Trade NFL Game Preparation for Second Run: Former Miami Football Player Jumps into Coffee Business with Mix of Innovation

Owning a Fort Lauderdale coffee shop means there’s always a fresh cup of coffee for Stephen Tulloch, a former professional football player and 2003 graduate of Miami Killian High School.

Tulloch, 38, triumphed as a linebacker for 11 seasons in the National Football League with the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. He always took notes from his coaches about preparing for match day, which made him think differently about his own professional development.

According to Tulloch, many professional athletes go bankrupt when they finish their careers. He was determined not to be one of them. He took business classes at Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Miami, and even went to a specialized school in Seattle to learn about the different coffee blends during his free time between seasons, because “I knew football wasn’t forever.”

“Early in my career, [coaches] Jeff Fisher, Jim Schwartz, Jim Caldwell, and Doug Pederson empowered me with information, and data,” he said, in a recent interview about his growing coffee company with doses of innovation. “I’ve had the opportunity to experience good months and bad months. Especially to understand how people’s habits change.”

In 2016, Tulloch bought the Fort Lauderdale property at 727 NE 3 Avenue, a three-story building that now houses Circle House Coffee, the coffee shop he owns. The cafeteria occupies two floors of the building and he rents the third floor to a commercial tenant for office space.

Circle House opened in March 2019 and made a name for itself locally, before a game-changing event began a year later for Tulloch and many other entrepreneurs who were in business. The onset of the pandemic in March 2020 had a profound — truly transformative — effect on Circle House’s operations and those of many others in the food and beverage service space.

“We closed the dining room. Our employees couldn’t get tipped and the lines at the drive-throughs were very long,” he explains. “We had to find a way to streamline the service so customers could make contactless transactions and help cashiers make the transactions.”

Tulloch’s experience as a football field leader from high school to his NFL days helped him quickly find a solution to the problems the pandemic posed to his coffee business. And soon, if this ambitious entrepreneur finds new successes in his second career, he could be helping other food suppliers increase their sales with innovative technology.

Introduced in October 2021, the so-called Tully Arm gave immediate results to Tulloch. This handheld device, which works at the Circle House window, allows customers to pay by cash or credit card without employees having to touch the payment method.

With a smoother payment method, Tulloch realized that employees received more tips, so their base salary could be much lower thanks to employees’ ability to earn more overall.

Real estate agent Miguel School has been a regular customer of Circle House Coffee and expects more companies to implement the Tully Arm in their workflow. As a parent of a newborn, supporting a company with contactless technology has been very helpful.

“My family has exercised extreme caution when venturing out. I am a regular customer of Circle House Coffee for meetings, business and generally to support a local brand,” says School. “Seeing the Tully Arm implemented has been a great addition to making customers feel safe and know that Stephen truly cares about his customers and their safety.”

The Tully Arm is being considered as an add-on for certain restaurant businesses nationwide and an automated version of the payment device is being developed. Tulloch attributes his affinity for business to the work ethic he learned from his Jamaican roots. In 2017, he built a school for 125 students named after his mother, Mercedes Tulloch, in his hometown of Little London, Jamaica.

“If you’re a Caribbean person, you know that work ethic is everything,” he said. “My mother and father arrived in their early 20s. They wanted a chance and they had that eagerness. I never forgot my Jamaican roots.”

Today, Tulloch enjoys his business career after football and is aware of the work and learning involved in creating sources of income through restaurant services and real estate. His real estate portfolio has expanded to include parking lots, buildings and domestic clients that provide him with passive income and allow him to have more free time. He stresses that having patience goes a long way toward making the end result much sweeter.

“It’s important to be consistent,” he says. “Being disciplined, sacrificing time with certain people… It’s what really separates everyone. Everyone wants to get out of their problems, but not everyone wants to sacrifice at work to do so. It’s about effort, work and perseverance.”

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