Women in the Workplace: Kaffeeklatsch

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kaffee 1Annette Heide-Jessen has felt the sting of the gender gap. She says that, in many ways, it’s still a man’s world. But she is candid about what brought her, a native of Berlin, to Seattle: It was a man. By the time the two parted, however, she’d fallen in love with the city: the mountains, the water and, more importantly, the people.

It was partly that connection to people that drove her to open Kaffeeklatsch, her coffee shop and bakery, in Lake City in January, 2011.  As she explains, “I had lost my job and been unemployed for two years.  There were not any independent coffee shops in Lake City, so I borrowed money with a business partner and opened the shop, creating a job for myself and jobs for others.” The hardest part was negotiating the original bank loan and then, most recently, she bought out her business partner.

She now has eight employees and, after three and a half years, she no longer has to get up at 3:30 a.m. every day to bake – only when key employees have a day off.  She still puts in 60 hours a week, but relishes the shop’s popularity. She says, “I can’t do a lot of outreach, but everyone meets here and I can connect them.”

Although she’s had success, she wrestles with gender realities:  some subtle, some not so subtle. She cites the difficulty of getting repairmen to explain what caused the mixer to malfunction to a mere woman. Then she points out, “I just got my health care coverage. A man, my same age, has the same coverage, the same plan.  I pay $100 more. Just because I’m a woman.”

kaffee 5Heide-Jessen says that fall and winter are the best times at Kaffeeklatsch. The bakery turns out pretzels—a huge hit during Oktoberfest, ginger cookies and other holiday treats. “More people are likely to stop in for a warm cup of coffee or tea in the chillier months and buy more when they’re in holiday spirits. This is why food banks are stocked in the Winter, and have shortages during the summer months,” she shares.

Although even in the summer, the bakery is always a popular meeting spot and its half dozen tables spill over with locals and with those of us who relish the irresistible smells of baking bread and savor the daily soup and sandwiches. Everything is made and baked in-house. “It takes two things to run a successful business,” Heide-Jessen says, “hard work and a big heart.”

Beyond being a small business owner, Annette is elbow deep in the Lake City community, recently working to attain an “Only in Seattle” grant from the city. And then there are her connections with the Lake City Alliance, the North Seattle Chamber and the Lake City Farmer’s Market, where she sells baked goods.

“We put the loaves and cookies on a cart and walk them over,” she says, pointing out where the market sets up on Thursday afternoons, just a block away.kaffee 7

She’s enthused over the work market manager Molly Burke has done at the Lake City market.  Burke has arranged kids activities and events like meetings of the Northwest Knitters. There also are handy bins to help stock the shelves at Northwest Helpline.

Heide-Jessen’s parents in Berlin, and 23-year old son who is studying at Evergreen University, are proud of Annette’s achievements.  She says, “My parents are on social media, although my mother is 77 and my dad’s 81. They follow Kaffeeklatsch on Facebook.”