Rising Stars 2023: Sarah Knabel

Sarah Knabel in detail

Age: 27.

Job title/occupation/place of employment: Owner and Founder of Bob & Lou’s Coffee.

Volunteer activities: Marketing Chair for Women’s Leadership Network; occasional volunteer at Convivium Urban Farmstead; and my collaboration with Secondhand Soulmates pet rescue to find homes for homeless pets.

Education: Majoring in public relations and marketing, with a minor in apparel merchandising and design, at Iowa State University.

Family: Austin Willenborg (fiance), Laura and Jim Knabel (parents), Bob and Mary Lou Johanningmeier (grandparents).

Person most inspirational to me and why: Joanna Gaines — I have always appreciated her work-life balance, her humble nature and her support for other businesses. She started with a love for home decor and just continued to work hard and brand off of that original love, all while keeping her family close and never forgetting her roots.

Favorite thing to do outside of work: Nothing will beat a beautiful summer night on the deck with family and friends and a delicious, home-cooked meal. I grew up with horses so they will always be one of my favorite hobbies, there is so much to learn from those beautiful animals. I also love going for hikes, practicing yoga and traveling to new places.

One word to describe me: Spirited — my family and friends have always used this word when describing me. I would say if I am passionate about something I put my whole heart into it.

What’s one thing that most people would be surprised to know about you: I lived in Los Angeles, Calif., for an internship after college.

Greatest fear: Losing someone I love too soon.

What’s the one thing you are most passionate about in your life: Achieving my goals. Not a day goes by that I am not working toward my goals. I continue to think about what I have to do and the steps I have to take to get to my next goal stair (I always consider each goal as a staircase and taking it one step at a time rather than looking at the top of their staircase). I am so grateful for the family and friends I have that push me and support all of my lofty goals.

Sarah Knabel, owner of Bob and Lou’s Coffee, started her life after college the way many newly minted college graduates do — with a corporate gig.

“I worked in a cubicle for a while,” she said. “But I knew that wasn’t for me.”

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Knabel’s corporate position ended, which she saw as an opportunity.

“I probably should have been upset, but I wasn’t,” she said. “I had told my friends for a long time that I could totally see myself owning a coffee shop one day. I love the vibes. Everyone is happy in a coffee shop. I just loved everything about it.”

Sarah’s mother, Laura, one of Knabel’s early investors in the business, nominated her for Rising Stars.

“Sarah began her business in 2020 in the midst of the COVID pandemic,” Laura Knabel said in her nomination. “She started with a vintage mobile camper and within three years has a storefront and a custom coffee camper that she travel with all over the tri-states.”

Between Knabel’s brick-and-mortar shop on University Avenue and her custom camper, there are seven employees working for Bob and Lou’s.

Knabel, who handles everything from marketing and purchasing to waiting on customers, has also found time to mentor other future entrepreneurs.

“I went to Wahlert (Catholic High School), and they had reached out to me with questions on how I started my coffee shop,” she said. “I said if they were interested, I would love to help mentor and get a coffee shop up and running (by students within the school). I’m glad that shop is still successful today. It’s cool to see young kids starting to get into that entrepreneurial mindset.”

In addition to running a successful business, Knabel also give back to the community through her volunteer work.

“She is a role model for her employees and other female entrepreneurs through her involvement with Empower Her Dubuque,” Laura Knabel said. “She is an active volunteer with the Women’s Giving Circle and does social media for them. She also enjoys helping local charities raise money with matched coffee sales.”

Knabel, who chairs the social media committee and is a member of the outreach committee for Women’s Giving Circle, said she was hooked when she attended her first event with the group.

“It was eye-opening about who they’re helping and what they’re doing within our community,” she said. “It’s a group of women who raise money and put that money into nonprofits that are helping women and children in our community. I hope to bring in more women from my generation, because they are amazing.”

Knabel said she’s far from done growing her business.

“That’s always the end goal,” she said. “I would love to see us in a bigger space. I’m hopefully going to be able to make those dreams come to life someday. Ideas are always brewing in my head.”