One on One with…Beth Doonan of Beth’s Kitchen Cafe
By Dawn De Busk
Beth Doonan is a mainstay at her namesake coffeehouse — a familiar face with an easy smile and flour handprints on her black apron. At Beth’s Kitchen Café, people know that they can find gluten-free products and homemade meals that satisfy the palate. People know that they can get their caffeine fix while supporting local roasters. People know they can rely on the cheerful and welcoming service from early in the morning through the afternoon.
What people don’t know about Beth they might find as pleasant as the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and still-warm cinnamon rolls.
Although hesitant to reveal her private life to the public, Beth explains how she has honed in on her own spirituality and found her true calling in life through baking and serving others. Beth is proud to have been a single mom and doesn’t have a doubt she will always be a solid foundation for her two children, who are now young adults.
Beth’s list of outdoor recreational activities, that she embarks on as a way of relaxing, is as long as her workday check-list at the café.
Beth is not afraid of hard work. But, then that is something people already know about her.
B-News: How long has Beth’s Kitchen been in business?
Beth: Going into the ninth year. Next year, I feel it is safe enough to have a grand opening! I always said in my tenth year of business I would feel okay to celebrate.
B-News: What was your first job?
Beth: Being a chambermaid at the Pollock Rip Channel Motel in Chatham, Mass., when I was 14. Before that, I would help my brother with his paper route and I babysat and mowed lawns. In 6th grade, I sold homemade lollipops in school.
B-News: It might sound a bit like a resume, but could you please list the jobs you have had leading up to Lampron’s Convenience Store and owning Beth’s Kitchen Café?
Beth: After graduating from Champlain College in Vermont, I went to work on the Cape. This is where I began to work in restaurants.
- Captain William’s House in Dennis Port, Mass., waitress
- Captain Bearse House in Yarmouth Port, Mass., waitress
- Chimney sweep in Harwich, Mass.
- The Landgrove Inn at Cape Cod: resident inn keeper, reservations, kitchen, catering, groundskeeper. (At the time I was dating a chef. we lived and worked at the Inn. I learned so much and began to understand my passion for service and food.)
- WilloughVale Inn & Cottages on Willoughby Lake, Westmore, Vermont: hostess and event organizer helped manage the dining room
- Old Cutter Inn & Restaurant in East Burke, Vermont: waitress.
At this time, I returned to college in Lyndonville, Vermont, to expand on the service part of my passion. I signed up for counseling and human service but found out the further I went in this area, the more paperwork and bureaucracy, which would take me away from actually connecting to people the way I needed to.
- 1999, the co-owner of Emery’s Market in Fryeburg
- 2001, Lampron’s Convenience Store manager
- 2008, Beth’s Kitchen Café
B-News: How would YOU categorize your business, such as bakery, café, coffee house?
Beth: Beth’s cafe is a meeting place, eatery, bar, bakery and coffeehouse. The second floor houses The Maine Event Prom Project, which is a nonprofit organization that makes gowns affordable for people. The third floor will be an apartment.
B-News: When you were working at Lampron’s, what prompted you to make the move to open your own business?
Beth: The aftermath from the sale of Lampron’s, the economy, and the opportunity — I just wanted to serve and cook for people.
Lampron’s was sold to a corporation. The paperwork and meaningless tasks took me away from cooking, connecting with people. It was 2008. We were in a really bad recession and I knew I could make more on our dollar than a little Ameritrade account, which was going backwards. A local property owner told me about a space and some equipment that was for sale. When I entered the space with Maddy (my daughter), something very magical happened. I felt a powerful conviction that I could serve and cook for the community! The whole idea absolutely came together. I felt the spirits of the tearoom women and their support for my café. It may sound creepy, but it wasn’t creepy at all. They are there.
With the support of my family, we moved forward. I was up and running in about two months. Three years into my business, I was approached by the Cool Moose to buy their building. I wasn’t financially ready then. Two years later, I approached them and asked if the offer was still good. It was. I was ready to own and work on securing my future. I moved from 82 Main St. and purchased 108 Main St.
The spirits are different. There are men smoking and playing cards upstairs. They were not as ingratiating as the tea women but we warmed up to one another. I think they like me now. I respect their space; they are my keepers.
B-News: At that time in your life, when you were deciding whether to open Beth’s Kitchen you must have weighed the risks and benefits? What was going through your head as you decided to “go for it?”
Beth: Fear was the biggest motivator, the fear of not embracing this opportunity to follow my passion, which was acutely clear. At this time in my life, I understood what it was to do the footwork and let life unfold, keeping openness to all opportunities and doing what I knew was required — staying committed and putting in the time.
B-News: What was on the list of risks involved in opening your business?
Beth: The biggest risk was failing. I always said to my kids, “If this doesn’t work, your mom will find another job!”
B-News: What was on the list of benefits involved in opening your business?
Beth: The benefits are being challenged mentally, physically, emotionally and creatively. Another benefit is being excited about every next day!
B-News: Would you please name the top three reasons that you say to yourself that the risk was worth it, the reasons that make you glad that Beth’s Kitchen is a thriving business?
Beth: I make a living at what I love to do. I am giving my kids the opportunity to work and learn important life skills. I have the opportunity to stay a humble server. I think we make people feel special when they walk into the café. I am loving people through service and through food.
B-News: How early does your day begin?
Beth: 4:50 am
B-News: Describe a day of the week, a day running your business?
Beth: I wake up, dream of the specials, post the specials, make the specials, cook, bake, do dishes, cook, bake, do dishes, connect with the community, cook, bake, prep for the next day, pay bills, go to bed, dream of the next day, get up and do the next day.
B-News: I’ve heard people in the community describe you as hardworking? Is hardworking a word you would use to describe yourself?
Beth: Yes I work hard but it isn’t drudgery. I am driven to be the best I can be almost every day. How can I serve better? The challenge drives me.
B-News: What do you do to chillax = chill-out + relax?
Beth: Relax? Well, I sit still a little but I find fresh air and sunshine by bike riding, running, kayaking, hiking, building, snowshoeing, skiing, paddle boarding and playing in the rough surf. I love to go on picnics. I like solitude, too. A new love is sea glass hunting. Swimming in water, preferably salt water. Salt water is invigorating. It’s where we come from.
B-News: Who is your favorite woman in history? Why?
Beth: Annie Oakley, renegade, energy, she was good at what she did, persevered in spite of obstacles. We still remember her! And, I cannot forget two other women, Malala for her courage and Mother Teresa for her commitment. All three were driven by an unquestionable innate sense to be of service.
B-News: Who is/are your female role model(s)?
Beth: Great Grama Amy Lippmier, Grama Lucille Fenton, Nana Molly Doonan, and my mom Judy Byrne.
For equality purposes and because he was such a great dad, I have to mention my dad Bill Doonan. My dad’s name for coffee is the namesake for our house blend “tudicohee.”
B-News: You said that you are a doer, a builder not a reader. That you would rather read do-it-yourself books? Could you please expound on that?
Beth: Whenever I was given a book I would count the pages to see how long it would take me to read it. Ugh, comprehending what I read was a struggle unless it was teaching me how to do stuff. I can read recipes forever; I can read how to build stuff forever; I can look at beautiful colors forever. An occasional biography is good.
B-News: What types of books did you read to your children when they were little?
Beth: I surprised myself on how much I read to my kids but I liked books that had really nice artwork to go with a good story.
I Love You to the Moon and Back — that book had moving parts, which made it fun and interactive. I memorized Good Night Moon. Maybe, we all do as parents.
B-News: What are the names and current ages of your children?
Beth: Madeline is 23; Conor is 20.
B-News: What words would you use to describe yourself as a mom?
Beth: Committed Mom. In life, there are not too many guarantees except me being their mom.
B-News: Would you please share a few found memories of being a mom when your girls were going to school — elementary school, middle school, high school?
Beth: When my kids were little, we would start each day sitting in front of the woodstove in the kitchen, drinking hot cocoa and coffee for me. They had kid-sized mugs just like mine. Ben, our chocolate lab, enjoyed it, too.
When they were both on the same baseball team, I would put them in a bike trailer and ride them to the Denmark Town Hall for games and practice.
B-News: List some of the things that your family liked doing together when your children were younger?
Beth: Showing my kids how to make maple syrup, getting food from the garden, night skating on a frozen big puddle in our yard, annual Thanksgiving Day hikes while the turkey cooks, and I loved to watch my kids in sporting events!
As a mom the most exciting things for me was to expose them to as much as life had to offer, especially the things that didn’t cost anything. If you let yourself be bored, get creative and work out of it. Like my Great Grandma Amy would say, “Make something out of nothing.” Providing for my kids and having a safe and predictable home for my kids meant a lot. Even today, it’s important.
Being a single mom gave my kids and me a special opportunity to cooperate with one another to make it work. They became responsible and resourceful at an early age. My kids and I have always enjoyed doing stuff together.
B-News: One of your employees is your daughter — does the work relationship usually work? Is it ever a challenge to work together? When you and your daughter are on shift together, is the interaction smooth and why? What have you learned through working together?
Beth: Both my kids have worked with me. They were and are a huge part of my success. Of course, there were times we wanted to kill each other. For my kids to learn not to take professional directions personally was important. Conor never really took things too personally. Although when he was little, he would disappear and take a nap on the storage shelving. Maddy and I crack up today about one day when she totally disrespected me in her reaction towards a professional expectation. I grabbed her arm as tight as I could and just stared at her because if I opened my mouth I would have gone to jail! A quick silent pinch works, too. Really, my kids have a great work ethic and there are no problems. I’d love to have Conor back from time to time. It has been a joy to have Maddy back for a year. She will be pursing her future this fall. The cafe will always be there for my kids. They pretty much grew up with me in the business. They gave me the courage to go even farther.
B-News: I bet you are busy; do you have time to attend or belong to any business women clubs or groups? Do you belong to any groups or organizations in the town of Denmark where you live?
Beth: I don’t really join groups. It’s not about lack of time. Things get done in the field.
The only group I’ve been a part of is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I’ve been sober for 26 years. It has taught me what’s important and how to live the life I was meant to live. I don’t wish addiction on anyone but if you have the disease, living a sober life is an amazing choice.
B-News: In what ways is Beth’s Kitchen plugged into the community of Bridgton?
Beth: Beth’s plug-ins are employment, financial donations, a meeting place, community support and positive examples.
B-News: Since the month of March was International Working Women’s Day, what advice would you give to women who wanted to start a business?
Beth: Advice? Stand alone, throw all expectations out, start small, be patient, work, do, be honest and hone in on what moves you. What moves you is the reason why you are here on earth.
As a child what came easy to me is what I like doing and what I am good at and what you keep coming back to. Mine is service and cooking.
Once you are in tune with this undeniable and unique quality (passion), then invest in yourself, put it all on the line, expect to feel alone, feel afraid, find your own answers.
Because you love what you do, you have the faith to keep going and you even have faith in failing.
It’s amazing how opportunities just continue to unfold.