Most people who know me know that I love to hear, tell, and re-tell stories that I’ve heard, especially about other people. When I sat with Melanie Mills, the owner of Salmon Creek Coffee Company (SCCC) in Okanogan, Washington, she shared with me a little bit of her coffee shop story. I decided that it could be summed up in three words: vision, passion, & faith.
Vision. After graduating college with a B.A. in Ceramics, Melanie found herself working a couple different jobs before landing at Starbuck’s. It was here that her vision began to take form. She spent hours jotting down notes, thoughts, and ideas about having her own coffee shop. An infant, this vision was being nurtured by Melanie.
Passion. As she talked, I could feel the love she had for community, art, music, and what she felt a coffee shop can do for a community. This love is her passion and evident at SCCC. Just sitting with her, I could see expressions of her love of these things by the local art on the walls, the stained glass hanging in the windows, the music stage she had built, and the coffee mugs created by the art students at Okanogan high school. She’s passionate about having a sense of, creating, and enhancing community.
After working for Starbuck’s for six years, she decided to break away and work for an independent coffee shop in Alaska. Before heading to the Princess Lodge, she returned home to Okanogan for a month. Hmmm….I would say this was a case of “God playing chess” with Melanie by moving her there for that month to experience, well…life. I’d call it a move of the Divine with a Divine plan in mind with Melanie unaware.
Faith. Within a couple weeks of working in Alaska, Melanie found herself promoted and loving the indie coffee shop scene. After being there for a month, something happened which changed her plans. Melanie found out that she was pregnant. Faced with a decision to make, she decided to move back home to be close to the father of her baby. This was not a part of her plans, but she was going on faith that this was meant to be.
Back home in Okanogan, Melanie returned to working for Starbuck’s in nearby Omak. While there she continued to dream about creating and owning her own coffee shop. It didn’t take long. Melanie told me that with a little help and encouragement, the business plan poured out of her effortlessly. She told me, “It’s amazing what we can do when we put our mind to something.”
This is what I call “God playing chess.” Was she guided back to Okanogan for that month, to connect with someone that would eventually cause her to return home? Her dream was to have a coffee shop and the community has embraced it and perhaps even needed it.
Once she wrote the plan, things happened quickly and she was given a small business loan through a business development program from North Central Washington state. It was the speed in which she wrote the business plan and was granted the loan which added to her faith in this vision of creating a community space.
She was so excited to tell me how the loan came to her that she looked up the source for me. I realized that I had read a little bit about the program just a few days earlier in a publication that impressed me, the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship’s publication of “Community Success Summit” for North Central Washington. It showcased many of their programs created to build business and restore the economy, from investments in schools to art, culture, and agriculture.
I met Melanie on a Thursday morning and returned for live music that night. It’s a weekly event that’s offered as a collaborative effort between SCCC, Good Studios, and musicians. What really impressed me about this was that during tough economic times, they are all committed to offering the community a place to go and enjoy music without requiring a cover charge. Of course, in order for the events to continue, the Salmon Creek Coffee Company needs to make sales, the baristas tips, Good Studios a return of some sort, and the musicians compensation.
That’s where they all seem to have faith. It’s like in the movie Field of Dreams, the belief is, “if we build it, they will come….” They are building a strong community, and again, I believe they showed up for her, but Melanie showed up for the community.