Julie Norris, University of Central Florida alumnae and owner of Orlando’s own organic and eco-friendly Dandelion Communitea Café, spoke to students about her business and work ethic on Wednesday afternoon. Her thoughts about starting a business and overcoming challenges are unique, authentic and interesting. Norris first began her career as a manager for Kinko’s in Orlando, but she felt like the job wasn’t fulfilling her. She loved having a leadership role but didn’t feel like she was doing anything to serve a purpose.
That’s when her friend suggested that she become an entrepreneur, despite Norris’ doubts about how she would go about doing that. Norris kept her friend’s idea in the back of her head for a while until one day she was looking for somewhere to go out to eat in Orlando and realized there wasn’t anywhere to get good organic food. That’s when the dream of the Dandelion Communitea Café began. “I knew Orlando was crying out for community; this felt really colorful and really alive,” Norris said. After starting to make connections by attending local food markets, Norris’ current boyfriend at the time invested in Norris’ dream, giving her the chance to finally open the restaurant.
She built the foundation of the café off the cliché, but meaningful mission statement: Save the world. We can do this little by little, first through ourselves, then our neighbors, and so on, until it’s at a global level. Since it’s opening eight years ago, the Dandelion Communitea Café has become a successful business, raking in about $1.27 million in sales alone last year. Despite their financial gains, the café remains an authentic, humble and welcoming community amongst Orlando residents. “It’s not only about the financial return, but also about how many local artists are hung on the wall, or how many people fall in love while they’re at the café,” Norris said. Norris also described that on Saturdays during the busy lunch hours, eaters will make room at their tables and invite strangers to sit with them.
A student in the audience at the event even told her story about how that happened to her. She ended up eating at a couple’s table with them in December, then they went around to look at Christmas lights together after their meals. Throughout the event, Norris gave tips to the audience about starting their own business. She even joked that she tried to make herself forget some of what she had learned during business school because it’s only targeted at big businesses, not small businesses like hers. One of the key points she made about having an idea and turning it into a business was to try to forget about the fear of not having money or investors to invest in your dream. Instead, you should write conversations you want to hear in your restaurant or draw scenes that you actually want to see play out. Visualizing your idea is important.
UCF student, Cole Holland, attended the speaking event because he’s interested in food and restaurants, but he ended up gaining more knowledge about turning an idea into a business instead. “After listening to Julie’s stories, I learned that you shouldn’t really worry about the money. If you only worry about the money, you’ll never actually start the idea,” Holland said. Norris also advised future entrepreneurs to start connecting and reaching out to people. She shunned the word “networking” and instead said that starting a business is all about who you know and who you care about. She also admitted that she gives her ideas out to people all the time and that she isn’t afraid that someone will steal her idea. “You can’t replicate authenticity. If you have a great business and idea, the money will come,” Norris said.
Despite all of the success that Norris has had and the many suggestions she has received to franchise the business, she doesn’t see that as an option because Dandelion is so unique. “I’m more interested in growing the community and preserving something that’s so small and beautiful,” Norris said. In closing, if you decide to visit the Dandelion Communitea Café, take a chance and order something that you may not be familiar with. Norris commented that newbies usually come in and order the burrito, just because they’re familiar with that word. Instead, opt for their best-selling item, the Giddyup – a combination of homemade chili, blue corn chip crumbles, fresh tomatoes and vegan queso.