Alum of Management: Ada’s Cafe
The name Ada’s Cafe is a combination of the two most important things in founder Kathleen Foley-Hughes’ life: good food & community. Her passion for food developed early on with the help of her EasyBake Oven and her childhood friend’s grandmother, Ada. Later in life, Ada took on new meaning when Kathleen became the mother of a special needs son. Now, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a key legislation that protects and elevates her son and other special needs employees who keep Ada’s Cafe thriving.
Kathleen took our very first Business Intensive (the predecessor to our Quarterly Business Modules) back in 2013. At that point, Ada’s Cafe was just an idea waiting for the right time and place. Less than two years later, Kathleen came back to the Food Craft Institute classroom not only with a fully functioning business, but a thriving one in need of additional education in the face of expansion. This summer, we reconnected with Kathleen when she attended our Mission-Driven Management Module to learn how to continue inspiring her employees.
When did you first decide to start a food business?
I spent years working in finance and businesses that were interesting, but not creative. It was not until I was a mom, and a mom of a special needs son, that food became critical and meaningful. My son, Charlie, did not eat real food for the first eight years of his life. Food was everything at that point and truly the basis of survival.
When Charlie was in middle school and it was clear that his life path would need vocational skill development, I started a cafe on his school campus for the students in the special day class to learn to make a good pot of coffee and thinsg like banana bread and blueberry muffins. The Terman Tasty Treats Cafe was a hit and helped the students grow on so many levels. When this same group was heading off to high school, we asked if we could expand the program and create the Gunn Gourmet Cafe at Gunn High School. With the go-ahead, we expanded the days and menu items to include frittata and espresso beverages. The staff loved it and it again helped students at Gunn to feel connected to their community and like they were contributing to something special.
With two successful vocational education programs working, we thought it would be great to take this gem of a model into the community. We waited and looked and searched for a reasonable rental location and finally were the successful bidder for the vendorship of the space at the new Mitchell Park Community Center in Palo Alto. We were honored to have been selected amongst some well-established businesses. And that was how Ada’s Cafe was created.
How did Food Craft Institute’s Business & Management Modules help you grow your business?
FCI has been a great source of education and inspiration. It is so great to be around people that understand my passion about good food because they feel the same way. FCI brings people together to learn and then brings amazing speakers and professionals that teach us how to create businesses out of our passions. So great!
The classes I’ve taken at FCI have taught me better management practices and educated me about ways to inspire my employees and make sure I have the legal knowledge to keep us protected. As as small business owner it is also rare to have time to focus on the bigger picture. The classes have enabled me to feel like I have gone on a retreat to help take Ada’s to another level. And again, learning alongside other people who are in the same or similar place in their business development is such a meaningful piece of the experience.
Who is your biggest food inspiration?
I have a lot of food inspirations in the Bay Area. Emily Luccheti is my favorite pastry chef and we use many of her recipes for the pastries we make for the cafe. Alice Waters is such an inspiration for so many reasons – incredible yet simple food, her creativity, and creating and fostering the entire organics movement. Jesse Cool, another local chef and businesswoman who showed the Peninsula how to create delicious elegant food that was also locally sourced and organically derived. And finally, Michael Pollan who has educated so many people, young and old, about food, farming, ethics and simplicity.
Living in the Bay Area is such an inspiring place to live because of the emphasis on great food and entrepreneurship.
What do you envision the upcoming years will bring for Ada’s Cafe?
Having a full year of experience once we have our one-year anniversary on December 6th, and a year of data to draw from, will help us to make better decisions about staffing, training, menu development and marketing. I imagine we will take some additional classes at FCI which will help us to make decisions about our future plans for hiring and training more adults with disabilities and potential scalability.
Over the next five years, we hope to be able to scale Ada’s to help other communities in the Bay Area provide opportunities for people with disabilities. And, we plan to keep making great food!
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered?
Since we are a new business, every day is a new set of experiences that we have not had before. One of the best things about sharing the experience at FCI with other entrepreneurs is that I have quickly learned that everyone is having issues and challenges. Getting advice from an expert through FCI because someone else asked a probing question or made me think of something in a new way has been an amazing experience.
What advice do you have for new food entrepreneurs starting out?
Surround yourself with an advisory board of people who understand food service and the pitfalls of any new business and especially a food business. Take classes while you can, especially as you are developing your business plan and process.
And, take time to smell the flowers and enjoy the food you make!
Kathleen is an all-around inspiration. Don’t believe us? After seeing business owners like Kathleen collaborate during our Management Modules, we redesigned the last module of the year to include open space facilitation – a platform where Ada’s Cafe and other mission-driven businesses can share the successful metrics that make their artisan food businesses tick. Learn more and enroll on our website!