More Than Money
Issue #40
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Money and Relationships

Table of Contents

“Café Kolache: The Small-Town Difference - A Conversation with Kristi DeMaiolo”

As told to Pamela Gerloff

Originally from Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Kristi DeMaiolo moved to Houston, Texas after college. She worked for 10 years in corporate banking, earned an MBA, then worked for Enron for a year before its collapse. While in Houston, Kristi tasted her first kolache [ko-la-chee], a bun made from sweet dough of Czechoslovakian origin. "In Houston," Kristi says, "kolaches are as common as bagels and donuts." When her job at Enron ended, she returned to Beaver, Pennsylvania, and, in early 2003, opened Café Kolache, which specializes in serving the pastries she loves. Here, she discusses her café and its effect on relationships in the community. [ See also " The Business of Business: Revitalizing Community Relationships ," p. 16]

As corny as this sounds, I wanted the café to have a "Cheers" atmosphere, to be a place "where everybody knows your name." And that is the way it is. When we see our regulars coming, we automatically prepare their favorite drink and what they like to eat-and we do know most of their names. When there's a line of people, often many of them will know each other; but even if they don't, they'll join in someone else's conversation. People comment on what a friendly environment we have.

I've tried to create that kind of atmosphere in different ways-from the people we hire to the colors and décor. We try to make everyone feel welcome: from senior citizens to business people to the high school students who meet here most Fridays before school. The café's back room is used for a variety of purposes, including Bible studies, wedding and baby showers, business meetings, and community events.

As much as I love kolaches, for me this is not just about our product. I love this business because it provides a place of comfort and community. Nothing makes me happier than to walk from my office into the café and hear it buzzing with chatter.

One couple comes in every single day. They love coming here-for the food, the fellowship, and the relaxing atmosphere. I get joy from seeing them watch other people. It's more than just peoplewatching; the joy comes from seeing the community that we've become.

There are two brothers in town who come to the café almost every afternoon. One has Parkinson's disease. Sometimes he has bad days and has difficulty ordering, but we're sensitive to his condition and can communicate with him. We bring a smile to his face and the brothers bring smiles to ours. We look forward to their daily visits. It's a reciprocal friendship that has developed among us all.

We also support local authors, musicians, and artists. A section of the café is used for book signings with local authors and features local musicians on Saturday nights. In another area we display the work of local artists. I'm happy to be able to feature our local talent and creativity.

This café has been a blessing to me. I work very long days, but I love every minute of it. It's much more meaningful to me than my former career. I'm thankful that it has become a gathering place within this community and that I'm able to provide an environment where employees can have fun while working hard to serve this community. When I originally sought financing, one banker asked me, "Why do you want to do this?" Here I was investing everything I had, with no guarantees. It was because I wanted to see the daily impact of my work. In the corporate world I saw only a small component of a big picture. Being a business owner in a small town opens up the opportunity to see results- to see relationships that are created every day through this business and to give back to the area where I was raised.

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