Some people simply play the hand fate has dealt them, while others turn their lives into a search for where they belong in the world. Honore Spickerman belongs in the latter category. For the 39-year-old proprietor of the Black Cat Coffeehouse in Ashland, Wisconsin, running a café in a unique small town is the culmination of a long quest.
Born in rural Illinois, Spickerman went to college in Utah—where she worked for the Forest Service—and then found herself drawn to one of the Midwest's prime countercultural havens, Madison, Wisconsin, where she worked at a food co-op. But she still had not yet found her calling. “In Utah, and in Madison, too,” she recalls, “I was always having conversations where we would say, ‘Wouldn't it be wonderful to open a great little coffeehouse?’”
In search of a more rural life, Spickerman relocated to the shores of Lake Superior and got a job at a kayak outfitters. But the coffeehouse idea wouldn’t leave her alone, and she eventually decided to take the plunge. She took a business course, drew up a business plan, and approached a bank for a loan. “I figured they’d take one look at me and just laugh,” she says. But the bank supported her idea, and an old bar—the Black Cat—in the old port town of Ashland came on the market. Within months, she was serving up espresso.
Naming an organic eatery (with fair-trade coffee) after an old saloon is just one of the ways Spickerman melds the countercultural side of her business with the more traditional face of her community. The Ashland area is a lively mix of conservative small-town folk, local alternative types, and tattooed-and-pierced hipsters relocated from the Twin Cities. They all drop into the Black Cat, which has such a reputation for good conversation that locals call it the Black Hole—once you enter, it may be hours before you come out.
“The community has taken up the Black Cat as its own,” Spickerman says. “They use it for their needs, and I'm there to help them. I am very fortunate to be here.”
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