Jan. 11, 2018, known as “D-Day” to the employees of a local doughnut shop, marked the beginning of a steady climb to success. Mini Bar Donuts and Coffee, located just inside the city limits of Jacksonville Beach, currently serves up smiles, sweets, and service to the greater Jacksonville community. Although, they got off to a somewhat chaotic start.
“We didn’t really know what to expect…” co-owner Chase Sams said, “We always know it as like, as that was D-Day. It was insane. Everybody was kind of just running around, trying to survive, get everything together.”
Sams still recalls opening day with a hint of shock. He said that they stopped taking orders at noon on the first day to regroup. Eventually, the Mini Bar streamlined its business, and things began to run smoothly.
In the almost two years since its grand opening, the Mini Bar has evolved to reflect the family values of Chase and his wife Brooke who co-owns the Mini Bar with him. The Mini Bar continues to attract customers with friendly service and a warm, welcoming atmosphere that makes the shop special.
Stepping into the Mini Bar is a breath of fresh coffee, hot doughnuts, and the background noise of chatter. The first thing visitors see is an orange Volkswagen bus. An exposed brick wall dominates the left side of the store, with a glowing “Treat Yo’self” sign hung near the entrance. Treating yourself truly seems to be the theme, with the owners and employees alike encouraging anyone to come in and stay a while.
Lianna Norman, a former Mini Bar employee and current editor-in-chief of UNF Spinnaker, had nothing but good things to say about the Mini Bar’s atmosphere.
“There’s a lot of families that come in and just bring their little kids,” Norman said. “They have a whole area set up where little kids can step up on the stool and press their face against the glass and watch the doughnuts getting made.”
Chase and Brooke strove to create a space that catered to families like theirs, and also to anyone looking for somewhere to hang out while enjoying a fresh doughnut and coffee.
The Mini Bar is a new take on the traditional mom-and-pop store, built from the tiles up by the Sams family. The orange Volkswagen bus was Chase’s first car that his father helped him work on. Now, every time he walks into the store, Chase says he immediately thinks of his father. He also thinks of his children, and his memories of eating dinner in an unfinished Mini Bar with his family.
“They were here when there was no floors,” Sams said, “they were in here when there was a dumpster right in the corner. I’ve got pictures of the kids on lifts, just having fun...this is like a second home to them.”
Katelyn Nguyen was on shift for the grand opening and became a manager last fall. She feels that one of the best parts of her job is seeing her team getting along and enjoying their jobs. Another highlight is working with Brooke and Chase.
“I’ve known them for almost two years,” Nguyen said. “I see them almost as family.” She went on to explain Chase and Brooke’s commitment to philanthropy. “Every day they’re trying to give back,” she said.
During April of 2018, the Mini Bar sold a special doughnut called the Norah Doughnut. It was designed by Norah Sproles, a spina bifida patient at Nemours Children’s Hospital.
“It was strawberry glaze with cookies and cream, and strawberry buttercream,” Nguyen said. “She had a really good idea.”
She reported that the proceeds from donations, and the sale of the Norah Doughnut and exclusive t-shirts, amounted to $5,000 for the Nemours children’s cancer program.
Friday, Sep. 20, 2019, Chase and Brooke received the Positively Jax Award for running the Norah fundraiser, but Chase credits the community with the success.
“The Nemours event, anything we do that ends up as fundraisers, we just set it out there and the response is crazy,” he said. “I grew up in Jacksonville, and I don’t think I realized how much I loved this city until we opened this place up. This city is absolutely amazing. People in here are awesome.”
For September 2019, the Mini Bar is raising awareness and funds for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month with special menu items: the Gold Doughnut, which is made with caramel drizzle, caramel buttercream, and gold sprinkles on top; and the Gold Latte, which is made with maple syrup and gold sprinkles.
Chase said that his dedication to community service came from a background that fostered those values.
“I wanted to join the military, I wanted to join JSO, some sort of uniform service,” he said. “And the reality of it was that I didn’t want to wear a uniform, I wanted to help people in uniform.”
The Mini Bar supports different organizations such as the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Nemours, and the Donna Foundation through the sale of their Love Others t-shirts.
“The foundation of [the Mini Bar] was to give back,” Chase said. “Create an atmosphere that gives back just by being who you are.”
Chase and Brooke are building a second location at the Town Center on that same foundation of customer service, community involvement, and family-oriented atmosphere. They hope to open by March 2020.
Chase is excited to see how his kids will connect to the new location, but his son is apparently already on board.
“We drive by every now and then,” Chase said, “and our son’s like ‘Is that the new spot? Is that the new shop?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, it’ll be there.’ and he’s like ‘Can I help? Can I help build?’ and I’m like ‘Absolutely.’”