St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the nation and home to more restaurants than you can count, was already flush with dining choices before COVID entered the picture. A popular tourist destination, the city is also home to over 17,000 locals in the city alone, so even when tourism lagged during the pandemic, the need for restaurants remained.
In 2020, Emily and Sophia Schroeder had just signed up for a senior internship class at their high school, allowing them to leave school early to get job experience in the real world. They had both worked at a local coffee shop and were keen to spend their time there, learning more about the business. But between COVID closures and a school schedule that didn’t mesh with the coffee shop’s hours, they had to devise a new plan.
Their initial concern was merely to meet the requirements of the class and earn A’s. But as they brainstormed, the plan developed into a bold one. Emily explained, “Growing up, I have memories of my mom making charcuterie boards every time my parents entertained, and my sister and I always loved them. But we also really enjoy brunch food and thought the two would be a great combination to bring to the St. Augustine scene. We did a little research for the term ‘brunchcuterie’ and couldn’t find anything. There were other spin-offs, but there was nothing full-on, no ‘everything brunch’ charcuterie board.”
Leap of faith
The sisters took a leap of faith to open their own business, and their mom Melissa, who had owned a restaurant in a previous life, jumped onboard. Just a couple of months after conceiving of the brunchcuterie idea, their new restaurant, Ancient City Brunch Bar, was up and running. “I think mom just has confidence in us and our life skills, which I really appreciate,” said Emily.
Melissa provided the financial backing for the venture, but everything else fell to Emily and Sophia. They worked out the concept of offering a list of items customers could select from to build their own boards, along with providing gourmet coffee drinks. Customers could carry out in boxes or dine in-house with a custom board.
Then they really got to work. They negotiated the lease, designed the shop, located distributors and vendors, and created all the recipes. Closer to opening day, they brought in focus groups to sample the menu items and coffee drinks, tweaking as needed. Once they were ready to launch, they did all the marketing, including finding collaborations with tourist food tours and local businesses.
They also capitalized on their individual strengths. “A lot of the design you see in our marketing was in part due to my interests in digital media and communications,” said Sophia, who is majoring in Public Relations at Florida State University. Emily, also at FSU and majoring in Psychology, is a coffee guru and loves experimenting as a barista. She concocts new coffee flavors for their seasonal menu, a hugely popular and ever-changing offering of unique flavors.
The brunchcuterie concept (now wisely trademarked) was a hit with both tourists and locals, and their seasonal coffees featuring honey, spices, and freshly roasted coffee beans, all from local vendors, are some of the most requested items on their menu. After the first quarter, Ancient City Brunch Bar was already in the black.
“People love the aesthetic of the shop and the communal dining experience we offer. I think the idea of the brunchcuterie is so successful because it’s easy to share meals and have a bite of everything, making brunch a little multidimensional,” said Sophia. “St. Augustine really doesn’t have a critically well-known brunch place that attracts the locals, so this allows us to create personal connections to the people we serve.”
Emily appreciates those connections. Initially, a little intimidated by the idea of serving people all day, she now believes the best part of her job is answering customer questions about their coffee beans, where they come from, and how they are roasted. “All aspects of coffee,” she said, “right down to the intricacies of our espresso machine.”
Emily also loves the positive feedback they’ve received since opening. “What I enjoy most is hearing that the board brings everyone together at the table. Once we ensured that our food items were all delicious, we really paid attention to the presentation. The details and minutia of the boards have paid off 100 percent. Strawberries in the shape of a heart taste better.”
Mom Melissa said that the first thing every customer does when the board arrives is take a picture, usually posting to social media. That alone has created a flurry of business. She adds that customers appreciate the options they provide, the fact that a family with one vegan, one with food allergies, one with a limited palate, and one hungry for anything, can all eat together and be happy.
Now that the twins graduated high school and are off to college, Melissa runs the brunch bar with help from Emily and Sophia’s dad and two siblings. When Emily and Sophia are home on select weekends and college breaks, they can be found at their business, where both are getting the education of a lifetime.
Already, they are looking at expansion. “We want to carry the concept to other historic districts because we like that vibe,” says Emily. “Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans—they’re all on our radar.” With their Turkey Curry Empanadas, Datil Pepper Salsa, Minorcan Spiced Potatoes, thick-cut Applewood Maple Bacon, vanilla waffles, and flaky croissant sandwiches all displayed beautifully and accompanied by a steaming cup of gourmet coffee, it’s not hard to imagine their dreams coming true.