Hello everyone! I’ve got something exciting for you today. When I began the Wonder Creative podcast and blog, Jason and Noelle Cosby were on the list of people I knew had to share their story. I recently sat down with them at their lovely Covington, Georgia coffee shop, Lily and Sparrow, to discuss the challenges and evolutions of entrepreneurship, the beauty of pursuing your own unique path, running a family business…and, of course, coffee!
Check out the highlights from this interview below or catch the whole thing on The Wonder Creative Podcast above, or watch on YouTube. Let’s have some coffee talk!
NOELLE: I’m Noelle Cosby, and this is my amazing husband, Jason Cosby! Let’s see, who am I, really? I’m a devoted wife and I absolutely love being a great partner for Jason. Being a mom is incredibly important to me too. We have adult children, 28, 23, and 23. We also have a beautiful, energetic 10-year-old who brings us so much joy.
I’m also the owner, curator, and creator of Lily and Sparrow Mercantile. That’s my title in the biz!
JASON: I’m pretty much the same, except the dad version! They call me the “Head of Coffee,” and I guess that’s the best way to put it because I’m the go-to guy for all things coffee! It’s not just about running the business – although I handle that on a daily basis – my true passion lies in the art of coffee itself.
NOELLE: I think the shift really started to take shape over the last three years. Before Lily and Sparrow, we were in the coffee industry under a nonprofit organization called Awake. Our focus was on building relationships and making a positive impact, particularly helping the homeless community in our area. It was truly fulfilling work, engaging with youth and young adults through internships and other initiatives.
Then we found we started to really fall in love with coffee. Originally, coffee was the way to bring people in the door so we could build connections, but as time passed, we discovered a deep passion for the art of coffee itself. The transition from our ministry background to a coffee-centric venture has been quite a unique journey for us. It’s the perfect blend of our passion and creativity.
JASON: Yeah, it’s funny how you can say that, the inspiration for this transition came from conversations with the roasters at Safe House Coffee Roasters. They were absolutely amazing – they generously shared their time and knowledge with us, for which we’re incredibly grateful.
During a conversation with them, they pointed out something essential: “You guys excel at connecting with people, but coffee is not your strength.” And that hit us – why not focus on what we’re truly good at, which is building relationships with people, while letting them, the experts, handle the coffee for a while? It made so much sense.
We realized during that time how much we truly love people. It’s evident in the way we interact and connect with others. We’ve become experts in understanding and building relationships, and that’s where our passion lies.
Now, on the other side of that journey, we’ve discovered this warm, inviting, and comfortable space with coffee – a place that feels like home. We began to think of home as not just a physical place but the warmth and connection we create with all the wonderful people who visit us.
NOELLE: Trust me, I’ve had those moments. Not that we were actually burning anything down, but there were times when it felt like everything was falling apart. We started as this small, adorable Coffee House, lovingly referred to as the “mom and pop coffee house.” It was charming, great, and we enjoyed every bit of it. Then, we made the leap to a bigger building. But, we had to face the reality of paying for and filling that large space. It was a daunting task, and just when we were getting a handle on things, the pandemic hit, and everything changed.
As a result, not only did the business suffer but our marriage took a toll. When you’re not happy, everything suffers, including our interactions with our kids. We love our family, and we love each other, but at that point, it negatively affected every aspect of our lives.
JASON: I was multitasking like crazy – juggling a full-time job, trying to launch a coffee shop, and being involved in various ministries, including worship. It felt like a never-ending whirlwind of responsibilities. On top of that, I was doing things for free. The transition to a new path seemed never-ending, and at times, I thought I might lose my mind. I can admit I was a hard-headed entrepreneur.
However, right before the pandemic, something significant happened. It felt like I was led by the Lord to sell or give away my digital marketing business and to be seated in coffee. I didn’t know exactly what that meant at the time – whether it was running the coffee shop, becoming a roaster, or something else entirely. But I trusted that the answers would come as I immersed myself in the world of coffee. So, that’s exactly what we did – we centered our focus on coffee.
NOELLE: Our coffee shop, even though it had a ministry-based aspect, had its unique challenges. While it was sweet and rewarding, we felt like there was a cap on our progress, like an unseen ceiling holding us back. Communication became a significant issue, especially when explaining our non-profit coffee shop and seeking support from various avenues, such as the Chamber of Commerce.
In 2019, when we acquired the new building, we had grand plans for a Ministry School alongside the coffee house. However, the Lord had other plans, redirecting us. I witnessed my husband truly coming alive with roasting coffee and helping others. It was evident that coffee was his true calling, and he had a passion for it that had been there for years. I remember how he would dream of having a business with a roll-up door, and now, seeing him fulfill that dream, it brought him so much joy and fulfillment. It was like he had found his garden, the place where he was truly meant to be.
His transformation and the decision to embrace what he was made to do, coupled with our rebranding to Lily and Sparrow, brought a newfound clarity to our identity.
JASON: So, in the beginning stages of Awake and throughout most of its existence, it operated as a Ministry, with this underlying sense that we were being used for God’s purpose. It was a wonderful time, and I don’t mean to imply anything negative about that season at all. However, the major shift occurred when Noel and I decided that if we weren’t going to focus on it as a Ministry, then the primary focus would be on our family. So, we went back to our girls and had a heart-to-heart conversation. We asked them what they wanted to do if it wasn’t going to be this Ministry-based coffee shop. It was important for us to find a path that aligned with our family’s values and desires.
NOELLE: I think that’s important for people to know – it’s not just Jason and me, our whole family is involved, and even our grandkids can’t wait to grow older and work with us. It truly feels like a family, and our philosophy revolves around working as a united team.
Our understanding of honor and order has grown significantly. We’ve embraced the idea of being Kingdom entrepreneurs, making the transition from viewing our business solely as a ministry to a family-owned business. Our heart is to impact our city with love, change, and, of course, amazing coffee!
NOELLE: Coffee is indeed a significant aspect, but I also have a wonderful team of Artisans, food vendors, and artists who contribute to the unique charm of Lily and Sparrow Mercantile.
When we shifted from ministry to a business, we officially named it Lily and Sparrow Mercantile. The word “Mercantile” embodies the idea of an artisan general store, focusing on local products and preserving the essence of an old-world charm. As an old soul, that nostalgic feeling of a slower pace inspired this direction.
In our new location we plan to host festivals, offering makers the opportunity to share their craft with the world. Our heart behind these events is simple – we want to give makers a space to make. By providing them with a platform, we celebrate their products and allow them to earn a living while supporting their families. It’s incredibly fulfilling to see others benefit from the opportunities we’ve given them, and we believe that in itself is a form of ministry.
NOELLE: I feel like there are some things that are often misunderstood, especially when it comes to the way we approach business. In our culture, productivity and consumerism are highly emphasized, but I’m not on board with that mindset. Many people have come into our shop, asking if we’re fully open, and we explain that while we’re open for drinks and have some items available, we’re gradually filling in the rest over the next two weeks. This approach might be different from what other companies do, as they tend to wait until everything is perfect before opening. However, for me, authenticity is crucial, and I believe in taking things slow and steady.
There’s a misunderstanding in the business world about why we choose to do things our way. Instead of following the expected norm, we prioritize our unique process and the genuine experience we want to provide for our community. We’re not afraid to have a discovery process in front of others; it’s okay for us to take the time to perfect things as we go along.
JASON: In the context of things, social media marketing is undoubtedly effective. However, it’s not the only marketing strategy that works. Paper print marketing, mail apps, and websites all have their place in a successful marketing mix.
To truly thrive, you can’t rely on just one method; instead, you need a diverse and well-rounded approach. It’s essential to understand what works best for your unique business.
For instance, in my local community, I’m actively engaging in print marketing, mailing out promotional materials, and targeting specific areas to reach potential customers. I want to make sure my message reaches people’s mailboxes, providing them with a tangible and personal connection to my brand.
NOELLE: Another crucial aspect for brick-and-mortar businesses is engaging with their local community and Chambers of Commerce. It surprises me that some businesses don’t take advantage of these opportunities. For example, we recently had the tourism director from the city of Covington visit us, and we saw it as an amazing marketing opportunity. We spent an hour talking to them, showcasing our shop and sharing our contact information. Building these connections and relationships with local organizations is essential.
It’s vital to have a thoughtful and strategic approach, rather than simply following the latest trends like TikTok. It’s tempting to jump on every new platform or craze, but it’s crucial to audit and assess where your business is making an impact. Knowing where your inquiries and clients come from allows you to target your marketing efforts more effectively.
Honestly, we can’t wait to get this place open and start celebrating! We feel like we’re entering a season of celebration, filling this space with beautiful things and rolling up the doors for a grand opening. It’s going to be amazing, and we hope it’s going to be grand!
Instead of a one-day grand opening, we’ve decided to make it a month-long celebration. We believe we deserve it after all the hard work and effort we’ve put in. We want to take the time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and rest in what we’ve achieved. It’s also essential for us to be patient about what comes next, taking things step by step. And once we feel ready, we’re going on vacation to relax and recharge. We’re truly looking forward to this special time of celebration and rejuvenation.