10 Minutes With Tony Santoro

Four members who work at Enderly smile sitting on chairs spread out at the front of Enderly Coffee's bar. They are wearing face masks.

We chat with the owner of Enderly Coffee about his café’s mission and community-first business model.


Cover photo courtesy of Enderly Coffee

With the motto “people first, coffee always,” it’s hard to walk away from Enderly Coffee in Charlotte, N.C., without a smile on your face. Owner Tony Santoro (he/him) was a hobby roaster when he opened his shop in 2012, and it has been going strong ever since. The Colombian music was on full blast during this interview, which was promoting the new start-up bakery Sweetie Craves. You can find this new popup shop sharing the Enderly space every Saturday.

Tony is a white man with a mustache and goatee. He wear an enderly baseball cap and stares at the camera behind the bar of his shop.
Tony Santoro, owner of Enderly Coffee. Photo by Teresa Zullo.

Zechariah Moss: How and why did you start Enderly Coffee?

Tony Santoro: We wanted to create something positive for our neighborhood in west Charlotte. As public school teachers at the time, we started out donating school supplies with every purchase. Then we started directly donating to nonprofits who were doing really good work in our community already. After a year of progression, we started to focus on creating jobs. We currently have four full-time employees with a small part-time team as well.

Where have you seen your home life blend in with your work life?

My wife is one of the co-founders and directors of Foster Village Charlotte, and two of our children came from that program. One need we tried to meet in hiring at Enderly was helping people that were transitioning, especially out of high school. Not only to work and make some money, but to pursue their personal ambitions on the side. We wanted to create an environment for that to be possible.

What has been your approach to staying open during the pandemic?

We saw a need for our product and started using e-commerce to reach our customers who couldn’t get out of their homes. We started partnering with local bakeries to meet the need and delivery to homes in our area every week. We saw 150% growth and are now shipping across the country. We found the safest way to keep our shop open: We served people for months through app services where our customers didn’t even have to touch a door handle.

People stand in front of a hospital at a booth serving free coffee cups to healthcare workers.
Handing out coffee to health care workers during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Enderly Coffee.

Did the last year help or hinder your “community first” business model?

At the end of the day it’s about the people we know and love in our community. We raised about $1,500 for another roastery down the road after their building flooded. We used our new web-ordering service for our customers to not only provide for themselves, but to sponsor coffee products for our local teachers and health care workers. Eight-hundred pounds of coffee was sponsored and given out in hospital drops alone.

What would you say was the key to success for your small business?

It’s really hard work but slow growth is still growth, it’s sustainable and organic. We started out in our backyard, a friend [who was] building a facility let us put our 15-kilo AMBEX roaster underneath their kitchen hood vent. I’ve seen so many people invest large sums of money into starting a business only to have it fail in a matter of months. You don’t need an investor or all the money up front. We started out of an interest in wanting to help our neighbors.

The entrance to Enderly Coffee. Photo by Teresa Zullo.

What are some interests you have outside of Enderly Coffee?

It’s hard work, but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, except applying the same model into another type of business. I would still love to live in Guatemala and teach English at an international school one day. I just want to keep trying to be a good neighbor with anything I do.

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A multigenerational native of Charlotte, N.C., Zechariah Moss quit the restaurant industry after a decade to pursue his love of creative writing. While unable to escape his love for coffee, he moonlights as a freelance ghostwriter/copywriter for friends and businesses. His office is found in multiple coffee shops across the Carolinas.

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