Close to Home Espresso has been the stopping place for the Key Peninsula coffee-loving public for 25 years.
Owner Laura McClintock opened the stand in May 1993 in a space that was barely 7-by-8 feet, neither plumbed nor insulated and “very primitive,” she said. “For 19 years we had to carry fresh water in and all wastewater out. It was either freezing or like being in an oven.”
The business was transformed in 2016 together with the rest of the new shopping area anchored by the Food Market at Key Center. The new site is not only plumbed and air-conditioned, but is approximately three times the size of the original stand. The outdoor tables are a favorite meeting place for locals and their four-legged guests.
McClintock had a background in business before moving to the KP. She owned an upholstery shop in Seattle and had been a partner in another business, but commuting hassles prompted the decision to make a change.
“If you want to cry when you get in traffic, it is time to look for something else,” she said. “Once you decide to change, be tenacious about it.”
Before starting her own non-commute business, she enrolled in a small business incubator class sponsored by the Small Business Administration at Tacoma Community College. The class focused on developing a sustainable business plan. McClintock took the classwork seriously, she said. “I really worked at the plan. I needed to know if I could make enough money to keep the business going, needed to know if the venture would bring in enough money to support myself.
“You also need to realize how it will impact your life. You really have to think about that, it is not like working for someone else,” she said.
To assess the business potential, McClintock sat outside the old Walt’s market and counted cars and spent about a year working in a coffee stand in Gig Harbor to be sure she liked the work, and then scraped and saved to start up. “My mom had an old car,” she said. “I bought it from her really cheap and sold my newer Nissan Pulsar to get enough to start the business.”
One bit of advice she has for people who want to go into business for themselves is to have a plan that includes flexibility to take time off, and before signing a lease be sure to know your landlord. “If they aren’t reputable, the lease won’t do you any good,” she said.
Her business usually employs between seven and nine people. McClintock said they are a really tight group that works well together. If someone is ill, everyone pitches in to adjust the schedule.
“Nothing is more valuable than a good employee,” she said. “Perhaps the most important thing about being the boss is to appreciate your employees. I knew I had been a good worker (at past jobs), but felt that my work was not appreciated. It doesn’t cost anything to treat employees well.”
Margaret Heidal, one of those employees, said, “I have been here 19 years and I don’t even have seniority; that goes to Jamie, who has been here from day one.”
Four members spanning three generations of the late Delores Leigh’s family including daughters Christa Halinen, Jamie Beimford and granddaughter MacKinzie Feyedelem have all worked at Close to Home Espresso over the years.
“Eventually, I would like to devote more time to artwork, do something different, get an RV and go traveling,” said McClintock, who is also an accomplished artist. But in the meantime, “The best thing about the job is the customers,” she said. “I love my customers, love those special customers, and the best part of the job is talking to people.”