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Wholly Grounds ... A place where mother and daughter pursue their dream

CLARA CITY -- Ask for the boss here, and you're sure to get double-talk.

"We both say the other person is the boss,'' said Jess Rothstein, laughing.

Whether it is mom or daughter who calls the shots really doesn't matter: These two business partners are having too much fun.

Since May, Jess Rothstein and her mother, Barb Vermeer, have been working side by side as the owners of Wholly Grounds, a drive-up coffee and espresso hut on Minnesota Highway 23 on the north edge of Clara City.

Mother and daughter said had talked about opening an espresso hut in their hometown for something like 10 years. Their only regret now is that they didn't do it sooner. They enjoy working with each other, and their business has gotten off to a good start.

Both are "morning people." They enjoy filling the air in their small hut with the aroma of their baked treats and fresh-brewed coffee, espresso, cappuccinos and mochas and opening the drive-through window for customers by 6:30 a.m.

Neither mother nor daughter had any way to know how an independent-owned, drive-through coffee and espresso hut would perform located in a small, rural community.

They did all they could to improve their odds before they opened.

Vermeer worked at Poppa Jon's Latte Da in Willmar for five years to learn all she could about the business.

Mother and daughter devoted months to work out a detailed business plan with the help of the Entrepreneurial Assistance Network in Monte-video.

They worked to arrange financing and line up local contractors to help them turn their dream into reality.

By good fortune, they had chosen a busy location: Highway 23 north of Clara City carries an average of 4,600 vehicles a day, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic counts from 2006.

They recruited a proven performer to attract some of that traffic to their window. The "hut'' that serves as their drive-through is the original used by Jon Devenport when he opened Poppa Jon's Latte Da in Willmar in 1996. They attached the hut to the kitchen area of the former R.J.'s drive-in restaurant that once occupied this location.

It makes for a comfortable and efficient work place, but what they like best about their business is found outside the drive-up window. "The customers become your friends,'' said Rothstein.

Their customer base includes many repeat visitors, they said.

Many of their customers are also travelers on Highway 23 who tell the business owners how surprised (and pleased) they are to have discovered their shop so far from a metropolitan setting.

But don't discount the appetite for us rural types when it comes to espresso and fine coffee. The two said their business is doing well thanks to the strong local support they receive.

They see many customers who live in the Clara City area and drive over to treat themselves.

Along with the many concoctions that can be made from the finest coffee beans, the shop also offers treats ranging from chai tea to summer-time smoothies.

The two owners also love to surprise customers with a variety of baked treats, everything from scones to cookies.

And of course, this business is tailor-made to today's lifestyle. Many of its customers are people commuting to work.

"People are in their cars and in a hurry and this is a convenience,'' said Vermeer.

The specialty beverage industry continues to grow, said Vermeer, but she and her daughter readily acknowledge that it was scary to take the risk of opening their own business.

"It's kind of like jumping off a cliff,'' said Vermeer. "You don't know what will happen.''

But, she was quick to add: "You have to have a dream and stick with it. You have to have faith.''

Wholly Ground is open from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays thru Fridays and 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays during the winter, with later closing times in the summer.