Member stories / Be Yourself / Small Business

Finding a New Dream: Kaya Coffee House

Words by Abbie Dyer on Aug 26, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Call it a stroke of luck or a chance of fate. When Emily heard that her old college hangout, a coffee house on the campus of Central Michigan University, was for sale, she knew that it was time for a major life change. Just a few months in as a business owner, she's loving the fact that she finally has the opportunity to call all the shots.

From the road, it looks like another brick building. As soon as you walk in, however, you experience a sense of calm. Students lounge on couches and friends gather around small tables, engaged in deep conversations. This is Kaya Coffee House in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Kaya, or "rock" in Turkish, thrives on its ability to attract folks from all over to serve as their rock, or place of calm during the hectic routines of daily life.


Finding a New Dream

The first time Emily stepped into Kaya, she knew that she had found her favorite place on campus. The relaxing atmosphere and colorful artwork easily make the coffeehouse appealing to students and staff alike. Kaya soon became her go-to place for studying, catching up with friends and holding meetings for the equestrian club. As an undergraduate student studying entrepreneurship at Central Michigan University, she knew that eventually she'd own a business of some sort. But she never imagined that one day the place that meant so much to her in her college days would be her own. 

Before buying Kaya, Emily lived in Texas working as the marketing director for a large corporation. She was at the top of her career living what many regard as the American dream, but something was missing. She didn't enjoy the corporate world and all of the red tape and politics that come with being in a position of power.


Taking the Leap

So when a friend jokingly messaged her over social media and said Kaya was up for sale, Emily took the message seriously. It was just the change she was looking for. While many would balk at the idea of owning a business without any experience, Emily didn't hesitate at the opportunity and embraced this challenge.

"If it [owning a business] scares you, do it. That means you're already thinking about what's going to work, what's not and how you're going to make it successful," she advises others who want to enter the world of small business ownership. 

Buying the coffee shop wasn't as simple as bidding on the property. Emily went through a rigorous interview process with the former owners, talking to them in person, over Skype and on the phone. The sellers were particular about who they would sell their business to because they wanted to see the shop continue to retain the iconic look and feel that was so revered by students and the local community.

A short time after her interviews, Emily received a phone call from the owners telling her that the business was hers. Shocked but delighted at the news, Emily and her partner decided that the sudden turn of events meant that it was time for a change. Though it was hard to say good-bye her partner's family, they packed up their things and made the trek back to Michigan to start a new journey. 


Figuring It All Out

In the flurry of paperwork, ordering supplies, going over the finances and working behind the counter, Emily is settling into her new role nicely. She's muddled through the challenges of hiring new staff members and developing an updated business plan. But the most rewarding part of her new job is being her own boss, sharing all that Kaya has to offer, with others.

"Kaya has a way of holding the original form of coffee. People come here because they like what Kaya stands for," she explains.

For a college town, Kaya has a very low employee turnover rate. This success, Emily believes, is because of the relaxed work environment and, of course, the customers. Kaya thrives on personal service and regular customers enjoy the consistency that they experience during each visit. A few customers even have a button on the digital cash register labeled with their name. 


Looking Ahead

Emily shows us that taking a chance and following your dreams is worth it. She has big plans for Kaya Coffee House in the coming years, including an expansion of the menu. Ideally, she'd like to expand her current location to include room for a larger stage and more tables. In the next three to five years, Emily dreams of opening a second location so she can spread the joy that Kaya brings to so many in the Mount Pleasant area. 

For now, Kaya will continue to bring a sense of home to its customers and friends.


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