We chat with the Kentucky business owner about her café Bird Dogs Coffee.
BY SAMANTHA TAMPLIN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Kasey Towles
Small-town café owner Kasey Towles (she/her) speaks with us today about running a local business in Owenton, Ky. Kasey opened up Bird Dogs Coffee in 2015 with her husband, Randy. She details the arduous process of starting a family business in a rural area, the role her community plays, and plans for the café post-pandemic.
Note: This interview has been condensed for brevity.
Samantha Tamplin: What gave you the inspiration to go into the coffee business?
Kasey Towles: Originally, I had my gift shop, Kasey’s Corner, and I was going to add a little coffee bar. Well, Randy and I were trying to think of something we could do together that would be really good for the community and good for our hometown. He said, “Why don’t we just do a coffee shop with your gift shop, like a real coffee shop?” We always gravitated to the atmosphere of coffee shops, so we looked into it and decided to do it. Since Owenton is so small and there hadn’t been a coffee shop there before, we knew we would have to focus a lot on food instead of making it strictly a coffee shop. So anyways, we just started going to even more places, and talking to owners. Everybody was really kind and helpful and encouraging. We learned a lot from people. The main thing we learned was to be really slow to hire, to make sure we hired really kind people. It was important to us to create a friendly atmosphere.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of running a business in a small and relatively rural community?
Most people were really looking forward to it, but it took us a really long time to do this, for several reasons. We were going wholly into this; we were selling our dream house and going to take that money and put it into this coffee shop and to redo the apartment upstairs. It was a really bad time to sell a house and it took a while to get the ball rolling. Another reason why it took us so long to open up is because we were doing almost every bit of the work ourselves. Randy was working full-time so the only time we had to work on it for a year and a half was either late at night or on the weekends, if he wasn’t working overtime. You know, right there that slowed it down.
Did being in a smaller community where everyone is more spread out make it more difficult to drum up business initially, or did you feel you had more of a monopoly on the coffee market?
I think that was definitely an advantage. And I think because of me having a gift shop before and my mom having a gift shop, my family had a good reputation. I think people just believed that it would be good. And they were excited about it. Everybody knew us, it wasn’t as if we just popped into Owenton. When I was young, I worked on the tobacco farm and was in the women’s club with my mom. And I was the little kid that got to hang out with all of the ladies, it was wonderful. I’ve worked a bunch of places in town and I guess I had a good reputation.
You mentioned how retail has always been an important aspect in your business. How has it remained a part of Bird Dogs today?
The café came first. We were selling a little bit of retail here and there because my family had sold stuff for many years. But Bird Dogs ended up making a name for itself as a coffee shop first, then we opened up Luvie’s [retail shop] and Full-O-Loves [venue] next door. They all feed off each other and we always knew they would work really well together because it’s more like a little destination where you can bring your friend or your mom to come and have lunch and then go shopping.
Are you planning on bringing live music and other community events back to Bird Dogs?
I think probably just getting the live music started back, maybe once a month, would be a good start. And I loved doing that Ladies Night where we did a different craft every Thursday night. That was successful and fun. We did wine tastings and beer tastings, you know, it was something different every week. I really enjoyed it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samantha Tamplin (she/her) is a recent graduate from Eastern Kentucky University with a B.A. in journalism. She spent her time in college writing and editing for the university newspaper, the Eastern Progress, and traveling abroad with the EKU Honors Program. Currently, she works as a barista for Cincinnati’s Coffee Emporium, and plans to begin teaching art lessons this summer.