Heather Elkins was there when the Bean and Leaf Café first opened, and for the last 12 years has owned and ran the independent coffee shop and turned it into a routine part of many people’s lives.
And now it’s time for her to tackle her next venture.
After months of negotiations and paperwork that was stalled by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elkins will be turning over ownership of the business that has been such a big part of her life to sister Erica and venturing into new waters as the new owner of Deva Café in Downtown Modesto.
While the transition will put her closer to home — Elkins has lived in Modesto for years, and will be able to bike to work if she wants to — it will also mean that she won’t be seeing the same friendly faces she has seen most weekdays for more than a decade.
“I’m going to miss the familiar faces and knowing which drinks to start the second that people walk through the door,” Elkins said. “That’s going to be hard — people talk about how we’re the ‘Cheers’ of Manteca, and you really get to know people when you serve them for so long.
“After making it official on Facebook I’ve been getting a lot of comments from people that say they’re willing to make the 20 minute drive and support me and that will be great, but I will miss seeing them as often as I have.”
It was a chance reply to a newspaper advertisement in 1996 — just one year after she graduated from school — that introduced Elkins to the café, and the owner that she would work for nearly a decade before leaving to pursue other avenues in San Francisco in 2003.
When the owner was looking to sell the business in 2008, he tapped Elkins to see if she wanted to return to where she got her start in the service industry, and while she wasn’t able to pursue a conventional business takeover — the American economy was in the process of collapsing and no bank would have given her a loan — the previous owner agreed to take work with her over an extended period to complete the purchase.
By making subtle changes and introducing a menu of toaster sandwiches, salads, and other things that she was able to prepare without a full kitchen, Elkins was able to turn what was a struggling coffee shop around amidst competition in the same parking lot from the largest coffee chain in the world.
And while the pandemic wreaked havoc on longtime businesses, the number of her customers that worked from home still frequented the establishment for pick-up orders, making last month one of if not the most successful month that the business has ever had with Elkins at the helm.
The consistent numbers and longtime friendships made it hard for Elkins to decide to pull the trigger on her new venture, but at the end of the day handing the business over to somebody who loves it just as much as she does helped her make the decision to chase her dreams.
“My sister loves Bean and Leaf, and it would have been a lot harder to let it go to somebody that I didn’t know,” Elkins said. “I know my sister, and all of the customers already know and love my sister, and it’s great to be able to give this opportunity to her.
“It’s going to be hard, but I know that it’s in good hands.”
In addition to taking over an established business — Deva Café opened a few years before Bean and Leaf did — Elkins will have the opportunity to own and run a business in the heart of a flourishing Downtown Modesto that is packed with restaurants, bars, night spots, entertainment venues, and performance spaces — hoping to bring back some of the live entertainment that at one time frequented the establishment.
With a full kitchen complete with a walk-in refrigerator and industrial appliances, Elkins will also have the chance to build a more complete menu to augment the subtle changes that she already has in the works — like bringing the Bay Area-based Equator Coffees that Bean and Leaf has featured for years.
“As a creative person, there are so many opportunities for me with the new space,” Elkins said. “It’s a business that has been a fixture of Downtown Modesto for almost 30 years, and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
The Bean and Leaf Café is located at 1254 W. Lathrop Road in the Raley’s shopping center and can be reached by calling 209.239.2326. Deva Café is located at 1202 J Street in between 12th and 13th Streets and can be reached by calling 209.572.3382.