By Akaya McElveen
New Haven Register, Conn.
Katie Hughes, owner of Perk on Church, said she had always wanted to own a business, and with her love of coffee, crepes and wanting to try something on her own, she turned her dream into reality.
Hughes’ determination recently made her the recipient of the U.S. Small Business Association’s Woman-Owned Business of the Year award.
“Upon hearing the news, I was flattered and honored,” said Hughes, who also owns Perk on Main in Durham and a food truck called Perk on Wheels. “With the response our customers had for our company, I was surprised and lifted up from it. It’s been really nice. Our customers have been patient, and loyal and forgiving.”
According to the SBA, Hughes’s “ecofriendly mentality” and her dedication to empowering women entrepreneurship are partially the reasons for her recent accolades.
“The secret to her success is by eliminating processed foods from their offerings and by making all baked goods from scratch, including muffins, cookies and scones,” according to a statement from the SBA. “In 2010 the second location opened in Guilford called ‘Perk on Church.’ Katie has an eco-friendly mentality in where she’s also eliminated trash to landfill by having not only employees but customers separate their compost and recyclables. Today Katie has created 26 jobs and most recently participated in a panel discussion for Southeastern CT SCORE to encourage women entrepreneurship.”
Hughes said she have served on panels to discuss women in business, and have hosted numerous workshops on ways to go “waste-free.”
Hughes said she doesn’t feel as if she has experienced any difficulties as a business owner due to her gender.
She said that, for the most, small-business owners in general experience the same problems, whether they are male or female.
“I don’t feel like it’s any more challenging because I am a woman. I know so many peers that are women in business,” Hughes said. “Small-business owners in general need these programs and the funds, but I don’t think women need them more than men.”
As a small-business owner of two coffee houses, Hughes said she faced quite a few difficulties running them.
Hughes said one of the biggest problems she had to deal with was “keeping the cash flowing,” especially during the winter months.
“The other problems we faced were making sure we were doing a good job with marketing and making good decisions,” Hughes said.
Graduating from Southern Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Hughes said she worked as a newspaper reporter for a few years, and then as a technical recruiter for six years before deciding to start her own business.
In 2002, Hughes opened the upscale coffee house Perk on Main in Durham, and then later its sister shop, Perk on Church in 2010.
Hughes’ coffeehouses offer crepes, coffee, salads and all things typically found in your average coffeehouse.
Hughes said the best advice she would give to aspiring business owners would be to cherish every member of their team, because running a business would not be possible without the help of others.
“I think the best advice I can give is that your team is everything to you. The second would be to take advantage of continuing education,” said Hughes.
Through trainings and classes offered through organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, CEDF and the Small Business Association, Hughes said she has been able to develop positively as a business owner.
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Hughes also attributes the success of her businesses to her mentors who have been guiding her through her career.
“My mentor, Pete Hamin, is a really great guy. He taught me that being kind and tough can go hand-in-hand,” Hughes said.