UIC College Prep Alum Builds Out His Own Coffee Company

Graphic has three images in the background. The top left photo is a shot of the Thrd Coffee Company shop in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. The top right photo is a shot of the Thrd Coffee Company mobile coffee cart outside. The bottom photo is of two hands holding Thrd Coffee Company branded coffee cups. On top of all three photos is a transparent dark blue layer. In the bottom left corner, there is a yellow box with blue text on it that says "UIC College Prep Alum Builds Out His Own Coffee Company". The Noble Schools logo is in the bottom right corner.
Published On: October 3rd, 2023Categories: 2023, Alumni, Latinx Heritage Month, UIC College Prep

One of our favorite things as educators is to watch our alumni flourish and achieve their dreams. To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, we’re doing a series to feature just a few of our amazing Latinx alumni who run their own businesses.

First up is Raoul Adwan, a Class of 2013 alum from UIC College Prep, who runs his own mobile coffee cart business: Thrd Coffee Company.

Image shows Raoul Adwan, a UIC College Prep alum, sitting on a bench in front of his coffee shop location, Thrd Coffee Company.

Raoul Adwan sitting in front of his brick-and-mortar-shop location in Bucktown.

After graduation, Adwan went on to get his bachelor’s in Communications Studies at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. During his time at college, he worked as a barista – this is where he fell in love with the coffee industry. He went on to work with different coffee companies like Back of the Yards Coffee and Tradecraft where he learned many tools of the trade. In 2020, he founded Thrd Coffee Company. Here’s what he said about his journey:

Q: How did you get into the coffee industry?

A: “I realized (after college) that I’m really great at interactive relationships and talking to folks so I ended up landing in sales most of my time… I found my first job in Chicago as a job recruiter. It was a good experience, but I realized the corporate life in itself just wasn’t my thing. I realized I admired more of a local business feel, so I transitioned out of sales in the West Loop, and I ended up helping one of my buddies with their coffee shop – Back of the Yards Coffee… I would go into businesses and just sell the products of his coffee to get on the shelves of grocery stores and whatnot. I did that for six months. And in that in those six months, I ended up finding another opportunity with Tradecraft, a coffee program consulting company.”

Q: How did you end up starting your own coffee business?

A: “When the pandemic hit, I decided to take up that time to build out my business plan of potentially opening up a coffee company that would be sustainable throughout the pandemic. I always wanted to start a business and I just knew I’m like, we’re never gonna have this time ever again. I think it started off first as a hobby, and then, over time, I was pretty optimistic about the whole thing. So, I bought out some used equipment from catering companies, and I built out a coffee bar that was mobile, so we were typically serving espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos on the corner of the streets when coffee shops were closed down.”

Q: How has your business been doing since you started?

A: “Three years in, we’re growing. We now have a brick-and-mortar shop in Bucktown. Also, I’m in another building in downtown because we offer an amenity barista service for offices. We’re also still doing catering events. We’ve gone to corporate space with clients like Citadel, DocuSign, and Deloitte. We’ve gone to weddings and bar mitzvahs. So, the mobile coffee cart program has been like traveling all over.”

Image shows Raoul Adwan, UIC College Prep alum and owner of Thrd Coffee Company, talking to a customer in his coffee shop. The shop has a very modern look with shiny white counters, painted white brick on the counter and the walls, and light wood paneling surrounding the lights and lining the wall. Customers sit at the bar right beside the front counter. Two other baristas are making drinks in the background.
Photo shows the Thrd Coffee Company mobile coffee cart outside in downtown Chicago. The cart looks like a simple white wood counter with a brown wood top. An employee stands behind the cart, posing at the camera with peace signs.
Photo shows two hands holding Thrd Coffee Company branded coffee cups. The hands are leaning against a countertop.
Photo shows the Thrd Coffee Company mobile coffee cart inside an office space. An employee stands behind the cart, pouring some coffee. Behind him and the cart is a wall that has a white neon sign on it that says "brave" in a script font.

Q: What are some challenges you faced as a business owner?

A: “The main challenges were the paperwork to make everything official and the numbers. In the industry itself, it’s very territorial, so, if I knocked on a coffee shop owner’s door, they would only give me limited resources. Starting off, you really need to create your own path on how to get these resources. And so that was the hardest part – like, okay, how do I do the thing? How do I make sure I get the business license? Who do I talk to? The second part was really tracking my numbers. I was a communications major and economy classes were hard for me… And so it was a lot of like, ‘Okay, I gotta tweak these numbers. I gotta make sure these price points are fair’… and I learned a lot through resources like the Chicago Small Business Center and YouTube.”

Q: How do you feel like your experience as a Noble student contributed to your success as a business owner?

A: “I think leadership is such a huge thing for me – and I remember during my time at UICCP, I used my leadership skills a lot. That’s where I first dabbled into leadership… I was class president, I was involved heavily, and I knew a little bit of everybody. Through that, my personality started blossoming… And so then, as I go into my work life, I’m talking to these clients in such a way that they feel so comfortable with me, and it helps grow the business. I also learned how to be a people person . I remember talking in front of the class during town halls, and I wasn’t scared to be on stage. Now, whenever I go into summits or conferences and I have to talk a little bit, public speaking is never a problem because I practiced that at UICCP.”

Q: What advice would you give to current Noble students who are interested in starting their own business?

A: “Pursuing a four-year education is one of the best ways to go about it. You never know where that’s going to lead you in your career and life. There were a lot of things that I learned in college. I went to study abroad in Bolivia and that’s where I learned about specialty coffee. You also explore more in your personality, and you explore different types of friends. You become well-rounded in the way that you think about topics and opinions. It shapes you… It’s good to be creative and to think about your business plan, but you should also put in the work to go to a four-year college and see how you can make your business plan even stronger there.”


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