In an era when there is a Starbucks on every corner, the coffee shop experience can feel no more personal than a name scribbled on the side of a paper cup. But Kim Kaster, owner of Brewed Awakenings Cafe in Saline, has worked hard to give Saline a coffee shop where personality abounds and the community, not the cash, is the focus.
Kaster’s career plan didn’t start out with any thought to being an entrepreneur, however. “There was never a time in my life when I said ‘I want to own my own business,’” she said, as we met in her cafe recently. “It’s been my family that guided my career life.”
Kaster started out with a goal to be the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And she was on the path to that goal when she was approached by General Motors to work for them as an accountant. While working for GM, she met her husband, Mike, and then her son, Zach, was born.
It was at this point that Kaster’s life goals began to really change. She found herself wanting to stay at home with her son rather than work full-time. After their second son, Nick, was born, they discovered that Zach had multiple disabilities and medical conditions, and things changed even more. According to Kaster, “There will be turns, and you will have to change. When the changes were happening, I wasn’t always happy, but things worked out.”
Kaster and her husband had to make a decision about where they wanted to raise their family, with special thought to Zach’s disabilities. Kaster said, “We looked around and picked Saline, out of all the cities in the state, and have never been disappointed. This community has made Zach who he is. And he’s a wonderful young man.”
Kaster’s career continued forward, but in an altogether new direction. She co-taught classes at Wayne State University on how to teach by looking at the whole family, not just the student. She also helped run a program where she taught parents how to advocate for their kids. And she wrote an essay titled “Different Dreams”, about how you have to change your dreams when you have a child with a disability, which was included in the book, “You will dream new dreams.” (The title of the collection of essays coming from Kaster’s essay.)
After a while, Kaster began working at a coffee shop for fun, and fell in love with it. She loved working with the customers and being a part of their lives, and was upset when the owners of the coffee shop closed their doors. It was at this point that the idea of opening her own place started to percolate (pardon the pun…), and her husband and son, Nick, encouraged her along the way. “Without them this never would have happened.” Kaster did her research, especially on common problems that new businesses have. The number one problem? Working the numbers. “And I love doing that,” Kaster said. Her research done, she came up with a business plan for her coffee shop. And then, six and half years ago, the doors of Brewed Awakenings opened. “This place is like having a child - it feels like it’s been forever,” Kaster said. “You don’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of your life.”
A big part of Kaster’s plan for Brewed Awakenings was to make sure that it was a place where people felt comfortable, where they could stop and take a break rather than just grab a cup of coffee to go. The atmosphere is one of a cozy living room, with a piano in one corner and a fireplace nearby, with comfy chairs and lots of room for people to sit and eat and chat.
The menu, with many delicious sandwiches, baked goods, and drinks, was all created by Kaster. True to her background as a businesswoman, she did her research, and figured out what ingredients would work well together (like the Sausalito sandwich - Turkey & provolone cheese with cucumbers, cracked pepper, lettuce & Cajun mayo on focaccia; or for breakfast, the Daybreak - Guacamole, cream cheese, egg, bacon, tomato, parsley, salt & pepper; grilled on Italian), and created a menu with so many appealing choices it’s difficult to know where to begin.
They are also very picky and careful about how their coffee is brewed to make sure that their customers get the best cup possible.
It’s not just about food and drinks at Brewed Awakenings. Part of Kaster’s plan from the start was to have books and art for sale in the cafe. Saline author Claudia Whitsitt’s book “The Wrong Guy” was the first book Kaster put up for sale in her shop, and she now has more than fifty authors on her shelves. Also for sale are candles, jewelry, and original art by local artists and artisans, who get 100% of sales make in the cafe. Of this generous practice, Kaster says, “I didn’t do the work. You did all the work, and I have the space. It’s not about making money, it’s about being able to do it.”
Brewed Awakenings is also host to numerous events that are open to the public. Every Monday is Open Mic Night, which has been a staple right from the start. Then there’s live music on Fridays, opportunities to meet authors at their Author Nights, and even a chance to chat with Michigan State Representative Adam Zemke once a month.
With all of these things happening, it seems like it’d be hard to keep the place in tip-top shape. But not for Kim Kaster. One of the things she’s most proud of is that Brewed Awakenings just celebrated their seventh Zero Violation health inspection. And a Zero Violation is not an easy thing to come by - “In 20 years, the health inspector said she’d only given maybe 10 zeros.” So how does she do it? According to Kaster, when she hires people she talks about cleanliness, and her staff follows through!
If all of that is not enough to make her cafe unique, Kaster sets Brewed Awakenings apart in another very important way in the Saline Community. She gives back. A lot. “We’re successful, but we’ve never really made money, because I always give all of the money away.” She said that her husband’s job puts food on their table. “So this is sort of a passion project. I can pay it forward.”
This includes her Eat, Drink, & Pay It Forward event every third Tuesday of the month, where 20% of all food and drink sales for the whole day go to a different non-profit. No flier or anything is needed, it’s just an automatic deduction from the day’s sales. (This month it’s EHM Senior Solutions - formerly Evangelical Homes of Michigan - who has an anonymous donor who will match all cash donations for the month of October dollar for dollar.) On top of that, Brewed Awakenings’ website list the numerous local organizations, causes, and events which they’ve supported, including the Saline DARE Program, Saline Young Adult Program, Knights of Columbus, Saline Fiddlers, and many, many more. Kaster is happy to give back to a community that has done so much for her family, and especially for her sons. “I use the words lucky and blessed all the time, but I don’t know what other words to use!”
When she found out that Brewed Awakenings had won the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce’s Enterprise Award for Small Business of the Year, Kaster was shocked. “I was totally surprised. Someone nominated me? It wasn’t even that I won! People like my place? Wow! There are no words to explain how surprising and happy and blessed I feel that they chose me. Well, that they chose us. I could not run it without my great staff. They see the best in me and the worst. When the worst is coming out they help me get back out of it.”
Kaster said she kept thinking, “Why do they want to come to my place? I’m just an ordinary person!” But it is clear that Brewed awakenings is no ordinary place run by an ordinary person. It is a place that keeps the community at the forefront of its business plan, run by an extraordinary person who knows how to do it right. And while running a successful cafe may not have been her goal from the start, it is clear it is the place Kim Kaster was meant to be. While she didn’t end up the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she IS making a difference in big ways in a small town. According to Kaster, “I never expected to be where I am, and be happy.”
Hear Kim Kaster talk about her business and experiences recently on the Lucy Ann Lance show here: Link
The Saline Chamber 2017 Business Awards Dinner will be Thursday October 26th at 6pm at Stonebridge Golf Club. RSVP 734-429-4494, or at SalineChamber.org.