We met Kim at a networking event hosted by the Regina Public Library.
She inspired us with her vulnerability and courage!
Now she’ll do the same for you … enjoy.
In 2013 I took a leave from my executive role with the Saskatchewan Government and had every intention of returning a year later. Instead, when it came time, I tendered my resignation and a few months later, found myself at the lawyers office, signing my life away to purchase a local coffee shop. In the past four years (and I suppose, the 48 prior to that!) I have learnt a lot about following my heart, laying my ego down, taking risks and walking my talk. Some of that has been force fed to me, but looking back, I can’t think of a thing that I would change. Ok… well maybe one or two ;)
When I took a leave from my government position, I had done a couple of tours in Executive roles, and if I kept that path, the hierarchy would then be Assistant Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister, and so on. That career path was something I had long time aspired to and to feel that I was maybe “arriving” was an exciting thought. The contrary was that after an intense amount of change over a short number of years, and the often “heavy” subjects I dealt with on a day to day basis started to take its toll. I was having trouble leaving work at work, having trouble sleeping and I didn’t find myself as “happy” as I once was. I started to question if I was really making a difference; if what I was doing really mattered in the grand scheme of things. Growing up, all of the positions that I had worked in, I always tried to make career decisions that made me feel personally invested in the role because it directly impacted the “people”, the province, where and how we lived, and that has always really mattered to me.
I hoped that taking a leave of absence would give me some time to ponder if I could make permanent changes to make things better, and decide if I wanted to stay the course. And the leave also just gave me time to simply rest and recharge. When it was getting close to return to my position, and I got a call to come back a few weeks early, my stomach rolled, my heart flipped and shortly thereafter, rather than negotiating my return, I resigned. My heart just wasn't in it anymore. In doing so, I was also fully aware that it was such a gift to be able to take a break and resign from a job that didn’t fit with me anymore; so many people don’t have those choices. I’m still immensely grateful that I do.
A few months later, I bought Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective, a coffee shop that had been in my neighbourhood for almost 20 years. I remember very clearly sitting at the lawyers office signing the documents, and there was a moment in time when I thought “Kim, what the HELL are you doing? Are you sure? This is big shit”! And, feeling pretty nauseous. But I signed.
Full disclosure, a coffee shop had always been in my game plan, as far back as 25 years or so, but I just didn’t know when or where or simply IF I would have the guts to do it. But whenever we were travelling through a new community, the local coffee shop still called to me - the hub of activity, where everyone knew your name (Norm!), what they were up to, what was going on around them, and people seemed to care. Whenever we were camping, that would be the first place I would head in the new town, to see what was what and where to go.
So, I took the plunge. I cannot ever thank enough the beautiful people in my life that were full of love support and encouragement. The first year was rough. I planned to be fully involved as an on-site owner and so I structured things in the way that I found practical. I soon found that I had to set some physical and mental guidelines to make it - Support of family. Belief in self. Know own limits. Know own non-negotiables. The first three months I got very little sleep. Many nights 3-4 was the norm, while I worked both ends of a long day at the shop to learn the operations from existing staff and figure things out. Adding to that, inventory, payroll, systems, equipment, staffing, etc. Some days were harder than others. Frikkin hard. On those days, I reminded myself that this was MY decision and something I wanted. I remember a particularly rough day early in, when my hubby was leaving for a few weeks holidays without me, and he stopped in to say goodbye. Staff had called at 6am to say the espresso machine had sprung a leak and I hadn’t a hot clue what to do, so on a day that I was hoping to catch up on sleep, I found myself at the shop after 4 hours sleep, teeth in-brushed, in sweats, I don’t even think I was wearing a bra. Yeah. And I went in the back office and shed a few tears after they left, reminding myself again, that I wanted this…
Certainly during the first year, family and friends were worried about me, because let’s be honest, they never saw me anymore unless they came for coffee and when they did, I looked awful! “No, I DO love it!” I’d say. My marriage took a hit and a fair amount of commitment to keep it on track because I was either invisible, cranky or in a huge “take” mode. I had very little to give anyone. Coming from a “day job”, albeit with long hours, most recently to having a year totally off, and now to owning a 15 hour, 7 day operation, suffice to say that not everyone was getting the attention they were used to. Including me.
There were other things as well. It took me a while, a year at least, to feel comfortable enough in my new work-skin to stop telling people what I used to do, as a segue into my "so, now I own a coffee shop". It without question gave extra endorsement to some folks who immediately changed their tone and conversation when they found that I was a corporate player turned coffee house owner. That saddened me, and then I also realized I was playing right into to by having to validate how I got here and explain what I used to do. There were other surprises. The number of men who straight up asked me very personal details about the business and purchase of same, or seemed surprised that I wasn’t a “wife” with a hobby business. That blew me away, so I needed some coping skills to deal with some of those questions and people kindly, because you know a coffee shop is a nice place to be right? Don’t piss off the customers! ☺
That first year as I became comfortable in my new place, comfortable in my new ME, and it seemed to me like a tangible “laying the ego down” and walking a new path. I had simply decided that climbing the corporate ladder and doing what people traditionally thought one does when they get to a certain stage in their career, just wasn’t and truly what I wanted any more. And I was finally ok with that.
So. Why a coffee shop? I joke with people "I bought a coffee shop, but as it turns out I just like drinking coffee!" Seriously though, sometimes there are gaps. Such as, I don’t like to cook, I’ve never liked to cook! I do it and I’m good at it if I have to be, but that’s a huge gap if you own a café, lemeetellyou. It also turns out that when you own a coffee shop, you drink a tremendous amount of cold, old coffee, OR teeny shots of espresso all day long. What it WAS about a coffee shop for me is this:
I've always wanted to feel invested - in people and in my community. I wanted to help make it a better place to live and at this point, I wanted to do it in a different way than what I had been doing. I strongly believe, that if you make a difference in how someone feels about themselves, in feeling loved, important, and that they matter and are part of something, that they will then pay it forward, often without even knowing it. They will have a better day, be kinder to their colleagues, their children, or greet their partner with a smile rather than with disdain or anger, and that ALL has collective impact. It’s the proverbial pebble in the ocean analogy and I think it makes a difference. So, as crazy as it may sound, I didn’t buy a coffee shop to hang out a shingle that says #1 we serve the best coffee or #2 the best muffins, but to build a place where people feel genuinely like they belong, and if they are having a really rough day, they might choose to go for a walk and come to Stone’s Throw. Because it’s safe and beautiful for them.
I’ve seen new university students come in with their parents the first week of classes, looking sick and afraid and I’ve seen them coming out of their shells daily, telling me about the marks they’re getting and the new things they are doing.
I’ve met exchange students who said we made Regina “feel like home” for their four months here, and before they left to go back home, come in to give us hugs and buy coffee for their families.
There’s a fellow who walks here 5 times a week from downtown. He walks with a bit of a limp and has verbal challenges. I remember the first day he held a conversation with us and joked and smiled. He felt comfortable enough with us to put himself out there and hold a quiet stilted conversation.
We had a customer for years who told us that coming in for coffee in the morning was the best part of his day. He was a fellow business owner going through some messy personal issues "But when I come in here, it's the best time of my day, you guys are great, and it's perfect."
I tell our staff, do not for a minute, underestimate the impact you have on a customer by being interested, and genuinely caring, about them and their day. Your kind and sincere interest in people and what it can do for them is immeasurable, regardless your pay grade or your title. So that’s what I set out to do with my coffee house and the staff and I work hard to keep it a warm, welcoming place to be. We really truly walk our talk. We don’t try to be cool or hip. Or maybe we do. Maybe kind is the new cool.
All that said, walking my talk is hard sometimes. My husband and I have always said to each other “it’s not all about money” or “you can’t take it with you”. It’s about love, and people and building a life. Money has to be part of it, but it’s not the centre of it. In the end, if you have a whole bunch of money, but very little else? Pffftttt. It means nothing. I have at times though, felt like I’m not contributing enough to the family. I’m busy working my ass off, but owning a coffee shop is not a million dollar business. (God at least I don’t think so, someone tell me if I’ve missed something!) Sometimes I admit to doing a little math about what my old job brought in, and it sets me back a bit, and I wonder if I made the right decision. Or I wonder if I’m sort of volunteering my short term time (loans, you know) for the experience of owning my own business. That is a harsh thought, but one that has crossed my mind. There are other times when I question my own self worth and wonder if I’m still “intelligent” and have to give myself a firm talking to!
I’m also quizzically enamoured (or sometimes testy) with other’s views of owning your own business. “You’re sort of retired?” “Oh, so do you can work whenever?!” or “That must be so fun!”… I have come to realize that part of my job, in that the experience I build for my customers is to make it look like fun, because that’s what makes people happy when they come in. I also understand that for people who long to make a big change in their life and are considering doing what I do, they want it to be fun and beautiful. They want it to be “someday, maybe” for them.
Do things go wrong? Oh my gosh, do they… I try to channel my grandfather who had a great filter to view set-backs or hardships. “Can you do anything to change what happened or to change it in the future? If so, do it. Even if you can’t change anything, have you learned anything from it? Remember that. Then move on. Don’t dwell. Don’t drag the baggage along with you.” I also have a number of motivational quotes that resonate with me, and depending on the day or what I need, I do a bit of meditating with a mantra around these.
So, would I go back and make a different decision? No. It’s like any job with ups and downs and challenges but overall immensely more hard work and responsibility. But has been the best decision of my life, it’s really exactly what I expected and I wouldn’t change a thing. Well I always strive for more balance, but who doesn’t? For our family it has gotten us more involved in community, it has taken guts and grit and humility, humour and love and trust and a ton of other things. I’ve learned a lot about myself (I’m not all a bed of roses!), my capabilities, my independence (to a fault), the unwavering support in my life and what really matters. I still have to learn that it’s ok to put myself first, rather than doing “just one more thing”. I’ve met SO many new fabulous people, and see wonderful people each and every day in the customers that walk through our doors. I think I’ve mostly learned that life is truly what you choose to make it. And it’s pretty frikkin beautiful.
Thanks Kim, kudos for the frikkin courage!
Want to chat more with Kim, drop her a line or just head in to the Stone's Throw for some coffee and conversations.