Best Friends Coffee & Bagels Owners Talk Friendship & Community Support
Photographer: Amy Payne
The friendship started more than 20 years ago when Chico Mbanu and Bob Goodpaster met while working at a bar in West Lafayette when they were attending Purdue University. Bob (aka Crazy B) was the deejay, Chico was the bouncer. They got to talking and Bob invited Chico to play in an intramural basketball tournament. That’s when their bond really started to form.
They were thick as thieves all through college — so tight, in fact, they promised each other that down the road, once they were married with families, they would open up a business together.
“We didn’t know what that would look like, exactly,” Chico says. “We just thought it would be great to work together and have our kids grow up together.”
It was a grand idea, but we all know how life tends to mess with our plans. Both men moved forward with their lives. Bob, with a degree in hospitality and tourism management, worked various jobs, including mortgage broker. All the while, he continued to deejay for various events. His wife, Amy, works as a nurse, enabling them to tag-team with the children (Maddox, 9, and Xarreffa, 7) since Crazy B works some crazy hours. Bob also has two step-daughters: Kaysea (22) and Sylvia (19).
Chico, who was born and raised in Gary, Indiana, to Nigerian immigrants, earned a chemical engineering degree from Purdue and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from Wayne State. Now a sales director for a biotech company, his first job offer following grad school moved him to Atlanta, Georgia. Bob was crestfallen.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is the beginning of the end,’” says Bob, assuming that work and family commitments would move their college friendships to the back-burner. For a while, it did. Though the friends occasionally connected, their conversations became fewer and far between. Then one day in 2016, Chico, who was living in Michigan at the time, dropped a bombshell on his buddy.
“Things are changing with work,” he said. “I think I may end up back in Indiana — in the Indy area.”
Bob hung up the phone and the wheels started spinning as he recalled their college pact. Several months later, Bob dropped his wife off at Brownsburg’s Avant Gard beauty salon on Main Street. By the time he returned a few hours later to pick her up, a plan was set in motion. Turns out, the connecting space next door was about to become vacant, and the salon staff had surveyed their customers, all of whom agreed that a coffee shop should go in there.
“Somewhere between the beginning and end of Amy’s haircut, it had been decided that I was going to open a coffee shop,” says Bob, who pitched the idea to Chico.
After doing some viability research, the friends decided to go for it. Chico, his wife Jennifer, and their three children Adriana (19), Adanna (12), and Akagha (10), moved back to Indiana.
While Best Friends Coffee & Bagels was still under construction, the owners hosted a blind coffee tasting with a bunch of their blends as well, including coffee from other places such as Duncan Donuts and Starbucks. They invited the public to rank the brews, scoring on a scale of 1-5 — from “too bold” to “perfect.”
“We tried 30 coffees that day. We were jacked up.” Chico says with a laugh.
After tallying up the scores, the first, second and third-place choices were all of their blends. Duncan Donuts came in fourth, and Starbucks ranked towards the bottom.
“Given that it was a blind testing, we are confident that our coffee is superior to the big dogs,” Chico says. Guests certainly agree.
John Hockett, a loyal customer who comes to Best Friends three to five times a week for food, coffee and conversation, started visiting the shop even before it was officially open.
“I kept checking on construction because I was so eager for them to open,” Hockett says. “Chico refers to me as Customer Zero.”
Best Friends Coffee & Bagels opened its doors in July 2018. Right out the gate, business was strong.
“The community has embraced us wholeheartedly,” Bob says. “We’ve gotten nothing but love.”
Rashad Cunningham, another devoted patron, likens the shop to the 80s television show “Cheers.”
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and that’s definitely the case here,” Cunningham says. “It really is like an extended family. Plus, their drinks and food are fantastic.”
Either Chico or Bob are at the shop daily. Often they’re both there. They treat every customer with kindness and appreciation. In fact, not a day goes by when they don’t plop down at a table and chat with whoever is sitting there.
“It’s not a fake gimmick,” Bob says. “We’re social guys.”
“We’re a mom-n-pop shop,” Chico adds. “No corporate stuffy feel here.”
Because the guys are knee-deep in work these days, they have to be careful not to let their friendship get lost in the shuffle.
“Sometimes we just need to grab a beer and laugh — no business talk allowed,” Bob says.
Reconnecting as friends reminds them of why they yearned to enter into business together in the first place.
“He’s not afraid to call me out, put me in my place or help me see things from another perspective,” says Bob of his ride-or-die friend. “He’s also the one who will drop everything in a heartbeat if I need him.”
And he has. For instance, when a tornado hit Bob’s house several years ago, Chico was the first one at Bob’s doorstep during clean-up efforts.
As for Chico, he says nobody knows him better than his college pal.
“If something’s bothering me, Bob can tell just by looking at me,” Chico says.
“I can see it on his forehead when something’s up,” Bob adds. “That’s my green light to sit down and invite him to let it all out.”
Like any true friendship, theirs has been tested. For example, last year they didn’t speak for several days when ego took a front seat in their relationship. Ultimately, they agreed to meet and talk things through.
“I went into that meeting thinking Chico owed me an apology, but once I listened to his side of things, I realized it was I who needed to apologize,” Bob says.
All in all, these friends are having the time of their lives as they make their lifelong dream a reality. And their customers couldn’t be happier to witness it.
Hockett praises the staff, the coffee and the made-from-scratch “out-of-the-park awesome sandwiches.”
“Both Chico and Bob are good family men who always have the customer in mind,” Hockett says. “There have been other coffee shops in Brownsburg, but nothing measures up to Best Friends Coffee & Bagels.”
Best Friends Coffee & Bagels is located at 1060 E. Main Street in Brownsburg. Contact them at 317-350-2185.