Under any other circumstance, they were unlikely friends. They met in the lobby of a nursing home, neither of them happy to be there.
For Stephen Tulloch, he was 6 or 7 years old, waiting in the lobby until his mom finished her shift as a nurse at 11 every night. She was raising three kids on her own, holding down multiple jobs.
Jay Lotspeich was there to visit his mom, Rachel, her mind lost in a cloud of Alzheimer’s. He took a liking not only to the kid he passed every night but also his entire family. Owner of a Miami construction company, Lotspeich would help them with financial needs.
“He just told me the basics: stay in school, get good grades, behave, the things kids are supposed to hear,” Tulloch remembers. “He also gave me my first computer. He helped me pick a college. He was just there for me.”
It wasn’t hard for Tulloch to find a college. As a star linebacker at Miami Killian Senior High School, he had his pick of scholarship offers. He decided on NC State and spent three years there before going pro.
Few thought he could make it. At 5-foot-10, he’s undersized for an NFL linebacker, and even scouts looking to rep him told him he should’ve stayed in school. Tennessee drafted him in 2006, though not as a starter. The next season, the team brought in a veteran linebacker to be the starter, and that relegated Tulloch as a backup again.
“The knock on me was that I was short, undersized, and they told me I was never going to make it,” Tulloch says. “Yeah, it gave me a chip on my shoulder. I’ve always had it since I was a kid. Dad wasn’t around, told I was too small, mom having to work three jobs. That chip is always what pushed me to work harder.”
Late in Tulloch’s second season, the veteran starter got injured. They were at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, an intimidating place to be the away team, and Tulloch finally had his chance. He managed 11 tackles that game, leading the team, even though he didn’t come in until the second quarter. He would spend the rest of his career—11 seasons in total—as a starter.
Along the way, whenever Tulloch needed guidance, needed someone to remind him of the right path, he called Lotspeich, who walked him through hiring agents, negotiating contracts and managing his money. “He was just always there for me, like family,” Tulloch says.
Lotspeich died in 2012 at 79, before he got to see Tulloch retire and help him pick a path for what’s next. Tulloch took a year off to travel, the highlights being South Africa and Machu Picchu. Then he started thinking about a business venture, something that would put in play the skills he learned in those Stanford, University of Miami and Michigan School of Business classes he had taken in off-seasons.
He bought a house in Coral Ridge, and thinking about opening a co-working office, he spent $1.1 million in January 2017 on a building in Fort Lauderdale, at 727 NE Third Ave., in the up-and-coming Flagler Village neighborhood. He couldn’t make the numbers work on a business plan for the co-working space, so instead, he decided on a drive-through coffee shop, something that otherwise didn’t exist downtown. He went to tradeshows and attended a two-week coffee academy in Seattle to learn about the business.
Built in 1975, the building needed significant work to get up to code. Tulloch served as his own contractor. In all, he sunk a half-million to update the space.
He opened Circle House Coffee in March. The building is hard to miss because of dramatic murals in shades of blue and yellow.
“I’m here every day, seven days a week,” he says, sitting at a long high-top across from a display counter of pastries. It had only been a couple of weeks since the opening, and Tulloch said it had gone well so far. But he wishes Lotspeich was here to see it. It was Lotspeich who had always encouraged Tulloch to be thinking about life after football, to be dreaming about opening a business or taking on a new venture. As Tulloch was opening the coffee shop, he was imagining what Lotspeich would say in response, how his mentor would have been proud to see the place become reality.
“I know he would have liked to see what I’ve done,” Tulloch says. “He was always there for me.”
Circle House Coffee; 727 NE Third Ave., Ste. 100, Fort Lauderdale; 954.870.6456; circlehousecoffee.com