And drink Frosé while dropping the (very) occasional F-bomb
When Jess Patterson was first introduced to Frosé, a frozen Rosé slushie drink, he thought it was kinda interesting, maybe a little silly.
But when he found out from the New York restaurant owner that he sold $25,000 worth of Frosé every Saturday, Patterson knew it would be a great addition to the cafe he had taken over in Sullivan’s Island.
But did he think it would become as popular as it has?
“Fuck no,” says Patterson, who is known as much for his beach eatery as he is for his NSFW Instagram account.
“We just thought it was going to be something fun to do in the summer,” Patterson added. “We had no idea it was going to be the main thing we sell here.”
In fact, a lot of Patterson’s experience with the Co-op, a cafe on Sullivan’s Island, has been a lucky surprise.
In 2012, Patterson and his friends took opened up the Co-op. He and his wife Liza decided in 2016 to fully take it over “as a hobby” to help out a pregnant friend - leaving finance in Manhattan behind.
Now 10 years later, Patterson has expanded the cafe to three different locations in the Charleston area with a fourth on the way and plans for two more in Tennessee.
With its pink decor, what started as just an island market with little attention outside of Sullivan’s, has grown to a popular beach destination for locals as well as residents across the Lowcountry and even tourists.
Popularity grows during pandemic
Starting with one Frosé machine in 2016, Patterson has 20 operating across all locations today. Unlike other restaurants that sell one or two flavors, the Co-op offers up to 20 tasty options.
But as popular as the Co-op’s Froze has been, Patterson’s Instagram account for the cafe may be the biggest attention-getter.
During the pandemic, as the Co-op - and most cafes, restaurants and bars - had to adapt to daily changes in rules for indoor dining, Patterson used social media to communicate, vent, promote but mostly entertain patrons.
The account - @coopsullivans - went from 3,000 followers to now more than 45.6 K followers.
Offering far more than pretty pictures of food, Patterson is honest, funny, sarcastic - and just raw.
“My wife was either battling cancer or pregnant or having a baby and she didn't want me to come home and vent about my problems, so I just did it through social media,” said Patterson, who turned his account into a “stress reliever.” “My wife doesn't give a shit about me talking about a turkey sandwich and so this way, I could get it all out so I would basically sit in here after my shift, grab a beer before I went home and type something out.”
Whatever the motivation, the following has become almost cult-like.
But social media was just one way for The Co-op to cultivate more personal attention.
Trials and blessings of COVID-19
The demand for the Co-Op spiked in March of 2020, right when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Charleston. Many restaurants struggled to employ workers, to stay open, to figure out outdoor dining and delivery.
Matters became even more complicated on Sullivan’s Island when the Town shut down the bridge and allowed only residents to come in.
Even after the governor allowed restaurants to open with outdoor seating, the Co-op had relied heavily on delivery since only SI residents could come over the bridge initially. Eventually take-out also grew as people with online orders could show their receipt and pass over the bridge. But it all took major effort, and the Island's businesses felt it.
Yet safety of the staff and customers was the Co-op’s first priority. The managers and employees learned how to handle carryout in a very unique way - hiring servers from other restaurants that were closed to be delivery drivers for the Co-op.
This gave many employees a sense of financial safety during these tough times and more importantly it brought the community together.
“We were giving outside people an opportunity to work in a safe environment and to have income for themselves,” said manager Sarah Holden.
Holden, along with her sister Alison, were the duo that held the Co-op together during the many transitions.
There were some hiccups but ultimately delivery became the Co-op’s biggest revenue driver during the Island shutdown. And as people were desperate to eat out, the Co-op quickly adapted with outdoor seating - under large pink tents of course - instead of parking spaces.
Patterson noted that delivery drivers "would line up 10 cars at a time and someone would go hit James Island and another would go to John’s Island.”
As the cafe transitioned to a call-in/pick-up spot then to delivery and eventually even a walk-up order and eat outside, the Holden sisters were managing it all.
“The growth rate was huge,” Sarah Holden said. But it wasn't just how the Co-op adapted its processes. It was also how the crew maintained the cool, live-and-let-live mentality. Take life as it comes and work with it.
In fact, that was always part of the draw to The Co-op for Sarah and Alison.
"I really love the vibe of the shop," Sarah said, adding that employees at all the locations are really part of a "tight-knit family. Yeah, it's nice. It makes if fun to come to work every day."
Patterson believes whole-heartedly that the cafe would not have survived if it weren’t for its loyal employees and customers.
One loyal patron of three years said the friendliness of the staff and the customer service is the reason he keeps coming back.
“It’s really on target,” he said. “It is a very creative, fun and casual atmosphere that customers enjoy.”
Patterson also considered it to be a blessing for his family, one-year-old daughter and wife who was recovering from B-cell lymphoma that the employees took all safety measures for his family to feel comfortable - as well as everyone else’s.
With a young child, a wife battling cancer, and a business relying on the health and safety of employees in order to stay open, Patterson had no time to mess with COVID.
"Covid to us is as bad as Covid was for so many people," he said.
And it was partly the business models he refined during the pandemic that allowed Patterson to not just grow the main location but expand to others.
Now with four locations in the Lowcountry - Sullivan's, Isle of Palms, Edmund’s Oast, King Street - he is taking the brand to Tennessee with two coming sites near Nashville. One will be in Chattanooga, and one right in the Gulch, the heart of the Music City itself.
But he's not stopping there as he has plans for 10 shops in the next two years. Patterson is even getting serious enough to hire an HR person for his little empire.
"Over the next 2 years we will be opening 10 shops & I have no fucking idea what I’m doing when it comes to real issues. Drug testing? Can’t do that as I wouldn’t have any staff," he said in an Instagram post. "Like I’m pretty sure w/in the first 10 minutes of being hired you will most likely call your best friend & be like 'drinks tonight, so much to tell you!'."
But there's no doubt Patterson is very excited about the expansions and assured that none of this would be possible without his Co-op family, or even the pandemic.
“Zero chance,” said Patterson.
Which is the same chance that he'll stop being raw AF on his Instagram account. 🔥