Coffee, gratitude help domestic abuse survivor overcome dark past

Jen Hackney is grateful for opportunity to own her own coffee shop

COLLEGE PARK, Fla. – It's a space where locals come for coffee -- a place that its owner, Jen Hackney, envisioned for years.

"It is life-changing in such a positive way, and I just really love it. I love being here," Hackney said.

The 55-year-old owns Gratitude Coffee in Orlando's College Park neighborhood. The store, which feels like a second home to Hackney, came about when she found motivation in another coffee chain's origin story. 

Hackney worked for Starbucks for years. She met CEO Howard Schultz, who faced a tumultuous journey of his own when expanding the chain.

"Nobody listened to him. Everybody said 'That won't work,'" Hackney said. "He never gave up."

Hackney also never lost her determination and persevered through the hardest of times.

"I was in a really bad situation in my life. I was in a bad place," Hackney said. "I was in a very toxic relationship and it took a lot for me to break away."

Despite the abusive relationship, Hackney has not let her past define her future. She hopes her story can help give others in similar situations the strength to leave.

"You can't just stick and think that this is all you'll ever have, because it's not always gonna be how it is today," Hackney said.

Hackney said her courage to break away from the abuse gave her a sense of gratitude -- so much so that she named her business after it.

Three years ago, she began her venture by selling coffee inside a truck on the street. She faced challenges, including spending Florida summers in the truck. In July, she opened up her brick and mortar location.

Hackney values being able to support other local entrepreneurs through her business. She showcases and sells many local artisan goods in her store. Customers can choose from candles, books, organic soaps and tiny decorative plants, aptly housed inside coffee mugs.

Customer Chelsea Niemi said Hackney's story inspired her to accept her own empowerment.

"Jenny is a person that helped me to see that in myself right away," Niemi said. "The fact that she's able to do it and give back in such a way -- drinking her coffee is like a hug from the inside every morning. I love it."

One of Hackney's goals is to hire other employees to work at the store. She's planning on fulfilling even more dreams, such as traveling to places she's never been and enjoying more time with her family.

"This is what I've always wanted, my whole life," Hackney said.

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