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)