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Entrepreneur, Mother, Student Faces Tragedy, Triumph in Pursuing Goals

March 11, 2014 - At S’Moore Coffee Shop, AJ Moore reaches up to a table where a laptop is open to an online college course, and the espresso machine behind the counter hisses. All of these things belong to Samantha Moore.

It might seem like too much for one person to handle. But Moore is exactly where she wants to be.

“This is my dream,” said Moore. “Even if I won the lottery and I was a millionaire, I'd still be behind that counter making coffee.”

At 16, Moore was living in Temecula, Calif., and working at a Starbucks there. As she neared graduation, her employer approached her with a manager promotion. She had grown to love the work she was doing, but Moore wanted a new challenge and more education and the military provided for both.

At 18, Moore joined the Marines. From 2006 to 2010, she was stationed at Camp Pendleton and served a tour in Iraq. The military had been a presence in so much of Moore’s life—her father was in the Navy—that a career in the Marines seemed sensible, even attractive. But when an injury caused her to develop bursitis in her left hip, adjustments had to be made.

In her final year of service, she weighed her options. Multiple avenues were open to her, but she remembered her high-school job, remembered selling coffee to raise money for the Marine Corp Ball for her unit and remembered a very old, very particular memory.

“I’ve been baking with my aunt since I was a little girl,” said Moore. “So, I was like, ‘You know what? I want to go to culinary school.’”

So, in June 2010, Moore moved to Arizona to take classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. In six months, she had completed the Baking and Patisserie certificate program, and in the six months following that, she was planning.

“I don't take shortcuts,” said Moore. “Everything is done a precise way. Even with cleaning, I'll say, 'Ok, I should be able to run a white glove through here and have it come out spotless.'”

Moore brought that military focus to bear on her next move—she wanted to start a business, but she didn’t know where. She was in Arizona, her father was in California and her mother and sister were in Georgia. Looking over those business landscapes, she found that Georgia not only had less stringent regulations on small business, but far less competition in her field.

In early 2011, Moore moved in with her sister in Waycross. It was here that she met Justin Alderman. The two quickly developed a relationship. By this point, Moore was taking classes at Waycross College and had gotten a job as a waitress, getting more food service experience and preparing for the business she wanted to run. And then she got pregnant.

Part of her decision to move back to the South included her desire to eventually start a family, so she kept right on studying and working, knowing she and Alderman would find a way to make room for the baby. But in March 2012, everything they worked to put together was scattered: Alderman took his own life.

“It has been one of the greater tests in my life,” said Moore. “Eventually I would like to talk more about it openly because I think it could help others in similar situations, but it is still a very fragile subject for me.”

Moore, 11 weeks pregnant, was devastated, and moved to Reidsville to be closer to family. Her foundations were rocked, but she had family to help her heal and goals to keep her looking ahead.

“I started baking cupcakes, going to parades and selling them,” said Moore. “Then people started asking for cakes. And then I served coffee in Hub’s Game Room in Reidsville. It all built me back up to let me know who I really was.”

At her mother's suggestion, Moore enrolled full-time at Southeastern Technical College in fall 2012. She took to her classes well and was developing a rapport with her instructors when, four months into the semester, she met her son.

A.J. was born in November 2012, and for many, that would be enough of a reason to put a pause on classes and focus solely on family. But the momentum Moore had gained helped her establish a balance between new-motherhood and academics that worked and worked well.

“I made all As that semester,” said Moore.

With most of her classes online, Moore would open her laptop whenever she had a moment. Even when 3-month-old A.J. was flown to Savannah, diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus and given 72 hours to live, Moore helped her son come back from the brink, scarcely leaving his side, with a computer bag over her shoulder.

Once A.J. recovered in early 2013, Moore's dream of owning a business seemed closer than ever. She discussed it with her father, and they decided the time was right. In June, he sold his house in California and moved to Georgia to become his daughter’s business partner.

The two developed a ten-year plan for the business. During these early stages, Moore found that her classes at Southeastern Tech weren’t just useful, but impeccably timed.

“It's weird that my classes come as I need them,” said Moore. “Right now, I’m in a marketing class and marketing is the biggest thing I need. When we were deciding whether we wanted to be a partnership or an LLC or whatever, I actually went into my books to figure out what we wanted to be.”

The fledgling business secured its location in September 2013 and began preparing the new space. S’Moore Coffee Shop, the culmination of Moore’s years of effort, opened its doors just a month later.

The future of the business is, of course, unknown. But watching Moore simultaneously manage a 14-month-old, an online education and a growing business inspires more than a little confidence.