Daphne Washburn and Leslie Kashiwada are founding a creative arts café on the Mendocino coast, and getting a strong foundation in business fundamentals in StartUp Mendocino. They bring an impressive breadth of experience and knowledge that includes scientific deep sea diving in a research submersible. We met with Daphne and Leslie separately but on the same day, and here is the conversation … put together into one!
What does your business offer and what are you most known for?
Daphne: We are the Mendocino Coast Creative Arts Café, and we’re a startup so we’re hoping to open a community gathering space for the arts. In terms of what I’m known for, I would say it’s my passion for music and early childhood education.
Leslie: I also have an existing business called Music Together on the Mendocino coast, and what Daphne and I are developing at the café will include Music Together. We currently offer classes — we’re just back in person at the community centers in Mendocino and Caspar — so this would be a storefront place where the classes could be offered, and would be our own space.
I’ve worked with families and children, watching them grow up and go into musical theater, or move on to college studying music. It’s just amazing what these children have accomplished and even just feeling the joy of music. But I’m also known as a community activist and I’m very active in the Fort Bragg community.
Wonderful! Your last training session in StartUp Mendocino was on Financial Management. What was your top take away from it?
Daphne: Financial management has been a real eye opener for us, and we got a lot of great tools from StartUp Mendo for making that process a little bit smoother, and giving us ways to to dig deep into our financial strategies. I’m going to be a lot more thorough with my budgeting. For example, last week I went through and budgeted for each piece of equipment that we would need in our coffee bar. Whereas before I was like, “Okay, here’s a big chunk for equipment.” Now I’m getting really into detail to create an accurate budget.
Leslie: We’ve had a series of trainings on finances, which is important for us because that’s what we don’t know as much about. We’ve been working with advisors at West Center to look at our business structure, and how we access funding, whether it’s through raising capital or whether it’s by forming a nonprofit and getting grants and donations. So all of these financial pieces have been extremely informative — and a little bit daunting — but the support is there from West Center to help us navigate through that particular aspect. So that’s what stands out for me right now.
My top takeaway is … find a location. We’ve got to find a space because until we find it, we don’t know what permits we’ll need to get. And also in terms of getting funding, any funders will want to know where our location is going to be. So I would say that’s the most important piece of advice I’ve heard.
What’s starting to change for you as a result of this business management program?
Daphne: I’m feeling optimistic about taking action to secure a storefront and so before where it was just, “Maybe, oh my gosh, could this happen?” Now I’m feeling: “THIS IS HAPPENING.”
We would like to be in the downtown business district of Fort Bragg where the most families congregate. We’re hoping to partner with the local ice cream store and be able to do some cross-promoting with them. For example, we’re going to buy gift certificates from them and use them as promotions for our class registration — a win-win for both. People love getting a free thing, even if it’s just a little instrument
Leslie: I think that both Daphne and I sort of came into StartUp Mendo with Daphne’s vision foremost, and I fully support it and we are so excited about our vision. And what’s changed is we’re really getting into the nuts and bolts of our financial projections. We have to decide what we’ll do first, and so we’re meeting a lot. We’re talking a lot. We’re going over the details within the context of the vision, and that’s been very important.
In your area of expertise, creativity must play a big role. How does it specifically play in your business process?
Daphne: I think we’ve had to sort of think out-of-the-box with this project. Because there’s really nothing else like this. There have been other play cafes, you know, but there’s never been what we’re trying to do, which is a cafe with a comfortable Montessori-style play space for kids, and a retail area that’s gonna have all kinds of great children’s books, art supplies, and dance supplies. And then of course, the main creative juices will be flowing in the back classrooms.
I’m not just talking about music. We’re talking about art, drama, poetry readings, and we’re also talking about offering our space to rent for prenatal yoga, or doulas and midwives and community events. There could be music and art openings — we’re going to share our space with the community and those rentals will also be a way for cross-marketing for us. With babies, in the first year of their life is when their brains are the most receptive to music, and we hope mamas arriving for prenatal yoga will be curious about what’s going on with our classes.
Leslie: My small business is Music Together on the Mendocino coast, but I’m actually a scientist. I’m a marine biologist. I just retired from working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. And so I actually bring a lot of capability in down-to-earth spreadsheets, which I understand intimately. I love a good spreadsheet. And Daphne is the one that holds that creative spirit. And I can hold that with her. I can play with her in that and suggest directions we might go. So there’s a tremendous amount of creativity that goes into envisioning a business and then once we get our space, that creativity is going to help us design the space. “What do we put where in order to make it feel the way we want it to feel?”
We have this idea of a community cafe where families can come, where they don’t have to worry about their children annoying other people because they are children. There’ll be a space for them. There’ll be room for them to make joyful noise. And so I think thatthe creative vision that we have developed together is all the bigger because it’s the two of us working together, but we also support each other. So when she starts feeling like, “How possibly going to do this?”, I can buoy her up, and when I get bogged down in the details, she can pull me up out of it … so we have great interplay.
What inspires you to create this space?
Daphne: When I worked in music in Austin, Texas for 10 years, we had a Music Together center with three classrooms and we had a lobby area with a Montessori style play set up for the kids. And what we found is that this really became a connection spot for moms and dads and nannies even, so they would stay after class and do play dates. They would have lunch together and created this wonderful, comfortable nurturing space with them. There aren’t a lot of places out there for young moms and dads with kids to hang out in a comfortable spot. When I came to Mendocino, I noticed that this was a little bit lacking for the under-five kids. There are a lot of businesses in Fort Bragg that are geared for tourism or for adults. So I felt inspired to create that community gathering space for young families.
Leslie: When I read the recent interview with Lanakila Rodrigues, I was very excited about his vision. I had heard about his plan for a food truck with boba teas, and I do love boba tea. I love the idea of the waffle dogs. But I hadn’t heard that part of it — of wanting to have music for young people and parking it in open spaces friendly to kids, like the skate park where I used to take my daughter when I lived in Ukiah. I thought, “Oh wow, we have a very similar vision” and it’s so exciting because families need that, especially right now.
Now, if you could share one piece of advice, what would it be?
Daphne: Do not underestimate your children. Children are capable of so much more than we think they are. Challenge them, give them opportunities for growth. Take them off the computer for a while and get into some creative arts.
Leslie: Daphne and I talk regularly, and I think communication is exceedingly important in a partnership. We don’t assume something just because we briefly talked about it and assigned certain tasks to each other. You obviously need a partner you can trust. But we also check in frequently. And I think that that’s absolutely critical especially in the business development phase, but even when you’re running the business. Regular communication and making sure you’re on the same page, trusting that if there are misunderstandings or disagreements that you work them through. I’ve worked in other group settings, and sometimes the things that don’t get said are more impactful than the things that do get said. Because sometimes the air needs to be cleared. But I have to say working with Daphne has been an absolute joy. And she sought me out. I had no intention of doing this. But she sought me out and I just immediately fell in love with her and with the vision that she had and I said, “Yes, we have to do this together” because I’ve lived here a long time. I know the community. She just moved here. So again, that sort of compatibility — I know things that she doesn’t, and she knows things I don’t. We play together very well.
In closing, what’s something we wouldn’t otherwise know about you?
Daphne: I am a big animal lover. And I’m caring for five cats right now. I’ve also volunteered with animal rescue organizations and I’m a very strong advocate, not just for children but animals too.
Leslie: As a marine biologist, I did research that was sometimes in pretty extreme locations. I designed and built my own research equipment to use in kelp beds. And I’ve been out on long cruises for deep sea research where we put down submersible retrievable vehicles. I have been down in Alvin, a submersible that holds two scientists at a time and can go depths reaching 4,500 meters for up to ten hours.
Come like Daphne and Leslie’s page on Facebook and get the updates on their Creative Cafe that they post regularly.
We’d like to thank one of our Sponsors of StartUp Mendocino — EDFC.
Robert Gernert, Lending Manager at EDFC, says, “I was motivated to participate in Startup Mendocino because I want to see local entrepreneurs be given a pathway to finding success in their business ventures. I believe that equipping the business owners as early as possible with the appropriate resources is key to success.”