“I don’t even really know what I just rambled about, but I’m hitting ‘share.’ That’s how we roll at The Co-Op!” So ends a post on the Instagram page of The Co-Op of Sullivan’s Island, a café serving local coffee, gourmet sandwiches, wine, beer and eight flavors of their specialty drink, frosé. In rambling, stream-of-consciousness Instagram posts, Co-Op owner Jess Patterson never hesitates to get real – and silly – about far more than burgers and beverages. This is not your typical business social media feed, friends. And it’s wonderful because of it.
Patterson took over the Instagram feed at about the same time he took over the Co-Op itself. He left a lucrative job in finance to purchase what was, at the time, a little island gift shop with a deli in the back. He changed course quickly, scaling back on tchotchkes and expanding the menu. He worked with Charleston Coffee Roasters to offer $1 cups of joe, then introduced the Co-Op’s flagship product, frosé. The frozen mixture of dry rosé wine and bartender-created blends of simple syrups is by far the biggest seller of the café, and served in to-go cups, it’s the perfect beachy beverage.
As the Co-Op was falling into place, however, Patterson’s personal life was taking a turn for the overwhelming. “At the same time,” said Patterson, “my wife and I got married, she got pregnant, we had our baby, and two weeks later, she got diagnosed with b-cell lymphoma. All our priorities completely changed at that moment.”
Patterson took to the Co-Op’s Instagram feed, sharing info not just about sandwiches and frosé, but also his wife, Liza, and their newborn baby girl, Genevieve. “Liza was in the hospital for most of the year,” he said. “She’d just had Genevieve, and I was being Mr. Mom. I learned so much in that year of what was important, and how hard it is to be a single parent. I think about all these moms who are with their kids all day and how hard that is. All these different things were running through my head, so I posted about them. I mean, why not?”
For the past year, Patterson’s posts have stayed personal. From birth and diagnosis to chemo and remission, Patterson discussed all of it, sometimes on posts that showcased sandwiches and fancy drinks. And while the topics can be deep, he keeps his characteristic sense of humor, too. “I make fun of myself first and my friends second — because if you can’t make fun of yourself and your friends, who can you make fun of?”
Today, the business is thriving, mostly due to their remarkable staff and the frosé, but also his social media conversations. “A lot comes into play,” he admitted. “As personal as I got in those posts, if I didn’t have the frosé and my staff, [the customers] wouldn’t be coming back.”
It’s paid off in spades, even during these times of Covid lockdowns. “We plan on opening on the Isle of Palms in September of 2020,” said Patterson. “Same concept: gourmet sandwiches and breakfast, frosé, et cetera.” He noted the new location will boast a smaller menu, so staff can focus on speed, and customers can get in and out fast and get back to wherever they need to be. At the same time, they are expanding their flagship Sullivan’s Island location, moving into a 2,400-square-foot storefront. The extra space will allow them to add additional items, such as bigger retail and produce sections and soft-serve ice cream.
“This was all possible because of the customer support during the last few months,” said Patterson. “People from all over Charleston made the effort to come out to Sullivan’s and support us, even when they were not allowed to be on the beach. It really was amazing.”
By Leah Rhyne