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Here’s How This Couple Grew Their Basement Side Hustle Into a Business That Brings in $4.5M a Year

The couple were selling nitrogen-infused cold brew at the time but not even bringing in $100 a day.
Cover Image Source:The Nitro Bar co-founders Instagram | audrey_finocchiaro
Cover Image Source:The Nitro Bar co-founders Instagram | audrey_finocchiaro

Audrey Finocchiaro and her then-boyfriend Sam Lancaster were close to giving away their wooden cart, which was built with bicycle tires, and a kickstand in her parent's basement in 2016. The couple was selling nitrogen-infused cold brew at the time and failing to make even $100 a day.

"Sam and I had been popping up every day together, and when you’re not making any money and you’re also dating, that can get sort of frustrating," Finocchiaro told CNBC Make It. By the end of that summer, they were almost ready to give up on their side hustle. However, that changed when they decided to sell their drinks at Brown University in Lancaster. To their pleasant surprise, the cart sold out for the very first time and brought in more than $400 in sales in less than 30 minutes.

They soon began going there every day and built a reputation on campus. The couple later partnered with local restaurants to install their nitro cold brew on tap. The business, which is called The Nitro Bar, now brings in millions in sales. The couple made $4.5 million over the past year in revenue, per CNBC Make It. They now have 50 employees at three brick-and-mortar coffee shops and a smaller coffee trailer, and their cold brew is available on tap at more than 550 other locations across Rhode Island as well as Massachusetts.

The co-founders are also married now and their business has balanced profitability with expansion since its first money-making year in 2019.

Finnochiarro says that they never realized that what they had started was extremely scalable. The scalability factor was only realized in the spring of 2019 after which they started approaching investors. One of the investors was somebody who Finocchiaro had previously worked with. "It was very, very scalable, and did pretty big numbers in not a lot of time," an investor said.

They were soon offered a $100,000 loan at a 10% interest rate which helped them take their business to the next level. "When we got the investment, it was so emotional because we had never seen anything like that in a bank account," she says. “Now, it’s not just this little coffee cart. Someone gave us all of this money and we have to figure out how to grow it.”

The two also recognized the power of social media and started posting their videos on TikTok. The page soon received traction and has more than 220,000 followers currently. The company is known for posting aesthetic coffee clips as well as funny videos where Finocchiaro asks baristas about the weirdest drink order and more. Finocchiaro says that TikTok's popularity catapulted their business to another level.

She talks about how she treats her company almost like a person, which she called "the Ben & Jerry’s effect." "When you buy Ben & Jerry’s, you feel like you’re supporting these two guys from Vermont, and I think that’s attributed to so much of their success," she says. Furthermore, also shared she joined her own TikTok account which boasts more than 67,000 followers.