November 5, 2021 | Antronette Robsinson’s life has taken her down many paths: she is a Veteran of the United States Armed Forces, and a Registered Nurse serving as the Nurse Service Chief of Community Care with the Veteran Administration Health Care System. Most recently, she has taken on the role of entrepreneur, running Maestro Coffee House in Natomas while maintaining her full time job. In many ways, says Antronette, her training in the Army prepared her for the particular challenges of entrepreneurship.
Antronette began her career in nursing in 1994 as a Licensed Vocational Nurse, going on to obtain her Registered Nurse license and serve as a critical care nurse in the Army for 12 years. After an honorable discharge, Antronette went on to work with the Veteran Administration Health Care System in Community Care. “Being a platoon leader in the military overseeing over 500 soldiers, in addition to the leadership classes they required, prepared me for management on the civilian side of things,” Antronette says, explaining her current role as the Nurse Service Chief, where she manages over 150 employees.
Working Towards Entrepreneurship
It took time, however, for the idea of business ownership to enter into Antronette’s plans. Around 2018, she visited the business of a friend from church, a coffee shop named Maestro Coffee House. After talking to her about what owning a coffee shop was like, she began her own research.
“That’s when the wheel started turning and I thought, ‘I could totally do this’,” explains Antronette. “I decided I would open up a business that could give back to the community, something that I would love to keep and pass down to my kids as a family-owned business.”
Building on her love of tea and coffee, owning a coffee shop felt like a natural choice. After visiting numerous local coffee shops, networking with other cafe owners, and completing barista training courses, the opportunity to enter the arena presented itself. When the owner of Maestro Coffee House closed her business, Antronette worked with the property owner to start a new lease, and opened her revamped Maestro Coffee House in July of 2019. She decided to keep the name that two previous owners had used for the business, building on the established reputation. With this opening under new ownership, Maestro Coffee House became the only non-franchised and black-owned coffee shop in the immediate area.
Army Training Informs Business Journey
Antronette became certified as a Service-Disabled Veteran business owner, and through the entirety of her business journey, she has returned to her training in the Army for guidance.
“I attribute my confidence as a business owner to the leadership courses I took during my time in the military, and my abilities as
a manager to my experience as a platoon leader,” she explains, adding that her time in the Army also made her more resilient and determined as a business owner, equipping her to think outside the box.
Thinking outside the box has certainly been necessary during Maestro Coffee House’s first two years in operation, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit just a few months in. While working full-time at the Veteran Administration, Antronette pivoted her cafe operations to be covid-safe. She added curbside pickup options and began selling via food delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub. Working with California Capital business consultant Danielle Marshall–a fellow veteran and entrepreneur, who Antronette met at the cafe and connected with immediately–Antronette has successfully pivoted and stayed up to date on the resources available to help businesses succeed during Covid-19.
Reflecting on the early days of the pandemic, Antronette says that she is glad that she kept her full-time job. Despite the long hours and competing priorities, having extra income was crucial to Maestro Coffee House staying afloat.
“My income from the VA helped me to continue to pay my employees [at Maestro],” she explains. “I did not want to lay anyone off. Using my income from nursing to supplement business costs, I was able to keep everyone employed.”
This dedication to her staff did not go unnoticed. Maestro Coffee House was visited by California Governor Gavin Newsom in January of 2021 to highlight the importance of the proposed provisions in the State of California budget that ultimately established the California Relief Grant. Joined by Danielle Marshall, Antronette shared her perspective on what challenges small business owners face, and services that the State could offer to address them. Following this visit, Maestro Coffee House was also featured on KCRA 3 News for a piece discussing Governor Newsom’s initiative.
Connecting with Community
Looking ahead, Antronette and her team are eager to continue growing her business, and, while being mindful of covid-19 safety restrictions, looks forward to partnering with local groups to host events that uplift the community. Before the pandemic, Maestro Coffee House hosted art showcases for local high schools, and rented out their space to churches and other community groups. These types of events are key to Antronette’s vision for a business that functions as a hub for community networking, and are a great opportunity to show the youth what type of success is possible with the right mindset.
Overall, Antronette says that her staff, her daughters, and the customers that have become regulars at the cafe are the highlights of her business journey. “I’m really blessed to be loved by my family and work family,” she says. “They’ve all taken ownership. You can’t ask for anything more than for employees to do that–that’s hard to come by.”