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Todd Appelbaum Featured

9:55am EDT July 22, 2002

Todd Appelbaum’s “big picture” is summed up with one very small one. It makes up the face of his wristwatch.

There you’ll see his twin sons, Noah and Jacob, who turn 3 in August.

The prospect of raising twins and growing a business could be overwhelming to any entrepreneur, but Appelbaum and his wife, Michelle, who co-founded Cup o’ Joe coffee and dessert houses six years ago, don’t see it that way.

“They relieve all the stress,” Appelbaum says of his sons. “Kids are just pure innocence. They give you unconditional love. When I come home, they run to the door: ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’”

Appelbaum is raising his sons on the same premise his parents — who are heroes in his mind — reared him.

“Our philosophy,” he says, “is the greatest thing you can do for your children is give them a healthy ego. Treat them like they’re Super People — they can do anything. If you give them confidence and a belief in themselves, they can succeed in whatever they choose to succeed in.”

Philosophies play a major role in Appelbaum’s life. He’s got one for practically everything, from raising a family and running a multimillion dollar business to finding inner strength.

Don’t even get him started on the one about the Browns. A Cleveland native and staunch fan, Appelbaum rants over what he calls Art Modell’s “immoral action” of promising fans he’d never leave Cleveland.

Most of his philosophies, however, run much deeper.

There’s the one about success and how it comes from some struggle in life that gives a person greater drive.

Appelbaum’s life was most shaped, he says, during his first five years, when he had limited hearing. Surgery eventually restored his hearing, but he continued speech therapy until sixth grade.

“Because I was closed out to the world a lot because I couldn’t hear and had limited speech, that made me more aware of people,” he says. “I think I understand people better. I think I’m more observant because of that.”

Then there’s his business philosophy: “The upside will always take care of itself; it’s the downside you have to worry about.”

To avoid downturns, Appelbaum focuses on the details — a skill he learned while working for a deli/bakery when he was still in college.

“One day one of the owners came to me after an employee had thrown away a corner of corned beef,” Appelbaum says. “He took it out of the trash and showed it to me and said, ‘Here is where my profit is.’”

That kind of sharp attention to detail makes Appelbaum successful as a business owner, says Larry Schaffer, president of Townhomes Management Inc., who serves with Appelbaum on the board of First City Bank and previously did so at the Columbus Jewish Federation.

“He and his wife gave a great deal of thought on how the business should run before they opened up the first coffee shop. They looked at 250 coffee shops around the country to get ideas,” Schaffer says.

They’ve grown their business to four locations, 80 employees and $2.5 million in revenues since the company’s 1993 founding.

They have plans to open at least two to three more stores in Columbus in each of the next three years and are considering ideas including franchising and selling gift baskets by mail order.

Such success has allowed Appelbaum to follow through on one of his philosophies, reinforced for him by another of his heroes: Columbus philanthropist and businessman Mel Schottenstein.

“I think anybody successful in their own right, we have an obligation to give back to our community,” Appelbaum says. “We have a corporate policy to never turn down a charitable contribution.”

To that end, Cup o’ Joe gives in-kind donations to health, human rights and religious organizations about 100 times a year, he says.

Appelbaum also serves on the board of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association and volunteers for the local United Jewish Appeal Young Men’s Division.

Appelbaum and his wife share a philosophy about their partnership in Cup o’ Joe, too — that it works because each brings different talents to the table.

“Early on, we both realized where our strengths and weaknesses are,” Michelle Appelbaum says. “To me that is the key to a couple working together. Fortunately for us, his strengths are not mine and mine are not his.”

She coordinates hiring and training, as well as the aesthetic decisions involved in opening each store. He generally handles aspects of site location, accounting and operations, given his business background that includes sales with AT&T and leasing and development work for Arshot Investment Corp.

As a team, the co-owners work to keep life in perspective, Todd Appelbaum says, noting that he could have had seven to eight locations by now if business success was his sole drive in life. Instead, he wants his family to take priority, he says.

“There’s certainly stressful times,” he says. “We remind each other of what’s important, and we don’t expand as fast as we possibly can. We chose family over business.”