Student has a latte on her plate

Amid volunteering, going to college and owning a coffee shop, Kaely Roe, 19, has little time to rest

December 23, 2005|By JONI GUHNE | JONI GUHNE,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One of the newest - and youngest - business owners in Severna Park is 19-year-old Kaely Hart Roe, the new proprietor of Severna Perk. Before the ink was dry on her business loan and incorporation papers, Roe had changed the name of the Benfield Road coffee shop that used to be known as Waterman Joe's Cafe.

At 15, Roe went to work at the Benfield Road location of City Dock Cafe, which became Waterman Joe's about a year ago. She had been Waterman Joe's manager for several months when owners Tom Bender and Clay Hulbert decided to sell the business. After much consideration, Roe decided that owning a coffee shop would be perfect.

To secure a business loan, she went to CommerceFirst Bank in Annapolis.

"Kaely presented a well-organized business plan," said Penny Cantwell, a vice president at the bank. "She had answers to all our questions."

On Nov. 16, negotiations were completed, and Roe, who will be 20 in May, became the sole owner of a business.

Severna Perk, with original art on the walls and comfortable seating for 20, offers customers a place to meet friends or read the paper while enjoying specialty coffees and teas, muffins, scones and bagels. But it's the cinnamon buns, baked on the premises, that disappear from the display case the fastest, Roe said.

Buying a business seemed a natural step for the young entrepreneur who grew up in a household where "never a dull moment" might as well be carved on the family crest. Like blond hair and blue eyes, the ability to keep dozens of balls in the air at one time is a family trait.

Roe moved to the Severna Park community of Severndale when she was 8 years old with her parents, Pat and Gretchen Roe. On any given morning, she lends a hand with her 5-month-old brother, Eoghan, (the name Roe is Gaelic and all six children have Gaelic first names) and helps her other brothers and sisters get ready for school.

"My siblings and I are good friends," says Kaely, the oldest. "The younger ones look to Lucas [the next oldest at 16] for what's funny and what's cool, but they look up to me for the serious stuff."

Gretchen Roe, who home-schools all her children, was her daughter's earliest role model. Gretchen partners with her husband in a series of family businesses and serves on the state board of the PEO Sisterhood, an international organization to improve educational opportunities for women.

Two days a week, Kaely Roe attends the University of Baltimore, where she's a full-time junior majoring in government and public policy. She graduated from Anne Arundel Community College this year with an associate degree in general studies and a concentration in Spanish.

Her other interests include music - she plays classical and jazz flute - writing and designing Web sites.

Her parents approved their daughter's giant step into the business world with the stipulation that it not interfere with school. So far, it appears that it hasn't: Roe received an "A" in her honors English course.

"Pat and I are thrilled for her opportunity," said Gretchen Roe. "We're delighted to see her grow into adulthood so gracefully."

Kaely is often on the phone with Nancy Fortier, associate director for justice, pro-life and human rights for the Maryland Catholic Conference, for whom she has worked for about a year. When she was a junior in high school, Kaely heard Fortier speak, and the teenager told her mother, "I want to do what that lady is doing."

"I can't say enough good things about Kaely," said Fortier. "I think of her as my right-hand woman. She helps me with a lot of creative projects concerning bills like the one we worked on last year to make certain that if someone killed a pregnant woman, they would be charged with two homicides."

Fortier said a watered-down version was passed, but they're continuing to work on strengthening it.

"I think she will be a success at anything and everything she tackles," said Fortier.

One of Roe's eight employees is her closest sibling, Lucas.

"I joke with people when they ask what it's like to work for my sister," Lucas said. "I'm waiting for her to exploit it [being the big sister], but it hasn't happened. In fact, I'd say working together has strengthened our relationship."

Carrying on the Roe tradition, Lucas goes to school, works at the coffee shop and spends time playing the piano and guitar, composing music, writing and drawing.

No matter how much support she receives from family and friends, the buck now stops with Roe, who finds time to work behind the counter about 20 hours a week, but is in the shop more than that, she said.

When she managed the coffee shop, she "only dealt with vendors when there was a problem that could be easily handled, like too many muffins or when the bagel man didn't show up.

"Now I do everything," she said.

Already displaying an astute business sense, Roe designed and produced her own business cards and uniforms for the staff. To save money, she learned to screen-print and put her shop's logo, "Severna Perk" with a cup of coffee against a background of sails and sea gulls, on T-shirts for her employees.

In the next year, Roe plans to complete her bachelor's degree and begin work on a master's degree in business.

She has a four-year lease on the business with a five-year option.

"I'll see this business through its course," she said, "but I'll probably be doing things on the side, too."

As for the future, Roe said that "business and government are not incompatible, but I see myself as a parent. As soon as my kids are out of high school, I'll be doing something else. I like to keep very busy."

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