Excuse Me Miss, Is This Your Coffee Shop?
A young woman wearing jeans and flip flops rushes through the door of the Severna Perk coffee shop offering apologies and explains that one of her younger sisters had hogged the shower (which explained the wet hair). Kaely Roe is not your typical business owner. While she still has to clean her room to avoid ticking off her parents, she is also responsible for a commercial loan and manages 10 employees.
Not surprisingly, the 20-year-old college senior has attracted publicity in local and regional papers for her brave move in assuming ownership of the shop that she once managed. The president of the University of Baltimore where Roe studies told the University Post that she is “a great example of what we know UB students to be—focused, hard-working and resourceful.”
But Roe takes it in stride. Over a latte, she reflected on how buying the store “ seemed like a perfectly natural, ordinary, perfectly aligned thing. What else would I do?” Signing the papers to take over the store was one of the rare times she has missed class. “It was so surreal,” she recalled. “It was like I had gone to the grocery store to buy something.”
The shop will mark its one-year anniversary under Roe’s ownership on November 18 and she plans to celebrate by offering customers free coffee between 6 a.m. and noon. The shop is inviting and reflects the style of someone who has both youth and a sense of humor. The sign advertising mints for sale near the coffee bar simply asks, “Coffee breath?” and the chalkboard menu lists “Real Food’ for patrons who want something more filling than a muffin or scone. (Real food includes quiche and breakfast sandwiches.) Customers can work on their laptops using the shop’s wireless network or borrow one of the shop’s books for a leisurely read.
The transition from manager to owner was a fairly smooth one -- Roe had worked there for four years when it was City Dock, then as Waterman Joe’s, and was already on-call as manager since she lived the closest to the store.
When the owners of Waterman Joe’s announced that they needed to sell the shop, Roe asked her boyfriend and parents, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I bought it?” No one thought it was a crazy idea and encouraged her to make it happen, including the owners. “They knew I wouldn’t gut it and turn it into something else,” she said. “They knew that I would take care of the customers.” Roe acknowledges that she had no idea about how to write a business plan, but credits Penny Cantwell, the loan officer at First Commerce Bank, for her advice and support. “The bank was incredible,” she said.
The reaction from customers has been positive. “Teenager Takes over Coffee Shop” was the story on CafeList, an Internet blog for coffee lovers, prompting one person to write “Go Kaely!! We love the fact that she has all of her cups in a row. We stopped in and were amazed at what she has accomplished.”
She did make some changes to the shop, the biggest one being the beautiful wood floors that her father and boyfriend helped install. Roe also switched bakeries and introduced several organic coffees. “I’m really open to new ideas,” she said.
Roe commutes to the University of Baltimore a few days a week, where she majors in government and public policy. She enjoys school, but admits there are times when her dual roles can get in the way. She cites as an example a time when friends were off to a party, but she couldn’t go along. Since Roe had spent the weekend doing taxes and payroll, she needed the time to finish a research paper. Roe works in the store from 6 to 10:00 a.m. three days a week, including Saturdays, when the conventional college student might still be sleeping off a late night of partying. Even the dedicated Roe is not fond of the early morning shift. “Six a.m. is gross,” she said.
However, she has yet to miss a class to fill in for an employee and she has been able to translate some of her classroom knowledge to the business world in which she also functions. “My business ethics class helped me write my employees’ manual,” Roe remarked.
Roe is almost a lifelong resident of the area (her family moved to Severna Park when she was eight) and the shop reflects her ties to the community; it even offers a “Benfield Blend” in honor of the road it fronts and customers can enjoy the mellow music of local guitarist Mike Zampi. And the walls are covered with photographs of the Severna Park Falcons taken by a local parent. Roe offers her wall space to a different artist each month – a venue that has become so popular that she is considering dividing wall space. As of October, Severna Perk’s walls are booked until August 2007.
After graduation, Roe may pursue work with a non-profit organization as she loved her experience interning at the Maryland Catholic Conference, which lobbies the State and Congress on pro-life issues and social concerns. But she plans to stay at Severna Perk for awhile. “It’s relaxing,” Roe said. “It’s a homey place. People are happy to see you.”