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Women In Business
Café owner has a handle on enhancing her community

Amy Anderson is proprietor of the Axe Handle Café, which opened last summer and is her second business in Kingston. (Tim Kelly photo)Her entrepreneurial success in Kingston is not quite a story of hometown girl makes good, but almost.

Amy Anderson wasn’t born here, but the owner of Cup & Muffin and the Axe Handle Café sure feels like she belongs here now. She and her husband, Mark, were grand marshals for the town’s annual Fourth of July parade last summer.

For several years before that, Anderson participated in the parade by handing out coupons for a free cup of coffee at Cup & Muffin, the local coffee stand she took over and revitalized six years ago.

“The streets are packed, and that’s the one time you can reach out and take somebody’s hand and give them something from your business,” she said.

Although she didn’t grow up in Kingston, Anderson’s deep family roots aren’t far away. Her grandmother was in the first graduating class at Chimacum High School, and she proudly notes that the house her great-grandfather from Scotland built in Sequim is still there.

She researched the local history of the Cup & Muffin site before going into business there. After the original owners who ran a drive-in restaurant had retired and sold the property, it became a Taco Bell and then drive-thru coffee stand as it went through a succession of short-term owners unable to make it a viable business.

Amy Anderson has owned The Cup & Muffin for six years in a spot across the street from the café.But Anderson saw a diamond in the rough, even though the coffee stand is flanked on Kingston’s main drag by competitors — a McDonald’s and a gas station with its own java hut next to the pumps.

“Cup & Muffin is my baby,” she said.

One problem with the place when Anderson bought it was the building’s drab, nondescript appearance, so she painted the structure orange to make it stand out.

Another issue was mediocre customer service, so she kept only one employee — a smiling 16-year-old who had been the exception when Anderson got coffee there before becoming the owner.

“She worked for me off and on for several years,” she said. “I started with one employee, now I think I have 10 there.”

The business lived up to its new name by offering muffins along with coffee, plus scones, cinnamon rolls and breakfast sandwiches.

“We probably sell as much food as coffee there now,” Anderson said, even though there’s no room to add inside seating. There is a walk-up window next to a few outdoor tables, on the opposite side from the busy drive-thru lane on the small lot.

“The place was built as a double drive-thru burger joint, Burger Landing, and the owners lived in the building behind it. They were very invested in our community,” said Anderson — and the same applies to her now, as proprietor of two local establishments.

“My favorite part of building this … is providing a space for people to come together,” she said on a recent morning at the Axe Handle as she greeted customers coming in to her café, where people sometimes walk in alone but see a familiar face and wind up sharing a table. She said one night recently a couple young guys she didn’t know came in, but a connection was quickly established when they pointed out their grandfather in some of the historical photos on the wall.

Those photos and the café’s name — even the repurposed axe customers grab to pull the front door open — honor the community’s history as a logging town.

The Axe Handle opened last June across the street from Cup & Muffin in the IGA shopping center. In a similar scenario to how Cup & Muffin started, Anderson took over a location that had been occupied previously by a coffee shop (Cuppa Bella) that didn’t last long.

She and her husband, Mark, had planned to open another business in the building next to their coffee shop. Her vision was a store/deli setup that would sell a variety of locally sourced items.

But their plans shifted when the owner of the IGA center, Rick Bjornson, approached them a year ago about opening a business in the space he had available.

“It was a little bit hard for Mark to convince me to scrap the business plan we had worked on,” Anderson said. But she’s happy with how things have turned out with the Axe Handle, which was closed for about three weeks after Christmas so the couple could complete some kitchen upgrades and other finishing touches that didn’t get done in the rush to open their café last summer.

Anderson, who turns 40 this month, prepared for being a hardworking entrepreneur by running a Seattle business called Espresso by Design for 10 years before she and Mark started their family.

“The last day I worked there was my due date with my daughter,” she said. Now her 10-year-old likes to come in to the café, “and she’ll put on an apron and wash dishes with the girls.”

When the Axe Handle reopened in January, it also unveiled an expanded menu developed mostly by Mark. Shepherd’s pie and peppercorn barbecued ribs have been popular items on the new dinner menu, and Anderson said another of her husband’s specialties, jerked chicken, will return this summer when the meat can be smoked outside.

Since the café’s kitchen is on the other side of a wall from a bookstore, it has some limitations to reduce fire risk. There is no grill and no fryer, which means no french fries, and no scrambled eggs or hashbrowns (breakfast dishes are served with roasted potatoes, and eggs are poached or cooked in individual containers.) The mostly grease-free kitchen has a panini grill for sandwiches and for cooking sausage patties and bacon, and a convection oven for baking.

The Axe Handle serves wine and beer, all from Washington wineries and area craft breweries. The café is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it serves breakfast only and closes at 2 p.m. — allowing the owner an evening for family time.

Anderson, who has 28 total employees at her two establishments and can do any job at either place herself, took a break over Thanksgiving after working long days most of last year to get her new business off the ground. She went to Hawaii with her friend Beth Brewster, owner of Kingston Adventures outdoor recreation business, as part of Brewster’s support crew while she competed in an elite double Ironman triathlon.

Now the ever-smiling Anderson is immersed again in running her coffee shop and café, which is where she wants to be.

“These are small businesses, so you have to be there, with your customers and with your staff,” she said. “Customer service and seeing people smile is what drives me.”

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