(Entertain me for a few days with this one. As I began writing, I realized that this was WAY to much for 1 post and it needed quite a bit of back story and history to get the point across! So, mini series time!)
When we were living in Bozeman, Montana trying to open EVOKE in the early years, 2005ish, we found ourselves eyeing a part of town that was somewhat a fighting grounds between the long term residence, the City of Bozeman, and new businesses and developers like us. The city was growing rapidly, even then, and the boundaries between Downtown Bozeman, MSU, and other areas were pushing further and further “out” into areas that had seen a decline in activity over the years. We loved the potential but knew it would take some work with the community for acceptance. We believed in that connection. It was genuine and from the heart. But would they believe us?
That corner was Wallace and Peach.
Have you heard of “blighted land” or areas in your city? LegalMatch.com defines “Blighted property” as the legal term for land that is in a dilapidated, unsafe, and unsightly condition. As you can image, when cities begin to call areas of town “blighted” it can cause lots of emotion. They oftentimes do this to free up money and assistance programs for new development (often through TIF Districts) but if you still called that area home, you can see how that might feel like a slap in the face. It probably is. Some might call it a necessary ‘eviction’ in order to make the community better, stronger, and relevant. If that means you lose your home, it’s tough.
We felt the pressure of all of this and were crazy sensitive to it. Hell, we were a couple of kids that had just moved to town and had no history in the community. We got it. We truly wanted to be a place for the community, a neighborhood alley, a bright spot for the locals. We wanted to be integrated, a part of the story, a neighbor.
Bozeman Mill District
We began working with a developer and real estate group who was working to create a new district in Bozeman. This new district sat in the midst of the Northern Pacific – Story Mill District and the Bozeman Brewery District. They were going to call this new project the The Mill District. It was going to be a mixed use development with lofts, retail, and food / drink. EVOKE was hoping to secure one of the first food / drink slots at Wallace and Peach just north of Downtown Bozeman.
We loved the idea of these two new buildings and all that the developers were talking about. We attached to their vision and thought EVOKE would be the perfect fit. Coffee by people, for people… a community hub. We were so excited.
We could already hear the concern from the community there. We could sense the hesitation. The developers were telling us a story about how great this area would be and we believed and agreed with them but how was it our place to tell an historic Bozeman community what was good for them? What would increase their property value? How EVOKE would be an asset?
We knew we needed to have some conversations and get feedback, suggestions, answer concerns, and tell our story. We also needed to hear the story of the people in the area. If this was truly going to be their place, we needed it to be about them. Period. As we have said often, even to this day: EVOKE was about the people. It always has been.
We Needed A Plan
Here is the thing. I can’t speak for all entrepreneurs but I think most would say that no one will like your idea as much as you will. No one will think it is a great or impactful or important to the community. We knew that but really cared what people thought so we began planning how to tell our story with the community in mind.
But, where were we going to start? We decided we needed to meet as many people as possible in the community and meet with them face to face. We needed them to hear our plans from us directly. We needed to step up and hear their concerns directly. we needed to face it all head on and work towards a win win if this was ever going to work.
We decided we needed to come up with some specific brochures to get out to folks and to use as an introduction. Again, not to replace face to face but to act as a reader for when we could meet. Here was the basics that they needed to included:
- Who we are
- Our vision and goals for Cafe Evoke
- Possible Menu
- General Atmosphere
This was the start. Step 1. It made us really think through EVOKE and our vision as it related specifically to this community. We knew standing up and talking to these folks in person was going to be tough and some might be pretty upset about all of it. But, we needed to be brave enough to tell our story.