Oft-frequented by students, Steamy Joe’s has become an Arkansas City staple in its short tenure as the lone coffee shop in town. A cozy, inviting shop that’s filled with homemade baked goods and excellent coffee. With new corporate level competition moving in, we took a look behind the curtain and got to know Ruth and Randy Ryel, the owner and proprietors of “Steamy’s,” and a sweet, loving couple whose faith is driven to help others their entire lives.
Q: You have just celebrated two years in business. Have you met or exceeded expectations since opening in 2015?
RANDY: I’d say we’ve met them. When you’re setting up a business plan for the first time in a new business that you’re not familiar with, it’s hard to know the details. What menu you’re going to go with, what hours you’re going to go with, how many [employees] you’re going to need at certain times. We’ve had to make adjustments, but that’s what you have to do. You have to tweak it here and there. I’d say early on in the first year was a little rough, but the second year we started getting traction by establishing a wider customer base and sales grew. Because of that, Ruth and I don’t have to work downstairs very much at all anymore. Ruth might fill in every now and then depending on the schedule.
Q: What are your long-term business goals? Is a second Steamy Joe’s location in the cards?
A: We’ve flirted with the idea, but the likelihood is not great. We’ve thought about putting a small drive-through up on the north side of town, but we have another competitor coming to town that will be in that area. We’ve flirted with the idea of even opening a place in Branson, Missouri, but that’s more of a pipe dream. At our age, we’re looking at getting a good business started. We have two of our family [members] who are assistant managers for the kitchen and the front corner, so we can just back away more and more and let them handle it. We’re just going to allow them to take over as we focus on doing more retirement things. You know, a lot of Mom & Pop shops. Mom and Pop are integral to the business and do a lot of the work and that’s how we were the first year, but in the second year we found that we could back away from it and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted the shop to be successful enough so we could hire managers and staff that would basically run everything so that we wouldn’t have to be here all the time. We can go on vacation or do whatever we want to do and know that the shop’s in good hands. We try to get people, certainly our family members who are managers, that replicate our attitude and the environment we’ve created so when we are gone it won’t be a night and day difference from when we were here. They carry the torch and hold the same mindset we do when it comes to quality of our products and serving the customer.
Q: With the opening of Credo Coffee here in town, you have competition from a national chain for the time. Are you ready to compete or do you have a “more is merrier” attitude about it?
A:Their style is a different way of doing things. They will be up north, which will be good for them, they’ll catch a lot of traffic coming in so that was an insightful decision. We believe we have better coffee and we have a lot of other things that we offer, like our bakery items. So, while they might have the benefit of the traffic up north, we have a lot of benefit with our location too. We’re right next to the college campus and right next to downtown. Hopefully, they’ll be able to do well and hopefully we’ll be able to do well as well.
Q: What is your coffee process like? Where do you get your beans from?
A: We buy our beans from PT’s Coffee out of Topeka. They’re our roaster and we’re very happy with them. A lot of coffee shops we’ll have different beans from different locations, we have a very small space and if you change beans, you basically have to have a grinder for each bean, especially if it’s a flavored bean. It’s not an easy process to switch out beans. Our approach to it was that we would find the coffee that we liked the very best out of everything we’ve ever had and just go with that. So, that’s our coffee, it’s an expresso blend and it’s a high-grade coffee. We use it in our drip coffee as well as our expresso. When people buy coffee here, it’s not a common cup of coffee—even a regular cup of coffee here is not a common cup of coffee. But if we ever do find a bean we like better we will switch to that. Of course, everybody has a different taste in coffee, but what we have here is very popular and we don’t plan on changing it anytime soon.
Q: With this being a family business and having some many relatives behind the counter, do you ever butt heads or have any struggles that you wouldn’t have normally?
A: It actually works quite well. Specifically, with my son-in-law who manages behind the counter. He’s my youngest daughter’s husband and he does an excellent job. I mean, if they’re doing a job better than I can do it I’m very happy. So, it really hasn’t been a struggle. Sometimes my wife and I have a difference of opinion so that’s always a challenge. But as far as management, they do an excellent job, as good a job as I could do.
Q: What’s the secret to a successful 40-year marriage like the one you two have shared?
A:Randy: What’s a successful marriage?
Ruth: Don’t argue too much. When you do, just get over it.
Randy: For us, I’d say successful marriage is putting God first. Secondly, loyalty and commitment to your family and to the relationship. Relationships have to be taken care of and not for granted. Keeping expectations reasonable and not expecting things of your spouse that they can’t meet or can’t meet yet.
Ruth: Always listening to your wife and always saying yes to your wife.
Randy: Forty years has been fun. We’ve gotten ourselves into some interesting situations. We’ve moved about 27 times.
Q: You’ve done mission work over in China? Could you tell us what that experience was like?
A: I had left a job with AT&T in Wichita, I worked there 15 years and felt God’s calling on our lives to go to China to be missionaries, even though we weren’t trained to be missionaries we were going to be independent not affiliated with any large organizations. So, we took our little girls, 2, 3, 5, 7 [years old] to China. Without any money support, you know most missionaries raise pledges but we just went on faith and God provided. We worried less about finances in China than we do here. We built wonderful relationships, I taught English and studied Mandarin-Chinese as a reason for being in the country because you have to have a Chinese visa. We had a birthday party one time after being there a couple of years in a hotel meeting room and because the Chinese government had been keeping an eye on us for quite a long time and the location of the party was considered a public space I was arrested for “propagating Christianity” in a public space which was against the law. I was taken in for about 6 hours of interrogation and I had to fill out a confession and was told I had two weeks to get my family out of china. So, we picked up and moved to Hong Kong where a ministry of ours was dong adoptions of Chinese orphans. We then became of three pioneers in China doing [adoptive services] long before the central government took it over and we facilitated over 40 adoptions of Chinese children. We came home after five years but we had a wonderful time and had dozens of great experiences. I went back to work for AT&T in Oklahoma and after retiring from there we took my retirement and decided to open [Steamy Joe’s].
– Story By Caleb Parish, Opinion Editor, & Photos by Jenna Nichols, Photo Editor