If you’ve visited a Little Amps location, you know the vibe.
It’s modern and hip, with exposed brick walls, yet quirky, as you might just find a plastic dinosaur on a windowsill. The brand is somewhere between trendy and a trendsetter.
Peter Leonard is a visionary behind Little Amps—the products, the brand and the in-store atmosphere. Now, he’s also the chief executive officer.
“I think my personality and presence have shaped a lot of what we’ve become,” Leonard said. “I try to keep thinking about what’s the next best thing. We don’t like to be boring.”
For eight years, Leonard has worked at Little Amps, starting out as a barista and working his way up to part owner and now majority owner.
He was born and raised in Harrisburg before attending Temple University in Philadelphia, but eventually found himself back in his home city. When he walked into Little Amps only a couple of years after its opening, he was surprised.
“I didn’t think I’d walk into a place in my hometown that felt like it could be in a big city like Houston or New York,” he said. “I was like, oh, Harrisburg can have something cool.”
Not only did the atmosphere in Little Amps draw Leonard in, but the coffee hooked him. When he started pouring and brewing in his early days, he wasn’t necessarily a coffee connoisseur, but working with a bunch of java-loving hipsters, he became one himself.
“Anything I’ve learned about coffee is because I’ve worked here,” he said. “Little Amps’ coffee standards help push the standard for coffee in Harrisburg.”
Any good coffee shop thrives on its ability to host the community.
Some people want a quick in-and-out pit stop on their way to work in the morning, but, for many, it’s about the space. It’s a hangout spot for friends, a freelance worker’s office, or a businessperson’s escape. It’s about the coffee, but it’s also about the people—the barista you know on a first-name basis.
That’s Leonard’s favorite part.
“That’s always going to be the best for me—working with great people and serving great people,” he said.
Then a few months ago, Leonard found himself needing to lay off almost his entire staff and close Little Amps’ doors to the public.
“To have to face the group and say we are closing, that was really, really hard,” he said.
Like many in the food industry during the pandemic, Little Amps switched its focus to online sales and limited takeout options. Their online sales quadrupled in the first month, and they expanded mobile ordering options, opening their doors for takeout with shortened hours.
The hardest part has been losing the sense of community they had become accustomed to, Leonard said.
“Not having that community space moving forward, we aren’t sure what will happen,” he said. “We hope and believe someday we will be back to having a coffee shop full of people.”
Although it wasn’t the ideal way to start his position as Little Amps’ CEO, Leonard is grateful he was there to lead the team through it.
“He really made me feel like he cared what everyone is going through,” said barista Kelsey Parsons.
Parsons is also in charge of human resources for Little Amps, which has allowed her to work more closely with Leonard. Formerly a Starbucks barista, she appreciates the community-based approach of leadership that Leonard takes.
“I’ve been able to sit down with him and hear his heart,” she said. “He genuinely cares about the staff.”
Although Parsons misses former owner and founder Aaron Carlson, she was happy to see Leonard step up.
“I felt at ease through the transition even though it was so sad,” she said.
A Latte to Come
Leonard had big plans for Little Amps in 2020.
A few years prior, the business had felt somewhat stagnant, he said, but 2019 was pivotal.
“Last year, it became really clear what we are capable of,” he said.
Growth plans for the company were progressing smoothly. But then COVID hit, and things were put on hold. But there’s no bitter cup that a little creamer can’t fix.
For Leonard, that was the support he felt from his team, and so, he kept dreaming. Big things are still coming for Little Amps.
Leonard wants to see the business grow to include more of a hospitality aspect. The biggest plan is adding a restaurant with in-house food and alcoholic beverages.
He also plans to expand the store’s retail side.
“We are done saying, ‘I wish we had this thing in Harrisburg,’” Leonard said. “We are just going to create that thing.”
Leonard sees himself staying with Little Amps for the foreseeable future—there’s just something about making good coffee and making people happy. He plans to keep Little Amps growing and pushing the limits of the coffee scene in Harrisburg.
“I think Little Amps brings a fresh energy even at 10 years old,” he said. “As long as I can keep pursuing my vision and being challenged, I can’t see why I would leave.”
Little Amps Coffee Roasters has three locations in Harrisburg at 1836 Green St., 133 State St. and a kiosk in Strawberry Square at 320 Market St. For more information, visit www.littleampscoffee.com.