Sarah first called me a couple of months ago, announcing she was working hard to open a specialty cheese shop in River Falls, Wisconsin. Yes, that River Falls - a thriving metropolis of 15,000 people. Big sigh.
Trying hard not to yawn, and instead thinking this was my requisite "call of the week" from a crazy person with a crazy idea who wanted me to magically help them achieve their dream, I politely listened. This caller did seem a little more enthusiastic than the usual suspects, and she did actually have a business plan and numbers to back up her dream.
Then she called me again. And again. And again. And by the fourth phone call, I really started to like Sarah Kowal. Because really, how many people are passionate enough to start a specialty food shop and cafe in a town of 15,000 people, and where winter is the predominant season?
That's why I smiled when Sarah, who is unfortunately faced with low capital and low collateral, announced she is launching an ambitious Internet campaign to raise $100,000 in 32 days to launch her dream, called WeatherVane Creamery. As a Wisconsin-only specialty shop and café featuring farmstead, artisan and specialty cheeses, as well as organic, small batch churned scooped ice cream, gourmet sandwiches, WeatherVane Creamery "will celebrate all things Wisconsin.”
You have to give her credit, the girl's got spunk.
Don't believe me? View the video she produced for the crowd fundraising site, indiegogo.com and then tell me this girl's not going to either succeed, or die trying.
So what inspires a twenty-something gal to embark on this path? It's a bit of a long and windy story, but I'll try to sum it up for you:
Sarah lived in River Falls 10 years ago as a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where she earned her Bachelors of Science in Horticulture. Yes, Horticulture. During that time, she worked at Whole Earth Grocery and began to appreciate the local business community on Main Street. In fact, she says River Falls is where she got her first taste of running a business (unless you count the paper route when she was 11 or selling donuts at her dad's auctions at age 10).
From there, she moved on to greener pastures (or so she thought) to take a job in Chicago for the largest horticultural company in the world. That didn't pan out as well as she thought it would, so after a year or so, so she became a store manager for Starbucks on the commuter train line in Palatine, Illinois.
Selling coffee on a train was where she found her calling. Starbucks rewarded her for being a leader in fiscal responsibility, employee development, customer service and community involvement. Eventually she made her way to Portland, Oregon, where she was hired to expand a natural foods co-op. She developed systems and teams for two stores and connected with farmers. Last March, she found herself in a position to create another new chapter in her life, and entrepreunership was calling.
"After recalling with great fondness the wonderful things from River Falls, I packed up my trusty sidekick and set out on an epic journey across the country that began on Easter Day to come home and put down some deep roots," Sarah says. "What started out as an idea to open a coffee shop has evolved and expanded to become a celebration of all things I missed during my 10 years away from my home state."
She says part of WeatherVane Creamery's mission is to provide the community with a local business that is smart and quirky. She describes the shop as an "iconic Wisconsin destination store that successfully combines and appeals to traditional sensibilities with a hip and modern feel.”
If successful, Kowal aims to open WeatherVane Creamery on April 1, just in time for National Grilled Cheese Day on April 12. Want to be part of her project? Contribute just $1 or more on indiegogo.com, and you can say you helped the spunky girl achieve her dream.