feel like with just a regular joe job, there's not much room for advance. But I feel like here, if it starts picking up and doing well, it'll really pay off. But yeah, I love it up here. It's like a second home. There's nothing else I'd rather be doing right now.

You're not from Ruston, right?


Where are you from?

I was born in Alabama. Grew up in Crossett Arkansas. And we moved here in 2000. So I've been here for ten or eleven years.

I think it's interesting how you didn't go to college, and now you're working almost literally on college campus. What's that experience been like so far?

So far it's been good. Everybody's been real nice. I like it here. I really do. I'm just thankful that I could get this location. It just kind of fell in my lap somehow. I don't really understand it, but here I am . . . Ok, so let me start from the beginning. The reason all this came about is, like I said, I was a dj. I had a roommate who was helping me, he would set up the speakers and the amps and all that, and then I would perform. Weddings. I did a show at Rabbs. I did a show at 3 Docs, back when it was still Cue Stick. And we were looking for a space to store all our equipment 'cause we had a ton. And it was just sitting at my house. So two blocks up the street up here, I saw space for rent. We checked it out. It was owned by the Flernoys, Bob and Patricia Flernoy. And just talking with them, Bob made a comment, this would be a really good place for a coffee shop, it being so close to campus. And I thought he had a point. It was a good location for a coffee shop. The students could just walk over and hang out. Well I didn't really think much about it. And a week later, my roommate passed. He died. So I was pretty much out of the dj business at that point. I couldn't do it all myself. So I remembered what Bob had said about the coffee shop. So I pursued it down there. We got into it. I made a business plan. We worked out the lease. And we had also talked to some contractors. They were recommending a ten thousand dollar handicap ramp, and a seventy-five thousand dollar fire wall. Which we weren't expecting that, and that was going to be too much for the owners to do. They pretty much wished me the best of luck and sent me on my way. Well, I started looking around at other places. I started looking at other places. I saw this place next door was up for rent. I called Frank Cadarro, we checked it out. He asked me what I wanted to do with it. I told him I wanted to open a coffee shop, and he said no you don't want this spot, you want this spot. I said okay, but I don't know if I could swing the rent. It's kind of up there. But we worked it out. We looked at the budget. We added in the Daylight Donuts and the espresso and all the goods. We felt like we could do it, so I went for it. And here I am. So that's a little more back story on how this came about.

Of course, you're not the only coffee shop in Ruston. What do you feel is different about Cool Beans?

We're so close to campus. We have a drive-thru. And it's not drab and dreary in here. I wanted it to be lively, so I painted it in lively colors. And I don't know, I just thought it would be a really nice place for people to come, hang out, study. Have study groups close to campus. People can just walk over. And I just wanted it to be friendly. A lot of coffee shops, you go in, they just ignore you, or they just take your order and send you on your way. I want to be friendly with people.

What's the most rewarding part of working here and owning the place so far?

So far, just seeing it come to life, you know?  I love it up here. It's a second home. I love talking with the customers.

Do you have a family?

I do. I live with my father. My mother's still up in Arkansas. I've got two sisters. They're both college graduates with families of their own. Hopefully one day I'll be able to afford to start my own family. That's another reason I wanted to do this. I wasn't getting anywhere with the convenience store jobs or any of that. So I had to take a chance with this, and try to be able to earn enough money to start a family.

Tell me about the design of the place. Your logo and color scheme. 

Cool Beans was a saying . . . It was suggested to me just to be Beans. And I thought, oh well, that's good, but I like Cool Beans better. So I went with that. And I took that idea to Rapid Signs, and we kind of played around with it. They came up with a few designs on their own. It wasn't exactly what I wanted. I wanted a character. I wanted a cool bean character. So we googled it, and we found some examples, and the examples that we came up with looked more like a potato than a bean. Haha. So they added the indention to the top of his head and the indention to the bottom. I think they changed the sunglasses around a little. And that's how the logo came about. When I saw it for the first time, the final draft of it, it was perfect. I figured it was catchy enough. Cool Beans. People can remember that. And they see the little bean character, and I hope that sticks out in their head.

Do you want to tell me about the kinds of coffee you have here?

Yeah. The One Love is an Ethiopian bean. It's a medium roast. But our specialty is the Jamaican Blue Mountain. It's a shade-grown bean, so it has more of a complex flavor to it. And they're just really premium espresso beans. The main complaint people have with coffee is bitterness, and it's not bitter at all. It's kind of a mellow, smooth taste. I like it. Everybody else likes it. Marley Coffee is a new coffee company. It's founded by Bob Marley's son. They're picking up speed, doing a lot of advertisement on facebook and twitter. It's gaining popularity.

Are you a Bob Marley fan?

I am a Bob Marley fan. Haha.

As a former dj, I'm sure you have a lot of opinions about music. What are some other people you like?

I've been kind of out of the loop lately. Deadmaus, I went and saw him. I used to love DJ Micro. Franky Bones. Bad Boy Bill. I was also really big into the alternative music scene back in the nineties. That was back when I was a teenager, so that fell right in my demographic. First concert I went to was Marilyn Manson. Haha. I've seen Pantera, and Rob Zombie. But now that I'm in my thirties, I just pretty much listen to classic rock. Haha.

It's strange how that happens.

It is strange how that happens. When I was a kid, it was MTV. Now it's VH1. I guess that's just life. You go through changes all the time.

What's your favorite coffee drink? How do you take your coffee?

I like mine sweet. So I like the white chocolate mocha or the mocha. We still get a lot of people coming in for the espressos or the Americanos. Our ice latte, people love it. People really like the ice lattes. But me personally, I like sweet.

I think that's all the questions I have. Thanks for speaking with me.

Oh yeah man, thanks for interviewing me.