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Walnut & Park - Coffee With A Cause

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Walnut and Park coffee shop owners

Walnut & Park (W&P) has been open for a few months now where co-managers Tera Staten and Casey Grisolono are the backbone of an unusual coffee house operation. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit yet, the concept is one that may surprise you.

Coffee shop, boardroom for rent and catering are offered under one roof where most of the employees serving are residents of KPEP, an innovative community corrections provider in Kalamazoo. These employees multi-task preparing a menu that includes Water Street coffee drinks, homemade sandwiches, baked goods and other delightful eats all as part of a 10 week training program to gain job skills to help turn their lives around. The employees (former men and women who have been incarcerated), gain future employment and contribute to the community when they graduate from the program. Each will earn culinary arts and ServSafe certifications.

Behind the scenes, or sometimes right up front and center, Tera Staten and Casey Grisolono work tirelessly to keep their passion a reality as the business continues to thrive and they make a difference in their employees lives. Now that they have extended their hours and opened up the patio for the nice weather there seems to be an endless flow of people enjoying their time at W&P.

Staten, a graduate of Western Michigan University, moved to the area after college because she loved Kalamazoo so much. Her career, however, wasn’t always in coffee.

“I began my professional career at Stryker CMF where I held roles in customer service and marketing, but the majority of my time there was as the West Michigan sales rep. After 11 years with Stryker, I went on to work in sales for Elsevier in medical education for a few years. My work there was mostly web based and I began feeling a little disconnected, so I made the decision to make a radical change in industries and take on the sales role for Water Street Coffee Roaster.”

It was there she met her now partner, Casey Grisolono. Unlike Staten, Grisolono did grow up in the area, and coffee has been a staple in her career.

“I realized each time I was in a job that didn’t involve coffee, I missed it. That was my wake up call to get back to where I belong. I started as a barista after college and have worked at and helped open a few coffee shops along the way. Before starting this project for KPEP, I was the production manager for Water Street.”

Many changes have occurred for the business and the partners since the doors opened. So much so, that Grisolono has a hard time remembering what that original concept was.

“We have experienced change each and every day! It is hard to believe it has only been nine months since we joined this project. The transformation from conversations, to plans, to practice has been so gradual that I can barely remember what our original plans and ideas were. This program is always evolving, we’re making practices better and more streamlined, refining and redirecting. With a constant staff turnover built in, it helps to stay flexible.”

Staten wholeheartedly agrees, “Everything has changed. Things have moved and grown quickly. I have learned that there is no ‘business as usual’ when you are starting up. I keep waiting for that point but there is always something new to try, something to abandon, something to improve. It is still so new that it is hard to say which direction to take this project in quite yet because there are so many possibilities.”

The challenges of any new business can be overwhelming and the road to success isn’t always a smooth one, but the result is more rewarding than either one imagined. Both talk about the incredible transformation they get to see every day.

Grisolono shared the best thing about her current role is, “the joy that I get watching the transformation of each person in our program, helping our staff change their lives, knowing what we are doing is making a difference, this is a dream.”

Staten added, “The transformation can be remarkable and it’s always humbling. When I overhear or see one of my staff teaching a new person how to do something without being asked, sharing what they’ve learned, it’s simply the best, especially when you see them really helping and supporting one another.”

Thinking about starting a business? Staten shared “Don’t keep your ideas to yourself. Talk to anyone who will listen and then really listen to their feedback especially when it’s something you don’t want to hear. There is usually something very valuable there.”

Grisolono asserts, “Roll with the punches. A new business will change and grow each day, you have to be ready to make sacrifices and let go of ideas that sounded wonderful in theory but in practice do not work. Then be ready to make a new plan, come up with a new strategy or idea, and try to make it work. Don’t get discouraged. It can turn out beautifully in the end.”

When the dynamic two aren’t working they’re enjoying Kalamazoo’s culture, cuisine and people and you may even see Grisolono riding her ’77 moped with her glitter helmet.

Staten shared, “It’s a really wonderful and supportive community with so many creative and interesting people. And having a university in town adds to that as well. I’m such a huge fan...I could go on and on...I love this place!”

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