November 1999. Bill Clinton was president, “Livin’ la Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin was on the radio, and video calls on mobile mini-computers were still science fiction. After a year’s hard work, Linda opened Kavarna Coffeehouse and it was successful from the first day. That was thanks to you. Eleven banks, the local chapter of SCORE, and the rest, thought that a vegetarian café in Green Bay would never work. But Linda—then 29 years old—persevered, despite all of the skepticism and, let’s be frank, in-your-face sexism. She thought our community was ready for something new and you helped to prove her right! About a month later, home from New York City for the holidays, Alex walked into Kavarna and thought, “Who is this incredible woman?” Kavarna began as Linda’s dream, became a family business, and eventually, one of Green Bay’s most essential gathering places.
The world’s so changed 20 years later that it’s hard to remember how radical Kavarna felt when it opened. There weren’t other coffeehouses (Luna—a place we’ve always respected—opened about a year later), much less vegetarian ones. Long before the term “safe space” entered the lexicon, Kavarna opened its doors to everyone. The idea behind the business was to create change. So it pushed boundaries, introduced new ideas, and helped to make necessary things happen. The primary reason, aside from our menu, that we’ve survived multiple recessions is that our customers have shared our core values—it definitely wasn’t our wonky furniture. And in the past 20 years, those values—concern for the environment, the importance of local culture & food, social justice, and fair trade—have become much more ordinary. We can’t take credit for that, of course*, but it has been amazing to plant a flag in the fringes of the culture and slowly watch it become the center. There’s a lot that’s gone right.
We’re introverts, so we didn’t always tell people what we were thinking. The café was how we expressed ourselves and shared things we’d seen in our travels. Batidos were something we’d enjoyed at our favorite fruit stand just outside of the Everglades. Parisi’s Delicatessen was how I dealt with my grief for my father. Ideas came and went, like the Mussel Nights we held, or the Asparagus Dinner, the indoor croquet tournament, the ukulele nights… and on and on. Kavarna was the kind of place that you’d walk into and find a string trio playing dissonant music by Arnold Schoenberg. That happened one evening and a customer from out of town asked me if that was “normal for Green Bay.” I told him that Schoenberg’s very popular here. He may still think about that every time his team plays the Packers. Linda always liked to grow edible plants in the planters. She once overheard a customer, helping herself to tomatoes off the vine, tell her friend, “It’s a Kavarna thing.” There have been a lot of Kavarna things and we’ve had a lot of fun. And then there’s what you brought to Kavarna. The events you asked us to host, the art and music you made, the things that have been on your mind. Kavarna has always been a dialogue between us and you; even if we weren’t all always aware of it, even if it wasn’t always perfect. Our relationship with you has been a little different. We always meant for you to feel free to move the furniture.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve employed more than a thousand, including some of the most wonderful people we’ve ever met. We’ve served people about a million times and our customers have included U.S. Senators, international rock stars, best selling novelists, CEOs, professional athletes, the homeless, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. But the most important have been the thousand or so who have been our regulars over the years. Being open for a generation means that we’ve seen people come in as high school students, go on to college, meet their spouse, get married, and come in with their newborn infants. And sadly there have also been hospital visits and funerals. We’ll always set a place at the metaphorical table for Todd Buffa, Steve Wadzinski, and Peter Naze, among others. It wasn’t our intention, but we couldn’t have built a better observation post than Kavarna. And the very best of Green Bay passed through our doors. We certainly couldn’t have imagined a better way to raise our children. They’ve met incredible people and had wonderful experiences. They’ve also seen their parents at their best and their worst. Our biggest dream is for them to be better people than we are, and we think you’ve helped us to achieve that.
We never took it for granted that Kavarna would continue after us, so we are incredibly pleased to pass it to a new generation. We can’t wait to see how Mike and Kayla shape it by following their interests and sharing what they learn. We wish them well and hope that when they’re ready they’ll pass it along to a third generation!
We don’t know all of our next steps (though you’ll definitely see us selling hummus at the Farmers Market). But whatever else we do, we’re not likely to ever stay stand behind a counter for two decades and enjoy a community growing around us. This has been the biggest honor and privilege of our life. We wish that everyone could see the Northeast Wisconsin that we’ve seen. We are profoundly grateful. We would love to make a list of all of the staff, customers, vendors, friends, advisors, and allies who have sustained and inspired us, but it would be necessarily incomplete. So we hope you know already how much you’ve meant to us.
Linda and Alex Galt
We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Maybe a little.