Megan Castor makes a cup of coffee for a customer at Reactor on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Megan Castor’s desire to meet new people led the senior advertising and public relations major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to run an independent coffee shop, Reactor, at 2124 Y Street. 

“One of my main goals for Reactor is to have it be a place for everyone to feel safe and comfortable,” she said. “I think I'm the best at people, and I just want people to experience that. You don’t have to buy a coffee if you don't want to. I just want people to feel like they have a space.”

She said she was taken with the idea of creating a community space in Lincoln where people can gather to enjoy themselves, so her entrepreneurial spirit pushed her to advocate this idea to everyone she met. Eventually, a friend got her in contact with Matthew Wegener, co-founder of the nonprofit Turbine Flats and owner of Reactor LLC.

“I wanted to prove that I could do something,” she said. “I started getting into [entrepreneurship] and realized we as college students have so much more to give than I think people give us credit for.”

Another woman ran the coffee shop from 2018 to 2020, and Wegener was not sure if he wanted to resume the business under the COVID-19 pandemic. Castor pitched him a business plan and single-handedly convinced him to reopen Reactor in July 2021. 

The UNL entrepreneur redesigned the shop, rebranded the logo, ​​created a brand new menu with weekly experimental drinks, and hired two more baristas to run the shop with her. She said she has changed quite a bit as a person now that she had been running the shop for more than nine months.

“I loved people before I came to Reactor, but I think I love people more now,” she said. “I literally made some of my best friends through this place.”

One piece of advice Castor has for aspiring entrepreneurs is to talk to everyone they know about their ideas, even people who are not in the business.

“Talk to them about it because everybody has an opinion on things,” she said. “Maybe they are the person that's going to help you get to where you want to be. Just start doing little things for it, like start thinking of a name or a logo. Slowly get to where you'll have everything set up and then it'll be easier to get loans or easier to get started.”

Although Reactor had earned more than three times the funds it had started out with by the end of 2021, Castor said one of the biggest challenges she faced was getting used to the unpredictability of running a business and, surprisingly, getting interviewed. 

“​​I'm so grateful, but I also have this imposter syndrome of like, ‘I don't know why you want to talk to me,’” she said. “I appreciate it, but it’s just a very interesting and mentally weird spot to be in.”

It is also stressful for a college student like Castor to dedicate more than 35 hours of her time per week to Reactor. True success, she said, will come when she finds the perfect balance between work and college.

“I know I'd be doing better in school if I didn't have Reactor, and I know Reactor would be doing crazier things if I didn't have school,” she said. 

Castor also wishes for a bigger space to accommodate everyone who comes into the coffee shop. 

“It's a small space, and so it's kind of hard to cater to everyone,” she said. “I want people to feel like there's space for them, and if there's not, I feel really, really bad.”

Holly Skorupa, a barista at Reactor and senior psychology and English double major at Nebraska Wesleyan University, also said that forming new connections is one of her favorite things about working at the coffee shop.

“It's just crazy how much you can learn about people and how close you can get to them in a short amount of time,” Skorupa said. “It's great to be in a setting that fosters genuine conversations.”

Overall, working at Reactor has been a positive experience for Skorupa, who has had almost seven years of experience working as a barista. She said her friendship with Castor is rooted in mutual respect: Castor listens to what she has to say and, in turn, she supports the decisions she makes for the shop.

“It has truly been a dream,” she said. “I've never had a boss that I felt has cared about me so much, especially as a person before an employee.”

With Reactor’s sales growing by the day, Castor’s confidence grows with it as well. 

“I feel like I have a higher worth,” she said. “I'm a bad b****. I did this. I'm not going to take anything less from anyone else.”