When I stroll into 211 Café in downtown Bentonville, I can’t help but feel like Norm from “Cheers.” The colorful café is nothing like that dingy basement bar based in Boston, but, when I walk through the bright yellow front door of 211 Cafe, the owner, Mauricio, looks up from behind a broad counter and greets me warmly.
“Hi Dana!” he’ll say. “Ready for a Cortado?”
Mauricio knows my name. He knows about the business that Jennifer and I developed from the comfortable couch in his café. He even knows that I drink shots of espresso with a little bit of froth on top. I think he also notices when I’ve reached my caffeine limit, because I start to talk way too fast. There’s something special about that Cortado… and it’s much more than the much-appreciated jolt of pure caffeine that my 36-year-old mother-of-two-small-children body needs around 9AM. It comes from the care that goes into the making of it. After all, I’ve met Mauricio’s wife, Norma, and heard their personal story. One morning, Mauricio and his wife spent thirty minutes telling Jennifer and I about their lives, their baby daughter, and how they ended up in Bentonville from Guatemala. It was Mauricio’s dream to open a coffee shop, and when his wife accepted a job in Bentonville, she encouraged him to follow his passion. His café slogan is “Coffee your life” – but, coffee aside, I feel like with each morning spent at 211 Café, Mauricio generously shares a little more about his interesting life with us, and inspires us to follow our passion in turn.
When you personally know the people behind the counter, register, or within the kitchen of your favorite local small business, you create a connection with the heart of your community. Jennifer and I created our new business, Hello Local, from the couch at 211 Café, because we felt strong connections with local small business owners and wanted to find a way to link arms with them. We crafted our company to support makers in our community by curating themed gift boxes containing only local products. Our mission is to further encourage a “think local, buy local, gift local” mentality in Northwest Arkansas. We launched shophellolocal.com in early May. Our gift boxes are designed, printed, and lovingly packed in Northwest Arkansas. They make ideal personal or corporate gifts, realtor housewarming presents, new hire welcomes, and/or serve as an excellent introduction to our thriving community for new Northwest Arkansas residents.
Each step in the creation of Hello Local was an opportunity to meet, interact with, and connect with local business owners. Jennifer and I wanted to learn from them, but the encouragement we received from the roughly twenty businesses we approached has truly affected both of us. Let me offer a few highlights:
Fayetteville-based designer Rebekah Mathis designed our very colorful, very unique gift boxes. Like Jennifer and I, she designs at night after her kids go to sleep. Goodness knows, we have a heart for fellow multitasking moms!
John, Steve, and Adam at Tango Press in Springdale didn’t simply print our gift boxes. They offered guidance, extra attention, and more patience than I can fully comprehend. John sent Jennifer and I an encouraging email prior to our Hello Local launch, nostalgically noting the butterflies and excitement of starting a new business.
When approached about partnering with Hello Local, Rick Boosey at KYYA Chocolate didn’t simply offer prices on his memorable bean-to-bar chocolate. He invited me to the heart of his business, told me the story of its creation, and then literally handed me a hairnet and showed me how chocolate is made. His website states that KYYA Chocolate obsesses over each step in the chocolate-making process, but it’s not obsession that I witnessed–it’s passion, drive, and a heart for making a meaningful difference.
The Lewis family of Fayetteville owns Popped Perfect popcorn. Tamera Lewis cooks each batch of caramel popcorn, but the entire family contributes to the small business’ success. Tamera’s husband served in Vietnam, her oldest son is an Iraq combat veteran, and her youngest son serves as both a Senior Airman in the Arkansas Air Guard and is a police officer with the Springdale Police Department. Tamera made my day last month when she texted me “Happy Mother’s Day!” out of the blue as I celebrated with my family.
Lynn Hancock is the yogi behind Yoga Story and The Down Dog in downtown Bentonville. She’s also the person who, without knowing it, encouraged Jennifer and I when we needed a little boost by generously offering us retail space for pop-up shops. Profits from our pop-up shop helped propel Hello Local financially as we prepared for our official launch.
Jaxon Marz Goods’ Facebook page explains that the company’s healthy, all-natural body care products are lovingly handmade in small batches in the small business owner’s kitchen. I can confirm that fact because… I’ve been in her kitchen! Jaxon Marz Goods owner Tara Lewis invited me into her cozy Fayetteville home, decorated with family photos and handmade candles, just to let me “smell test” each body lotion and candle until I found the scent that I loved. That scent ended up being “Coffee House,” to come full circle, and will be part of our Everything Coffee box on shophellolocal.com.
Hello Local is excited to partner with each of these Northwest Arkansas small businesses in our themed gift box venture, and I hope I’ve offered a glimpse into the encouragement, personal connection, and enthusiasm each area business owner has offered us. Please consider not only thinking local, buying local, and gifting local, but also making personal connections with the makers, movers and shakers serving as the engines of our communities.
And if you need an additional boost, try the Cortado. I guarantee it’ll change your life.