Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 24, 2003

Cliff & Molly's is back with a good cup of coffee

By David Cox

"Cliff & Molly's was such a neat little name, and I wondered whatever happened to it," said Carol Watson, noting that she had passed the New Germany coffee shop many times when traveling from her home in Waconia to her daughter's home in Lester Prairie.

Watson had an unexpected chance to find out what had happened to it when her daughter, Kathy Rittgers of Lester Prairie, called and asked her if she would like to open her own coffee shop in the same space.

From that point on, things happened quickly.

Watson formed a partnership with Rittgers and her husband Kevin to purchase the property.

The Rittgers will move their Exceptional Realty office from Victoria, and Watson will operate a coffee shop in the building.

"It's a family affair," Watson said. She resides in Waconia.

The three have been busy cleaning up the building and making plans for remodeling that will be needed.

Watson had never been inside Cliff and Molly's when it was open, but she has talked to Judy Collins who ran the earlier business. Collins is also from Waconia.

"She has been very helpful," Watson said, adding that Collins had generously shared information about the things that she had tried to do with the business, and what her customers had asked for.

Watson also has her own ideas about what she would like to do with Cliff & Molly's. She enjoys decorating, and will be making changes to the look of the interior, including moving some of the lighting.

She knew from the start though that she wanted to keep the Cliff and Molly's name. She also wants to learn more about the history of the building and the town, and incorporate this into the plan.

This is not the first time that Watson has considered opening a coffee shop. While living in Chicago, she made a bid on a property in Waconia for a similar venture, but the property went to another bidder.

Watson says that she has not yet decided exactly what products will be offered in the shop. She has been setting up meetings with vendors to start working that out.

She said that she will be offering regular coffee and possibly some specialty coffees.

She hopes to have bakery items in the morning, and soup and sandwiches for lunch.

Watson said that her goal is to have the shop open by the first of the year. The hours of operation are expected to be 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Watson has not owned a coffee shop before, but she does know something about working with people. She worked in the travel industry in Chicago for 25 years, scouting, developing, and leading motor coach tours.

She hopes to tap in to this experience by arranging stops for tour busses that regularly pass through the area. She believes she can use the history of the building and the area to provide a reason for people to stop in New Germany.

Talking about her experience leading tours, Watson said, "That was always fun because my passengers came from everywhere. None of them knew each other, so we got to learn about each other along the way."

Watson hopes to bring this same kind of environment to Cliff & Molly's. "I want this to be the kind of place where people can come to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee where they can relax and play cards or just chat."

Kathy Rittgers pointed out that in addition to her work in the travel industry, her mother had some television experience.

"She was princess of prizes on the Bowl-o-Rama TV show with Dave Moore," laughed Rittgers.

The sudden leap into the coffee shop business may not be unusual for Watson.

She described her unconventional return to Minnesota after 30 years in Illinois.

"That was not an intentional move," said Watson.

She had been in the area visiting her daughter.

Watson mentioned that she wanted to preview a house after church. Rittgers took her to the house in Waconia, telling her on the way, "We have to go now, because this house is going to sell today."

Watson did see the house, fell in love with it, and bought it on the spot.

"The next day I kept thinking, 'What have I done? I just bought this house in Minnesota, and I still have a townhouse in Chicago that I have to sell.'"

That was in 1998, and things seem to have worked out OK.

The spirit of optimism and adventure is strong in Watson. Asked if she was concerned about opening a new business in a town where many have failed, she smiled and shook her head.

"The renewal process has to start somewhere, and we are hoping it will start here with us."

She went on to say that it might take some time, and she might not have everything in place right away, but observed that, "Everybody likes a good cup of coffee. Even if I don't have a full selection every day, we will do our best, and people will know we are here."

New NG realty won't 'list 'em and leave 'em'

By David Cox

Kathy Rittgers of Lester Prairie was looking for a property for a client when she made a discovery that would change her family's future.

Rittgers had been passing the building at 150 East Broadway St. in New Germany every day for months while driving between her real estate office in Victoria and her home office in Lester Prairie.

When she noticed that the sign in the window had been changed from "for rent" to "for sale," she made an appointment to see it.

Once inside, she discovered that the space was much larger than she had expected. She immediately began to see possibilities for the vacant building.

Rittgers envisioned a new home for the real estate office that she runs with her husband Kevin. She also saw a way to involve her mother, Carol Watson of Waconia.

She called Watson and asked her if she would be interested in opening a coffee shop in the space that had previously been occupied by Cliff & Molly's coffee shop.

Watson loved the idea from the start, and the three formed a partnership and bought the building.

They immediately began putting their ideas into motion, and arranged a building inspection to determine what changes were needed.

They decided to add a separate entrance because the businesses will be open different hours. They will also be adding windows and extending the porch.

Rittgers said that once the remodeling has been completed, they will move their office into the new space. Their goal is to be open by Jan. 1.

Rittgers has been in the real estate business for 11 years.

Kevin became certified a few years ago, but had gone back to his previous career in warehouse management.

As Kathy's business grew, he decided that she could really use some help, and he renewed his license.

They opened their own company, Exceptional Realty, in February.

Kathy said, "When choosing a name for this business, we wanted something that would reflect what you get when you do business with us. I have built my career by giving good service and playing by the rules."

Rittgers believes that her clients deserve to know what is or isn't going on with their transactions.

"I hate list 'em-and-leave 'em agents," said Rittgers. "We'll be with you throughout the process."

Last year, 95 percent of her business came from previous clients or referrals from previous clients.

Rittgers attributes this to the fact that she is a good listener, and she focuses on customers' needs.

"I am always looking for specific properties for specific clients," she said.

Rittgers stated that another way that they try to set themselves apart is by providing education for their clients.

They provide both buyer and seller handbooks, and offer additional information on their web site, www.exceptionalrealty.biz.

They look for ways to assist first-time buyers, and can also provide information about special financing programs that are available in the market, and can direct clients to a lender that fits their needs, she said.

"People need to feel comfortable with their lender and their Realtor," said Rittgers. "We are forming a team that will be with them throughout the home-buying process."

Kevin Rittgers pointed out that they also provide services to people who are not buying or selling a home. Noting that they have rental property of their own, Rittgers said, "We can help people invest in real estate rather than in the stock market."

Rittgers stated that while his experience is still more academic than practical, he has learned a lot from working with his wife, and has benefitted from her years of experience.

Both the Rittgers continue to get training in areas that will help them provide better service to their customers, he said.

They hope the new location will give them more exposure, and as the business continues to grow, they will bring on additional agents, she said. She expects to add at least one new agent by the time they open the new office in January.

They have worked hard to upgrade the apartment above the shop, and now that that has been rented, they are ready to move forward with the office remodeling.

Along with the hard work, there is satisfaction.

Kevin Rittgers summed up his feelings about the new venture.

"There is nothing better than working for yourself, setting your own schedule, making your own decisions, and having the gains come to you instead of always going to someone else."

Kathy Rittgers describes the new partnership as, "a family endeavor," and this seems accurate. The way that they came to buy the building may have been unconventional, but it is clear that now that the decision has been made, they are determined to dig in and make it work.

Realtors deal in dreams every day, and when talking to the Rittgers, it seems that these are not reserved for the clients. There is a quiet enthusiasm about them as they talk about their plans for the business and for their future.

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