|Live Oak owners, Aaron and Renee' Deckrow|
"Conversations over a cup of coffee can be life changing"
A vintage light bulb, a record player spinning with reminiscent music, a soft embracing chair and artwork from local masters of the trade. Historical nooks echoing with years of business in days gone by are now shifting to the laughter of friendships, the listening ear of family members, the glow of a laptop and progress being made. The ambiance of Live Oak Coffeehouse bids one to come, and feel they belong and can find solace inside. Never was there a shop that so truthfully proclaimed that its heartbeat is to "love people" so well. To me, walking into "trendy" locations has always been intimidating. I am not the type to sit in a coffee shop, I don't fit the prototype, whatever that even is. And then came a different vibe on our very own Ashman Street, an everybody type of place.
Art Deco Ashman Plaza has quite a history, originally the Knights of Columbus and known for serving some wonderful fish fries, it eventually became the HQ for many other places of business and entertainment. For example, KC Bowling came on the scene with the bravest of live pin setters. Later, Ashman Plaza became known as the "The Blue Light Building" in 1966, booming with wedding receptions and teen dances. The building is rich with history, always a place that brought people together from groceries, dance lessons, Coupie's Butcher Shop, boy scout meetings, a bike shop, retail shops and the Secretary of State. It is now alive again, restoring that glory with businesses that not only bring people together, but help them thrive in every aspect. You can go to Ashman Plaza to find help in building your business, receive professional counseling, get your hair and nails refreshed, learn life skills, get fresh air for your lungs, have a photo shoot, exercise your body, let your kids play while having some parent-community time, learn to paint, learn to use your camera, have a trivia date night or learn to crochet... oh yes, and my main reason to visit... drink coffee. Ashman Plaza has been redeemed, to say the least. Although the entire building is intriguing and full of businesses to explore, Live Oak was my main focus for this visit. I wanted to hear the "what and why" behind the captivating little shop that is more often than not brimming with people.
Owned by Aaron and Renee' Deckrow and opened in 2017, their hand on this building has gone from transforming the building, to touching midtown. Renee's vision of Live Oak was to create a space for "makers, dreamers and doers", to do their thing, meeting and growing together in a positive atmosphere. Also, to form a place for friends and family to have those special, critical, memorable moments. She states "conversations over a cup of coffee can be life changing" because "meeting over coffee is so approachable". Live Oak was created to be a gateway to those important conversations, a gateway to good things happening in the community and a gateway to the other life breathing businesses in the building, allowing the employees and owners to come together and encourage one other.
Sitting with Renee', anyone will walk away inspired. Her passions reach deeply into her soul and she is sincere to the core. She is a thriving business owner, and yet will be the first to sit down and compare notes and be real that the journey is not all roses. "Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart" she notes, "but it can be very worth it". When asking Renee' to share with other business owners what she felt was the most difficult about owning a small business, she remarked with a gentle smile, "all of it". She continued, "all life is hard. Work is hard, being patient is hard, relationships are hard. We have to really embrace that to move forward with any of it". The phrase "do what you want and you won't work a day in your life" is not the most realistic perspective, in Renee's opinion, although the sentiment holds some truth because it's wonderful to do what you love, there is still always going to be a grind to it. "Being willing to have difficult conversations with others you work with is not easy" she shares, "and neither is being at the mercy of public opinion". To be a successful business owner these are some of the things Renee' believes one will have to wrap their mind around, as well as always watching for trend changes in their niche.
Yet the Deckrows are not people that dwell in the hard stuff. Renee' says her husband, Aaron, has been the greatest source of encouragement to her in the hard moments, always telling her to simply focus on doing the "next good thing". Perhaps Renee's most inspiring encouragement is to remember, "even dreaming is hard, but it is so important, it's like exercise". "Discipline is hard, but accept it and let it help grow you". Problems are "soil for a fresh idea" she says, and encourages that small business owners should take the growth of their businesses on their own shoulders instead of solely blaming trends, business partners, locations or employees. She states you can either run from the problems of business ownership or be flexible, come together and resolve them and be resourceful.
When asked what she loves about business ownership Renee' stated, she adores serving the community, this is seen in the way she and Aaron intentionally fill the building with businesses that breath life into people. It can also be seen in their ongoing of presence at community happenings, involvement in developing Midtown Midland Neighborhood Association, support of local food vendors,"Coffee Blitzs" that give exposure to other local businesses and organizations, and special events that bring community together like this fall's "Gather at Grove". Renee' and Aaron also cherish their employees deeply and know without a doubt that their employees are the heart of the business and the first to touch the community. Renee' also remarked she absolutely loves that Live Oak is a place for everyone. She is pleased that people can feel welcome and know when they enter the building, that no one is excluded. The environment truly is a mirror of their slogan to "Like Coffee, Love People". I noticed easily when I was there that it was a judgment free zone. Employees always greet everyone warmly, by name when they can, and serve with such positive energy.
|Daniel Terhune, General Manager|
Live Oak has been overseen by general manager, Daniel Terhune, from the start. Daniel abounds with the talent to run the show and is also a gifted expert of deliciousness. He is the sole creator of the menu at Live Oak, abounding with ideas from sandwiches, to "no-nonsense bars" all the way to creating the very syrups the coffee shop uses which make Live Oak such a very original experience. Day Managers Jazzmyn "Jazz" Benitez and Sean Bartley are gifted baristas who know the grind well and are known for their skill, likeability and hospitality. They, along with an average of 12 employees, make Live Oak thrive. Remembering names, remembering "the usual" and always smiling and serving with vivacious hearts.
|Day Managers, Jazz and Sean|
Getting lost in the inspiration of these business owners, I realize I have lacked really doing any "product" review. Which is fitting in a sense, as Live Oak is so much more about connections and people. But that said, with the same passion they have for seeing people connect, they are passionate to see that the people of Midland are connecting over products that are not only, worth while, but of highest quality imaginable. The skillfully made drinks are made with utmost consideration of the consumer, because the consumer is instantly friend, neighbor and family so their opinions and insight are richly valuable to the Live Oak team.
Great Lakes Potato Chip, Northwoods Soda, Mindo Chocolate Makers, GFB Bars, Fraser Tea, Esch Road Foods, Fruitbelt, Cultured Ferments Co., Creation Coffee, Katie's Kitchen, Cheeky Cheesecakes, Mittenprints, Simply Bloom and fresh produce, milk, and cider is used from local growers as often as possible as well. We highly encourage you to seek out and support these other wonderful businesses as we know Live Oak would encourage it as well.
Among the lovely staff and products of Live Oak, there is another iconic characteristic we have all taken in, the stunning mural by Mark Piotrowski at MARKed ARTS. The mural alone has changed the feel of Midtown, as it reminds us of the importance of enjoying moments of rest in life in order to be restored so that we are ready to let our dreams grow. It is also a great reminder that the effect of our dreams sends ripples into the lives of others as we are reminded of in Mother Theresa's quote "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across waters to create many ripples."
When asked what she treasures about Midland, Renee' was quick to say there are so many great opportunities in a town that is small, in the fact that you can easily connect and see people you know whenever you are out, but there is also the "culture and aesthetics" of a larger town. She also enjoys the way Midland cares about the community with so many opportunities like wonderful schools and many great parks.
Live Oak is a place made by dreamers, for dreamers. A place deeply inspired by world changers, for world changers. As a gorgeous tree filters the scorching rays of the sun to expose the healthy warmth of a place to gather safely in the shade, Live Oak and Ashman Plaza have begun to do the very same for the town of Midland. Providing a place to rest, relax and dream as dreams take flight. And although we are proud to claim that Live Oak's roots grow down into our great city of Midland, its branches are soon to be reaching to our neighbors in Uptown Bay City too! What a great opportunity for another great town to be blessed by the presence of positive small business!
Don't mind if we do.
Live Oak currently can be found at 711 Ashman Street in Midland
Article by Hope Krotzer
Photography by Michelle Delzer and Hope Krotzer