KATHY GREW UP in Detroit, worked 20 years as a deck officer on a freighter for the Merchant Marine, met her husband at a Halloween party, birthed two daughters in her 40s and then, with no business experience, opened a coffee shop in December 2010.
That’s the life synopsis of the woman behind Singing Hills Coffee Shop in the southern Minnesota lakeside community of Waterville, best known for its bullheads and Buccaneers—as in the local high school champion football and basketball teams.
One-third of a stately, anchor brick building on a corner of Waterville’s Main Street houses the coffee shop. It’s as inviting on the outside—with bistro tables and a bench and window baskets popping with hot pink petunias and luscious ivy spilling from pots—as it is inside.
On an early Sunday afternoon, 45 minutes before the 2 p.m. closing, Kathy hustles to prepare sandwiches and ice cream treats while her 10-year-old daughter, Marina (yes, her name is a nod to Kathy’s time on the water), takes orders, accepts payment and makes change.
In a comfy corner chair, Kathy’s friend, Kari, is reading her bible, seeking comfort at the recent, unexpected loss of her 36-year-old cousin. Light floods the homey space warmed by walls the hue of honey on two sides and a contrasting robin’s egg blue on the other.
A printed sign on a slim spot between two towering windows reads:
Conduct Code—Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat other people the way you want to be treated!
Kathy welcomes customers and artists here, into this corner haven in a town that thrives on summer-time business from resort guests, cabin dwellers and users of the recreational Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.
Her customers come here for the ever-popular smoothies and the favorite turkey avocado sandwich, for the coffee and the espressos and other beverages, for the breakfast and soup and sandwiches and salads and baked goods and ice cream treats.
On this Sunday, my husband and I have driven 15 miles for an ice cream treat upon the recommendation of our friend, Joy, who raves about the maple bacon sundae.
As Randy places our order with Marina, I chat with Kari in the corner, take photos and admire a focal point, 6-foot by 4-foot oil painting by Tim Foster of Northfield. His fish-themed art piece, titled “American lures,” is “so Watervillian,” Kathy tells me later, fitting this lakeside town which celebrates bullheads at an annual June festival. There’s a deeper meaning to the painting in which words like “love” and “prove it” and “Federal Reserve Bank” are hidden, Kathy says, but we don’t get into details.
Kathy works with the nonprofit Waterville Local Cooperative Outlet to provide a marketplace for some 8-10 local artisans and crafters. Their creations—from woodcrafts to crocheted caps, paintings, photos and more—are displayed on walls and on shelves through-out the coffee shop.
Engaging the arts community exemplifies Kathy’s efforts at community development. That extends to the food aspect of her business, too. She wanted, she says, more dining options than bar food burgers and fries for the town she and her family now call home. And Kathy offers that with a sandwich menu which doesn’t include a single burger. The closest thing to fries are the chips accompanying sandwich orders.
On her sandwich menu, you’ll find choices like egg salad on a croissant; veggie wrap with hummus, provolone, red onion, red pepper and spinach; and cherrywood smoke ham with garlic cheddar, tomato and mustard sauce. You can build your own sandwich, order a cup of soup.
Hungry for a bakery treat? Kathy has selections from cupcakes to pie to traditional Upper Peninsula style pasties, a tribute to her native Michigan.
But, on this Sunday, I’ve come only to sample the maple bacon sundae with spicy maple-glazed pecans, homemade maple caramel and bacon, yes, bacon, on vanilla ice cream. My husband questions my choice. I don’t, and find the sweet and salty mix a perfect complement to the ice cream. I’d give the maple bacon sundae a five-star recommendation.
My less daring spouse orders a blueberry sundae and is equally pleased with his selection.
A retired couple who spend their summers at a Waterville resort rave about the sandwiches while two moms ordering ice cream for themselves and their kids endorse the ice cream.
Kathy, though, admits that business growth was slow during her first year and that she’s still learning, given her inexperience as a businesswoman. With summer winding down, she’s cutting back on hours. Singing Hills Coffee Shop is closed now on Mondays and Tuesdays, but open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday and from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sunday.
On October 14, the coffee shop will close for the season and then reopen in mid-April.
So, if you want to try that maple bacon sundae…
FYI: For more information about Singing Hills Coffee Shop in Waterville, click here to reach the shop’s website.
To learn more about the arts scene in Waterville, specifically the annual Sakatah Arts Experience, click here.
For more info about Northfield artist T. Andrew Foster, click here to visit his Creative Space Art Studio website.
Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling