Posts Categorized: Entrepreneurs

Sum of Your Business: Impact Coffee

Impact Coffee roasts and brews a great cup of joe.

Interview and photos by Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Summer 2017 Inspire(d)

In a world that seems to move faster with each passing day, a true attention to detail is something that stands out. A perfectly matted and framed piece of art; a beautifully honed bench in a compact space; coffee beans transported halfway across the world, to be roasted, brewed, and served to perfection. These are traits of a craftsperson – or, for this story, craftspeople: Decorah husband and wife team Jeff and Anja Brown, and their sons Sean and Kai.

Impact Coffee Bar and Roasters is a young business, but for almost three decades Jeff and Anja have served the community through The Perfect Edge, now in its fourth downtown location, where they offer high quality professional art framing and matting services. It makes sense that the level of skill needed to frame literal works of art would follow through to anything else the couple touches – from the careful remodeling of old buildings to the roasting of a specialty batch of Yemen coffee beans.

Arguably one of the greatest adventures of owning a small business is that inspiration (and opportunity) can strike at any moment. It was one of those chance opportunities that eventually led Anja to move the framing shop (for the third time!) to the beautiful space at 106 Washington Street, a former century-old cobbler and shoe shop (rail ladders still intact). Meanwhile, just down the block, 118 Washington became home base for the now-expanded Impact Coffee, a “third wave” – as they say in the business – roaster and coffee bar.

Much the way microbreweries have grown in recent decades, “third wave” coffee has shifted the bean business from mass commodity to a craft that honors the product’s finest nuances. From grocery store tins to the mid-century rise of Italian-influenced espresso cafes to the onset of worldwide café chains, a culture has grown, giving the utmost attention to fairly sourcing, processing, roasting, and serving single-origin coffee beans.

This transformation of a rather humble agricultural product into a truly artisanal beverage is indeed an art, and Impact Coffee captures that. Beans are coaxed through the roasting process to bring out the subtle flavors of their source – from Kona, Hawaii to the Lake Kivu area of Rwanda. The differences can be immense, much like grapes to wine, and result in a truly stunning cup of coffee.

Jeff Brown is the man behind (well in front of, really) the roaster at Impact’s processing facility, jumping through multiple regions and batches of beans on any given day. He’s also the preparer of beautiful amounts of cold-brewed coffee – a process that can take more than 12 hours before it is kegged. These cold brews get served over ice through a nitrogen-charged tap system at the café, which produces a coffee with rich mouth-feel, smooth, yet exact flavors, and a great kick. The Brown’s sons, Sean and Kai, are both involved in the business, and can often be found behind the counter serving up single origin pour-overs, frothy lattes, locally baked goods, tea, and more. The Brown family has clearly found their sum in Downtown Decorah, and we’re Inspire(d) by that!

Tell us about your “leap” moment. When/ how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

Our “leap” moment was a gradual one. We met our former partners through The Perfect Edge three years ago. They were selling their roasted coffee at the farmers market and we offered them a retail space so they could have a permanent outlet in Decorah.

From there, the idea grew to replace the gallery space with a small coffee shop. Shortly thereafter our partners got an excellent job opportunity and sold us their roasting equipment. Impact Coffee Bar & Roasters was born. The name refers to the asteroid that hit Decorah 470 million years ago and created its distinct crater.

The decision to take over a new business was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. But we could see that we had the enthusiastic backing and support of the community. When you look at the coffee bar now, it is full of pieces offered by the community and friends: the old archway, the tin ceiling pieces, the barn wood, a humungous old photograph of Decorah, etc.

What is the best thing about being your own boss?

The best thing is that when you have a crazy idea for your business, you go ahead and do it. You own it. Making your own way, seeing it through. The satisfaction of knowing you did it and have sustained it, making it into a thriving business.

And we are lucky that Sean and Kai joined us and are running the coffee shop. Who knows what the future holds, but for now we can say we are a family-run business.

How about the worst?

Some days you just don’t want to be responsible for anything. You just can’t hand it off. Again, you own it.

Being a small business owner means you don’t get to clock out at 5. Whatever the issue is, you need to deal with it for as long as it takes.

Was there ever a hurdle where you said, “I just can’t do it!”? How did you overcome it?

Loosing our partners shortly after opening the coffee bar was a stressful time. While we had crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s, we had not worked on an exit strategy, which is an important factor when going into business with someone.

But we are so lucky to have a wonderful community and friends who gave us great advice and moral support. That gave us the energy to move forward. And we could never have made the transition without our two sons.

Mentors or role models?

Anja: Watching the way of life of my grandmother and my parents. Even through difficult times, the goal is always to do your job well and with pride. Maybe that is the infamous German trait I’ve heard so much about since coming to this country…

Jeff: I’d say all the entrepreneurs and small business owners were and are an inspiration. Hard work, integrity, and good customer service… the heart of any business.

What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

Sometimes it’s probably best that you don’t know! It forces you to be creative, to keep an open mind, and to trust yourself. We had been running The Perfect Edge for the last 28 years when the opportunity to get into the coffee business presented itself. This transition happened fairly quickly but things seemed to fall into place one idea at a time.

We knew that running two businesses was going to change our lives, but now that we’ve settled into our separate roles, we’ve adjusted well. With Jeff running the roastery and coffee shop now, we can finally come home and say: “How was your day, honey?”

Tips on managing work life balance:

It’s good to have passion for life AND for work. The satisfaction of loving what you do carries over into life. And when things get crazy it’s the small moments of joy that carry you through: a hug, a nice walk through the woods, getting your fingers dirty in the garden soil or making dinner together with friends.

Sum of Your Business: Brittany Todd

Intro by Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos by Photography by Brittany

It’s lucky that Decorah photographer Brittany Todd “never gets sick of wedding cake.” Because in the nearly seven years she’s been running Photography by Brittany, she’s surely eaten a lot of it.

Of course, weddings aren’t the only moments Brittany’s team captures – there’s also engagements, families, graduating seniors, and a shoot option called… “All Up in Your Business,” where – you guessed it – Brittany photographs your business.

Business is something Brittany has learned a lot about over the years. What started out as a hobby post-graduation has turned into a real-life career, and now encompasses a team of seven photographers, two cinematographers, and one marketing/social media expert.

Plus, the 29-year-old mother of two busy boys offers photography classes to the public, is involved in the community, and manages to, somehow, cook actual vegetables for dinner (much to her boys chagrin). On top of all that, Brittany recently moved from a home office to a studio space in Downtown Decorah. (Update: AND now husband Nathan and Brittany have added the Decorah Sugar Bowl ice cream shop to their list of businesses!)

Surely more than once, this busy woman has been requested to, “Teach us your ways of life!”

“I try to do it all and not pull my hair out, but really I am better at styling the mess on my head to cover up the craziness behind the scenes,” she writes on brittanytodd.com. “The main focus of my career is to capture YOU. Whether you are short, tall, blonde, brunette, married, single or anything in between: be that. My goal is to have you trust that being YOU is what makes you beautiful.”

The result is lovely, saturated images that speak honestly of life, love, and…well, the pursuit of happiness. We were excited to feature Brittany as our Sum of Your Business for this inspiring women issue because she is just that: Inspiring! Read on to learn more about how she manages to have her cake…and eat it too (what, too much?!).

The Basics:
Name: Brittany Todd
Age: 29
Business: Photography by Brittany
Years in Business: June 26 this year will start year seven of weddings!

1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

After graduating from Luther College in January 2010, I was certain that my calling was in Residence Life. I went through a two-month marathon process of interviews with 15 different schools and became a finalist at two different colleges. We were certain we were moving to either Dubuque or Green Bay. In April, however, everything changed.  I was informed by both schools, within one hour of each other, that I was their runner up and therefore did not have a job. At all. Anywhere. As a couple, we decided to stay in Decorah for another year since we were getting married that July and at least had some connections to odd jobs while we waited for a full-time opportunity. During that waiting process my photo-shoots became more frequent and more substantial. I wasn’t just photographing my friends’ kids anymore; clients were actually hiring me to shoot their wedding day, and I was loving every second of it! In August 2011, our first son, Carter, was born, and we decided it would be much easier to raise a baby with a photography career than in a college dorm. I slowly stepped away from a career in Residence Life, to a newfound dream career in photography. Fast-forward to 2013, and shooting was officially something that paid the bills, supported my family, and gave me great joy on a daily basis. It was then that I became my own boss and officially launched Photography by Brittany… in an office next to our living room.

2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

There are countless perks! I get to travel throughout the United States doing what I love! I get to choose my own hours. Yes, sometimes this means I am the last one to leave downtown at 1 am, but it also means I can take a day off to celebrate my kids’ birthdays, go on a last-minute trip with my husband, or spend an entire day focusing on filling my own cup, whether that means a lunch date with a friend, yoga sculpt at Reefuel, shopping downtown Decorah, or binge watching online classes or even Netflix. I can dress up on days I am with clients and wear sweatpants and slippers on days in the studio. A major perk is that through this seven-year journey, my kids have been a part of almost every single work day in the office, whether that office was in our living room or downtown in the new studio. They have their moments, of course, but sometimes the brutal honesty of a three or five-year-old is exactly what I need when it comes to choosing a location, setting up a shoot or just choosing treats from Beyond the Bar or Java John’s Coffee House for a client meeting. I know not every profession allows the flexibility that mine does, but just think how much more productive everyone could be if they could work during their personal prime time hours (I am a night owl) and be with their family as much as possible?

3. How about the worst?

Some days this list seems longer than the previous one, but I promise the good always outweighs the bad! I am the HR department, secretary, coordinator, president, CEO, and maintenance crew all rolled into one person. There is no guaranteed salary. There are no work benefits. Nobody gives me health, dental, or life insurance. There are no paid vacation days, paid sick days or even a single moment of paid maternity leave. When I first started, I took on any shoot that would come my way, including a family shoot the day before I went into labor with Carter as well as a wedding 13 days after he was born. (That is a story for another time, but, in short, Carter did great. Pumping in the doorway of a boat bathroom? Not one of my favorite life moments. 😉 )

There is not anyone to celebrate successes with in person. Cake in the break room is just not as exciting when it is your own birthday and you are eating it alone. Do not get me wrong, I love my days alone when I can crank the music and sing aloud while I edit, but there are many days when I wish there was someone here to celebrate with during the successes, and someone here to always get input from.

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

Not a specific hurdle, but there are definitely days and sometimes weeks that I stare at my work and think that I will never be as good others already are. If you think Pinterest is hard from a parent or teacher perspective, try looking at it through the eyes of a photographer (or a photographer mother!). Pinterest is amazing, and Pinterest is awful. I often remind myself that if I didn’t think there was someone better than me, I wouldn’t have anything to strive towards. The moments I doubt myself are the moments that make me a better photographer, business owner, and family member.

5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I highly recommend everyone start following Jeremy Cowart on Facebook, Instagram, or any other way possible. If you haven’t heard of “The Purpose Hotel” look it up! Jeremy is taking his talents of photography and expanding them into a vision that will help MANY people for decades, if not centuries, to come. His ability to run a business, expand the business and yet keep his wife and family as his number ONE priority is not only inspiring, but something we should all strive toward daily.

6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

Dear High School and College Self:

Your grades matter in order to keep your scholarships, but then they will be irrelevant. Stop writing down every single word that goes on the board and take a moment to truly LISTEN to those teaching. Social networking is everything. Relationships are going to build a business faster than money can buy one. Equipment is important, but without a solid work ethic, support from those closest to you, and an incredible client base, you will not be successful. That family and friend-base you have now? They’re going to support you every step of the way. Keep being kind to those around you, because those professors, classmates, mentors, friends, and acquaintances are all going to be clients of yours someday. Each will leave a photo session with a part of your heart, and give you a little more sense of self-worth.

7. How do you manage your life/work balance? You worked out of your house originally, and have recently moved to a space in downtown Decorah – what are the pros and cons to the move?

Working from home was fantastic. If you ever get the opportunity to do so I highly recommend it, even if it is just for a few weeks. While having a home office I would do laundry, make lunches, start dinner, vacuum, grocery shop, and play with my kids in between checking emails, editing, making phone calls, and creating online albums for client review. When the workday was over, so were all of our daily life tasks. Having a space downtown has been quite an adjustment to that, but I love it in a completely different way. I get to see more people (especially more adults) on a daily basis. I can still take my kids to the library as I used to, but when we return to the studio downtown I immediately have a sense to work, instead of picking up around the house. Although it is tempting to respond to an email as soon as I see that it has been sent, it is much easier to leave work at work, and be home when I am at home (check out Peter Awad’s “Slow Hustle” podcast for more on that concept!).

8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

It is a hard concept to perfect at first, but I have gotten better about telling myself that I cannot serve others if my own cup is empty. Giving myself an opportunity to remember that I will be successful today, in this moment, could be as simple as a 15 minute break with Pinterest or an hour long Skype chat with a friend to collaborate on fresh ideas. Occasionally, I feel like these activities put me further behind in my to do list, so I remind myself that if I do not take time to enjoy life, my family, and my friends, there is no purpose to my career. Yes, we need money to pay bills, but if we are not enjoying life as it happens, we are guaranteeing ourselves missed memories. I would be a hypocrite if I encouraged others to prioritize their memories, if I, myself, was not creating any. Because of this, my job inspires me during every shoot. Every client has chosen me over any other photographer to capture one of their most important moments in life. These occasions may be as extravagant as a wedding day or as simple as an annual family session, but to my clients, and to me, it is so much more than just a shoot. You never know when a session is going to be your last as a family, exactly are you as you are right now, so embrace the NOW! There is no greater inspiration than to know that this gift I have been given (and am constantly trying to perfect) is something that positively impacts those around me, with the simple click of a button.

More Than a Hobby: Tim Blanski

TimBlanskiTopPhoto

Tim Blanski of Granary Woodshops, Spring Grove, Minnesota

Story and photos by Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)

Historic dream home you’d finally saved up for? Check.

Corporate tech jobs and a community of friends provisioning a predictable retirement? Check.

Logical next-step: Give it all up for an acreage in the rural Driftless, funded by woodworking skills dated to junior high?

Wait. What?

TimBlanski“It’s true,” Tim Blanski of Granary Woodshops says. “We hadn’t been in our dream house in St. Paul nine months – a house we’d walked past for years and saved to buy – when an ad for this acreage caught my eye in the paper.” One tour of the 1880 brick farmhouse and outbuildings at 18666 County Road 4, north of Spring Grove, Minnesota, had both Tim and his wife, Lisa Catton, testing fate. “We got back in the car, and she asked, ‘Do we make an offer tonight, or tomorrow?’”

MoreThanHobbyLogoThe problem was, they’d have to make a different living to make the move. As a marketing executive with an eye for salable detail, Tim set up a woodworking shop in the acreage’s original granary and turned his attention to the growing trend of artisan crafts made from reclaimed antique wood. “At first I made just gift boxes, picture frames. I’m not God’s gift to woodworking – this was stuff straight out of your average school shop class,” he says with a laugh.

Lisa, who continued contract tech consulting part-time, pitched in with varnishing and managing the fledgling business’s public relations, and they peddled their first goods at craft shows across the Upper Midwest. Soon, Tim found his niche: a rare patience for not only salvaging historic barns and sheds but in working the wood just enough to let its story shine.

BlanskiLIveEdgeTable

“All my wood is trouble,” he says, explaining that he’ll spend days matching up weather-worn grooves at the mitered corners of a box, or travel a state over to have a one-ton white oak burl sawn into slabs with the live edge (the outermost bark or surface) intact. “I’m giving people the story of this wood, its history,” he says, “and that means not shearing it down to its smooth heart. I leave the saw marks, the nicks and grooves mice have worn a passageway through.” He also believes in letting the material’s colors create their own mosaic. “I don’t paint or stain anything. I work with the texture of the wood’s original paint or patina.”

Now specializing in custom furniture, particularly farm tables and decorative side pieces, Tom will build four or more buildings into a single piece: walnut for the base, cherry for the upright table trestle, rare 1-inch-by-12-inch barn siding across the top, oak trim fumed to a deep mahogany color by the ammonia of its previous installation: a horse stall.

LiveEdgeWood BlanskiShop

He also aims to give his furniture a full life of its own, calling in the mechanical expertise of other craftsmen to make the leaves in his tables sturdy, for example. “This is mortise and tenon,” he says, pointing to tiny rectangles inset in a table’s edge, “and these hold a single oak bridge across the leaves when fully extended,” he says, jigging a discrete set of polymer tension knobs just out of sight. “Reclaimed, antique wood is some of the sturdiest, most valuable wood to grow on earth,” he says. “Its worth is not just in looking pretty. It’s in doing a job, part of daily life.”

BlanskiBox

As his finished pieces have expanded in size and notoriety – it’s been nearly 15 years since that first handmade gift box – Tim has pared back art show travel, preferring instead to host prospective customers at the farm, where they can walk with him through his neatly stacked trove of woods in his barn and express exactly what they envision for their table or chair or entryway mirror frame. He makes a steady stream of contacts through his website, granarywoodshops.com, and on Craigslist.com, where clients are looking for something a little extraordinary.

“I started out woodworking to make a living, almost a desperate living,” Tim says. “And instead I found a passion. Creativity came pouring out of me. I get up every day excited about what I get to make next.”

Learn more about Tim’s work at granarywoodshops.com or by setting up a visit to The Granary Woodshops in rural Spring Grove, Minnesota.

————————————————

Kristine Jepsen understands the compulsion to ‘make things,’ as evidenced by whole drawers in her home of light-gage wire, glitter, beads, fabric scraps, papers and, especially, writing instruments. She’s proud to call the Driftless home, where creatives are far from the exception.

————————————————

Check out Tim’s work in Lanesboro!

Lanesboro Arts presents “Story Wood: Combining Nature & Rural History”, an exhibit of 3D woodwork by Tim Blanski. The exhibit opens with an artist reception on Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 6-8 p.m., and runs through June 12, 2016. The reception will include wine and hors d’oeuvres, as well as live music. Always free and open to the public, the Lanesboro Arts Gallery is open five days a week through May and six days a week through December. Inspire(d) is a proud sponsor of this exhibit! 🙂