Friday, July 17, 2009

3rs Thursday at Posies Rocked!

Last night felt like an amazing culmination of everything I had been working towards coming to fruition, and was a moment of immense pride for me.

From the beginning I had wanted to have live music at the shop, because I thought it would add a nice atmosphere, and because it would add some life to the main strip... I could never seem to get it together in time, until the day that I ran into Ben Thompson at the shop. He lives over on McClelland, and said he was interested in doing some music shows for kids during the day. I thought that might be a good option on our slow days - then he mentioned he would love to do a performance for adults one evening too. I suggested trying out performing for 3rd Thursday when we were having our art opening for April Coppini. It was a deal and match made in heaven... !

Around 5pm things were pretty quiet - we were still installing our new fan system, cleaning up, wondering if it was going to be another quiet evening for Jadah. I noticed several folks seeming to come into the shop with intention (maybe all of our promotion for 3rd Thursday was working?). We started blasting some nice Ella Fitzgerald while Ben and Gabe set up... April arrived with a nice entourage, and some folks wandered in eager to buy a few of her pieces. Around 7pm Gabe started a beautiful set, and with the doors opened wide, and the shop filled with people, more and more folks started wandering in from the street, or pulling over to park and check it out.

Scott and Miranda from Locket2You set up a table in front of my shop and sold their beautiful lockets, and the street was filled with life for the first time in years. I saw what Kenton's entire strip could be, and was filled with pride and excited anticipation for where Kenton is going.

I hope everyone has an opportunity to check it out next month. Ben is going to start performing two shows a week during the day for children (days TBD) and one or two shows in the evening per month (days TBD). He has said he is determined to help Kenton come to life, and will recruit all of his friends in the music scene to start utilizing shops in the neighborhood as music venues on the North Side.

Next month the street should be under construction, but that isn't going to stop 3rd Thursday. Stop by!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Should we be more like a library?

I wondered if I should write today about the lessons learned so far, or something else that came up today that got me thinking... because lessons learned sounded kind of boring, I opted for the latter.

Today I was visiting a friend, using her new iPhone, which had the Urban Spoon application (the one where you can shake it and it randomly selects a restaurant for you... totally awesome). While I simultaneously shook and coveted my friend's iPhone, I came across my own shop. I had to run after Anouk because she was starting to play too far from the porch, and my husband took the phone and started reading one of the reviews someone wrote. It goes as follows:


"Good for Kenton or Good for Kenton 'Mamas'?" by niccurl (3 reviews)
June 16, 2009 - Likes it - As a Kenton resident (and parent!) I have longed for a neighborhood coffee shop to join the Denver Ave. business community. I have visited on 3 occasions; the first for a coffee to go; the second during 'off' hours in the evening. But when I visited on my weekday off to really experience the shop, relax in a comfy chair, enjoy coffee, pastry, and the newspaper, I was disappointed to find a noisy scene with nowhere to sit. One toddler was using a lounge chair as a jungle gym, other couches and chairs were occupied by more moms and kids while the playroom sat empty and the "laptop set" (and broad customer base?) struggled through the noise. I can't help but wonder if Ms. Burke's (the proprietor) statement featured in the Oregonian is really accurate: "This isn't a kids' cafe," "It's a cafe that is kid-friendly."? Libraries are definitely kid-friendly, and most parents and kids do a good job of being respectful of library etiquette. A coffee shop/cafe is similar. Sure there are a.... "ton of fancy, uppity, quiet, snooty places..." in town, as one patron points out...but not in Kenton! And what is "uppity and snooty" about a calm/relaxing coffee shop anyway? Ms. Burke writes a very thoughtful and excellent response to the initial "Good for Kenton....." posting. And I will add that the only way to encourage businesses to appeal to their entire customer base is by writing these very reviews. Why alienate anyone? (is Posies interested in appealing to a broad customer base or to it's Mamas?) Would it be unreasonable to encourage parents and kids to model library-like behavior? Or do we just need another Kenton coffee shop on Denver for people who like to converse, read, type, or peruse over coffee in a calm and comfortable environment?......there's rental space available!


I'm curious to get responses to this. Should we set the tone of the shop to be like a library? Would this ultimately resolve the issue and end the debate of being a kid-friendly shop vs. a kid shop? Is it possible to "encourage" parents and children to model a certain type of behavior without alienating them too? I wonder if it is even possible to encourage an atmosphere of quiet reverence (like a library) when you add in the element of food (food and large spaces naturally invite louder conversation and activity than an academic setting), but maybe I'm wrong... I am curious to get everyone's feedback.

Believe it or not, I remember this day, and this moment when the customer who wrote this review was looking for a seat as a child bounced on one of the available seats. It was a strange predicament for me that you had to be there to understand, but that's not really the point. This review got me thinking about the reviewer questioning the accuracy of my quote in the Oregonian about the shop being kid-friendly, not a kid's shop...

I wonder sometimes if this is something other businesses have encountered - becoming loved by one particular crowd (in this example, parents and children), and then other customers feeling frustrated with the shop not creating an atmosphere for their particular crowd because they are outnumbered that day. Being the owner of the shop, and knowing what my intention was versus how others perceive my intention based on who patronizes the shop creates an interesting discussion... who actually controls the environment of a shop? The owner or the patrons? Ultimately, my intention was to do something good for the neighborhood - I wasn't attempting to open an advocacy business for parents and children. Something I did want to do was make sure that we didn't end up like was one of the shops I never felt welcome in with or without a child... I wanted Posies to be a place for everyone to feel welcome. That said, the media latched onto various components, and I feel maybe we've gotten typecast by some (kids room and mothers working at the shop getting most of the attention).

Because it seems that the author of this review reads this blog, I am curious to ask if during your other visits during the evening and with your coffee to go, did you feel the same way? Or was it only during your day off when you happened to hit the "mother load" :) I'm curious to know if it was during the 10am - 1pm window. In re-reading what you wrote, it seems possible that we were actually just quite busy that day with customers taking up all (but one) seat, leaving a few customers stranded. We added outdoor seating to make up for the shortage we can sometimes have indoors, but sometimes it can seem that we never have enough.

You mentioned the "fancy, uppity, snooty, quiet places" throughout Portland, and wondered what was so wrong with that... honestly, there is really nothing wrong with that. All I can say is that it just wasn't what I was going for. I know Kenton has waited a long time for something like this. (Our first day open, our first customer was my friend Vicky Kirk, who came in crying because she has waited 18 years for some change like Posies.) I suppose what I was going for was my mother's house, just in a coffee shop. I wanted it to feel like a home and for the atmosphere to be like it was around my parent's kitchen table, something I've never felt in a coffee shop in Portland before. It seems I've been successful because oftentimes the children at the shop are reminiscent of the kids running around my parents' house.

Of course, please know I'm not trying to alienate anyone. I love Kenton, and want every single resident to feel like Posies is somewhere they can spend time and be themselves. I haven't perfected how to be the best shop for all residents, but I appreciate the feedback. Ultimately, and most importantly, we were trying to do something for the greater good of the neighborhood.

So, dear readers, tell me - how could we improve at the very least, the chaos, or maybe parents not really keeping tabs on their children and their surrounding community? And should I and my staff attempt to control the atmosphere more, or let it happen more organically (Saturdays and Sundays may be tough to control the adults crowding the place and making so much noise...)? And to my Kenton critic, "niccurl", I would love to meet with you. I think we could both benefit from hearing a little more from the other's perspective. Feel free to email or call me to set up a time, or just stop in if you'd like.

In the meantime, if it becomes too crazy, let me offer a blatant plug for one of my competitors... North Star can be a good alternative, and I encourage everyone to patronize and support other Kenton businesses.


Thursday, June 25, 2009


I frequently struggle with the fact that my local bank does not open until 10am. Anytime I get up early to start getting errands done, I always find myself having to backtrack to the bank because they don't open until nearly lunch time.

The other day I was taking Anouk to our new nanny-share a couple of miles away, and decided I would ride her over on my bike. Because I didn't want to backtrack on my bike, I decided that I would break the bank rules (and probably parent rules) and take my bike (with baby) through the drive-through because they open a bit earlier at 9am.

We rolled in with just two cars in front of us, so it looked like it should be a quick transaction. The sign said "Single Transactions Only" and so I was sure that everyone had prepared like I had and had their deposit slips ready and cash in hand... or something like that. But of course, the first car had to fill out their entire slip, then there was an error, then they had a few questions, and oh, one more thing... five minutes later, it was the next car's turn. Because this lady seemed annoyed, I was sure she would be quick. But again, I realized it was foolish of me to have such high expectations of the drive-through... she deposited a large check, and it was out of state, so a portion would be on hold. Not all of it is available right away, she's angry, she's wealthy, she wants the teller to know that she has plenty of money to cover this... she threatens to give her personal branch manager a talking to...

I'm really getting frustrated at this point - now she's just talking, not even resolving anything. Anouk is getting antsy, screeching every few minutes, feeling trapped in her bike seat and helmet. I'm bordering on yelling to her to hurry up...

Then suddenly Anouk lifts her two little arms (rolls jiggling), and starts screaming angrily at the top of her lungs the only thing she could think of given she doesn't know any frustrated or angry words:

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY ... TO... YOU!!!" (little baby fists shaking in the air at the car in front)

It was only after she had the courage to shout at the top of her lungs her frustration, and after I heard the woman in the car in front of me now sharing with the teller all of her plans for the day and the weather (now 20 minutes after we got in line), did I finally shout to the woman, "Let's move it, lady!"

Of course, after she left, I was scolded by the teller for riding my bike through the drive-through lane. But because I had waited so long, and because I was a good customer, they would allow it this one time.

In the end, in spite of all of that frustration, it was worth it just to see Anouk with fists clenched shouting with baby frustration the most hilarious line I could think of...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Response to an Urban Spoon review

I've wondered since we opened how I would take it if we received a less than perfect review in a public forum, and today I read our first one on Urban Spoon:

"Good for Kenton, not me" by warmgray9 (1 review)
May 27, 2009 - Doesn't like it - I'm super glad that there's a new coffee shop in Kenton - much needed and I wish them the best - but this place was just not for me. It IS a place for moms. And kids. And moms with kids. There's a play room in the back and children are pretty much given free reign of the rest of the place as well. Makes it awesome for moms who want a place to converse, not so much for dudes who want to work.Coffee was good, cupcake was not so much good. No complaints on the service. "

I'm not sure if I'm being sensitive as a business owner or a mother. Probably both. I remember when I first started sharing my idea for the coffee shop, someone told me of another north Portland coffee shop that specifically said they did not want their shop to be a place for stay-at-home mothers to hang out with their kids, and I think I felt very much like I feel right now... I think it feels like someone saying, "Yeah, you're cool, and I'd love to hang out, but I can't stand your kid." Obviously this is the mother in me speaking/reacting.

As a business owner, it's hard to explain to people the many roles a coffee shop is supposed to play, and the difficulty one finds in trying to please each person's unique needs: work and meeting space, a place to relax, a place to get away, or as Starbucks says, "the third place" (work, home, coffee shop). I hoped to never have to choose one or the other because I want everyone to feel welcome in my shop, and everyone to feel that their needs are being met. But when one coffee shop after another starts closing their children's spaces because individuals get annoyed, parents get pushed out and have to find another place where they too can get away (they, more than anyone, need a place to get away). So I've found myself having to say to those individuals that have approached me with annoyance at the children, that parents have nowhere left to go, and although I know children can be annoying (they are usually just as annoying to their parents as they are to others), if it becomes too much, that individual is going to be welcome at every other coffee shop... and these families are not.

The other thing I'd like to address as a business owner is the importance of reviews, and a request that individuals give places (all places, not just my shop) more than one opportunity to impress you, and only after consistently poor experiences do you write a negative review. These reviews are public, and can forever change the success of a business. I sometimes wish that all of these sites had procedures like eBay does - they ask you several times if you really want to write a negative review because it cannot be changed and will seriously impact the person you're reviewing. To the writer of this review, although you said it was good for Kenton, but not for you, the review was predominantly negative, the impact of which may be poor for business and thereby Kenton. I sincerely cannot emphasize enough that what I believe warrants a less than positive review should be a consistent occurrence and one that every customer at every hour of every day will likely experience. Otherwise you are falsely creating the idea that your one bad experience is truly what to expect at all times.

To be clear, of course, children don't usually have free reign of the entire shop. It can sometimes get chaotic, but I usually find that parents quickly abate the situation if they are clearly bothering others. In my observation, the quietest times at the shop are before 10am (the earliest it's usually possible to get everyone together and out the door) and after 1pm (most naptimes). So if anyone that enjoys working at the shop is looking for a good range of hours, I would try this out.

And as a final word on the matter, I too was once childless, and can easily recall my annoyance with mothers who let their children run wild in a place I was trying to enjoy. I remember telling my husband how we would not be parents like that, and then we would leave to find quiet refuge at another spot nearby. Years later, with my own child always in tow, I can tell you that I still get frustrated when kids run wild in places I'm trying to enjoy, but now it's usually my kid, whom I've come to realize is not so easy to control, and as far as leaving to find quiet refuge elsewhere, there are less than a handfull of places left for the likes of me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Our first month open

May 1st was our first day, and all I can say is thank you to everyone who has welcomed us with such open arms over the last 27 days. I'm so happy with how everything has turned out and only wish that my mind was less foggy with business details to fully appreciate everything that is happening and changing around me.

The Oregonian printed a big article about us on the cover of their Food Day section (what?), which was fantastic press for such a new and little business. I wasn't sure how the article would go over, but the morning that the article came out, I went into the shop fresh from a conversation with my mother-in-law, Bev, about the ongoing struggle for women in business and as mothers, and how the inequities are just less obviously socially acceptable. When I walked in the door, one of my dear neighbor business owners, Garland Horner, welcomed me with a high five, and then two elderly women with canes walked up to me and said that they had just seen the article in the paper, and wanted to come over for coffee and to tell me how proud they were of me. They left a $5 tip. I started to well up thinking of what they had probably gone through (Bev had just been telling me about how she wasn't even able to get a credit card after her divorce because they were typically only given in the husband's name)... I'm not usually such a sap, but this business development process has made me see that we're really not there yet. No lender would even consider me for financing unless my husband was put on the application with me...

And although the press has been very kind to us, there were a couple of items I wanted to address from the article that I think were misrepresented or false:

1) The opening quote makes it sound like we nurse our babies while customers wait for us... the reality is that that quote was said to me from one of our baristas who was nursing her baby, and I was asking if she needed me to make drinks for her.

2) Our mothers, and probably all mothers for that matter, are smart as tacks and love their kids. All of our mothers (except me!) has been a barista before, so if things seemed to take a long time to learn, it was probably either because they were training with someone else that had no experience, or because they wanted to continue practicing to perfect their skills. And they were all really happy to come home to their little ones after.

3) We have a wonderful relationship with everyone at Ristretto. Someone wrote a scathing note to Nancy Rommelman in response to her quote in the article, but I want to be very clear that the quote was completely misconstrued... for some reason, the word "deserve" has gotten a negative connotation these days.

And as a general note in response to the article, I want to reiterate that we are a family-friendly coffee shop, not a kids coffee shop. We are a hardworking group of women (and Pete - our token guy), some of whom have children.

P.S. If anyone is curious, being a parent is much much harder than being the owner of the a coffee shop.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Meeting with the PDC & Mercy Corps NW

We just had our important meeting (that I am forever referencing) today with the Portland Development Commission and Mercy Corps NW. PDC had put together a financing proposal for us, and it was exactly what we were looking for. Mercy Corps agreed that the proposal was agreeable to their terms as well (the proposal indicated how much Mercy Corps would contribute), and so now it all goes to their respective loan committees.

Next steps are staying on top of the underwriters to make sure that they get the application in to the loan committees in time for review by next week's meetings. If the loan committees approve the applications, things will move quickly from there, and we should have all funding in place in a matter of 2-3 weeks.

Jonathan and I were both thrilled to see the proposal outlined all of the financing we had requested, and that both organizations were so enthusiastic about our project... we had to do less convincing this time around, and more discussing how it would work, which was fun (though I think we're getting pretty good at pitching the concept these days).

We'll keep you posted about the results of the committee meetings.

Friday, November 28, 2008

So why a coffee shop?

Have you ever wondered what you should do for the rest of your life? For the last ten years, I've been trying to figure out just that. I enjoyed doing many things, but was always haunted by whether or not what I was doing was prestigious enough; could I climb the ladder? My other issue was that by the age of twenty I could already see my life in fast-forward, and I was afraid that if I didn’t do something I was passionate about, I would forever be trapped and die having wasted my life doing something I didn’t care about…

With that mentality, I was continually conflicted – major is something for prestige or passion? Climb the ladder or build the ladder? I majored in education at Penn State and taught high risk kids at a local charter school in Pennsylvania, a job that I loved, but is so draining. I taught for a short while here in Portland at an after-school-program at Roosevelt High School, then went into the nonprofit sector. I later got my master’s degree in public administration, and by some fluke of circumstance, got a job in finance totally unrelated to any degree I held.

The job in finance was really the prestige I thought I was looking for, and introduced me to a world I was totally unfamiliar with. Although in retrospect I don’t know if it was the world I was meant to live in, It was a great experience, and I loved all of the people I got to work with. While there I got pregnant, and realized that all I really wanted to do in my heart of hearts was do something to help my community, and have the flexibility to bring my family to work with me... I don't know why the prestige thing became such an issue for me, but it was time to give it up. Prestige, I later realized, is imaginary.

Like so many people, I had always daydreamed about owning a coffee shop, but I always stopped myself from making it a reality. During my days home with my daughter, I’ll confess I started watching a lot of tv and movies to keep from losing my mind. There were two movies in particular that really sparked something in me - "Chocolat" and "The Waitress" - because they were sensitive stories, but also because they showed mothers that were able to adore and care for their children and change their communities at the same time... Just what I wanted to be able to do, and what did they do for a living? Shop owners. It was after watching "The Waitress" the second time that I told my husband I was ready to do it.

Having lived in the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland for the last five years, we, along with so many of our neighbors, have patiently waited for our commercial district to develop like we've seen happen in every other close-in neighborhood in Portland. It seemed like the forward movement was more slowly than surely, so once I got wind that the next county library was moving in on the main street, I jumped at the opportunity to rent the shop two doors down. At the same time, I started noticing among the parent community I had suddenly become a part of that stay-at-home parents were an untapped resource (many highly educated, trained and/or skilled) that are often unable to work (though willing) because most employers do not allow you to bring your family with you. I also started to notice that parents and children are rarely received with a welcoming committee to public places like coffee shops or restaurants. In fact, what I discovered was that it seems everyone is welcome at coffee shops, but if your kids are annoying, you're expected to leave. The embarrassment of your kid being annoying is beyond mortifying, especially when all you were trying to do was attempt to regain some semblance of your previous life sans baby, to regain some sanity, and then all eyes are on you to get out so that all of the happy singles can get back to enjoying their lattes. It’s not that I don’t get that – I get that kids are annoying – I have one! I think what I don’t get is that no one has really recognized that those looks out of the corner of your eye are disenfranchising a group.

Some of our neighbors have said that the kid angle is not going to bode well with people without kids. We don’t mean to have a kid angle – it’s not a kid coffee shop, just a family-friendly coffee shop. And to those neighbors I’ve said that “there are plenty of places for you to go, but almost nowhere for me to go. The least I can do is make this a place where I could go.” We also plan to employ some of those stay-at-home parents who need some extra income, and can work with their kids around.

So that’s why a coffee shop. We saw a need, and decided to fill it, both for ourselves and our neighborhood. We care about creating a place for the community to spend as much time as they’d like (like we have in so many coffee shops), and creating a place that will help change the face of downtown Kenton. We are total foodies, and want to share our love of food with our friends and neighbors. And we want to see if we can create an entirely new workforce in the parents that are so often disenfranchised.

Hope to see you at the shop sometime!

Jessie (Jonathan & Anouk)