CORAL SPRINGS, FL – Halfway through telling a story about helping homeless people on Christmas Eve, the owner of the popular Lady and The Mug pauses to focus on a customer walking in.
“Hello. Welcome,” Aimee Tarte shouts across her crowded specialty coffee café in Coral Springs.
And then Tarte gets back to describing her annual “Santa Claus For a Cause” event, which has volunteers picking up people in need and bringing them to the café where they get warm meals, clothing, shoes, toiletries, and lots of hugs.
“This is what I live for,” she said.
Welcoming strangers, serving good coffee, and giving back – these are the key life elements for Tarte, a middle school teacher-turned-entrepreneur who uses her wide social media following and her business connections to do “social good,” even if it means offending some.
Not afraid to be outspoken, Tarte, 33, has in just a few years since arriving in Coral Springs turned her café into a bustling gathering spot for coffee lovers and daytime gig-economy workers as well as a location for political campaign launch parties and business networking events.
No matter who comes through, though, Tarte works hard to maintain a place welcoming to all.
She said she once put up a chalkboard sign outside with the text: if diversity and equality aren’t for you, then neither are we. That brought a lot of criticism, but she didn’t care.
“I know what I stand for and do everything in my power to be true to that. People know that Lady and the Mug are here to do good. We’re not afraid to tackle issues that might be sensitive. If it’s the right thing to do and we can make a difference, that’s what we’ll do,” she said.
That vision wasn’t always there.
Growing up in Hollywood, she said she was materialistic when she was younger, worried how she looked and what she drove. “I couldn’t repeat the same outfit,” she said.
Still, Tarte worked hard, becoming the first in her family to not only graduate college but also get a master’s degree. She pursued teaching because she loved using her creativity to help students learn.
But everything changed when her father suddenly died, and she was 26. By then, she was having a hard time accepting what her school administrators wanted her to do in the classroom. Plus, her own health problems made it challenging to teach in a way that resonated with her students.
Her father’s death opened up a window to look at other careers and seek a higher purpose.
So she turned to coffee. Why coffee? “I felt a vision from God,” she said.
Tarte found a coffee school program in Oregon and poured part of her life savings to attend. While studying, she watched YouTube videos and talked to many coffee house owners to learn how to be successful in the industry.
“It was a huge risk. I prayed on it and I went for it,” she said.
When Tarte returned to South Florida, she picked Coral Springs as the place for her business because, as she simply put it, she liked the city and its people.
Flush a small business loan, she plunged herself into building a café, buying a $20,000 craft expresso machine from Italy to attract coffee aficionados and building a community network to make giving-back the backbone to the operation.
“Frankly, I don’t love coffee. To me, the coffee shop is about one thing: using coffee as an excuse to do good things,” Tarte said.
It’s working, she said.
Lady and the Mug has nearly a dozen employees, and Tarte and her staff are involved in organizing many events, including the Christmas Eve event for the homeless, a Thanksgiving dinner for disadvantaged children and, just last week, delivering Valentine’s Day cards to the elderly in nursing homes.
Tarte is also a board member of the Coral Springs Coconut Creek Regional Chamber of Commerce, where she teaches classes on social media and serving the community. She also has a charity called Tarte’s Hearts to give school children opportunities to do public good.
“For me, in the end, it’s not how much money you make or how successful you are. All that matters is that I can help other people,” she said.