On a chilly spring day last year, Deborah Williams and Richard Welshans sat at their dining room table in Annapolis, Maryland. The waterfront abodes of Baltimore’s ex-mayor and other affluent residents, visible from their window, seemed to drive home just how far the couple had fallen. It was pouring outside, and the roof leaked like a sieve. Even if they could afford to fix it, why bother? It was the bank’s roof now. Their belongings were packed, stacked, and ready to move when the bank finally sold the house. They lacked health insurance and were drowning in debt, having filed for bankruptcy that May.
Their saga began in 2003, not long after Welshans, now 54, was laid off from his sales job at a chemical manufacturer. He got a decent severance package and wanted to do something less corporate. Williams, meanwhile, thought it would be nice to work for herself after 10 years as an executive with a national hair salon chain. So husband and wife decided to open a coffee bar. Knowing nothing about the business, they looked at franchise options, soon settling on Flushing, Michigan-based Coffee Beanery. Upon meeting the owners, they learned that the company no longer did coffee bars, but now focused on full-scale cafés that required a lot of food prep—and a lot of money to open.
Photo: Darrow Montgomery.