Even though Kate Foster turned her Kent, Washington-based company, Wide Eye Coffee, into a success, she lost her passion for it.
“We found that it was really hard to keep (our vision) close to our hearts when we were expanding so much,” Foster said. “We got too corporate-minded, and moved away from our organic focus. We had gotten away from ourselves. We were trying to be something we weren’t.”
So late last year, Foster, along with her daughter, Noelle Grimes, and longtime friend, Tracy Liday, made a series of major changes. They sold their drive-through espresso stands, which they had owned for six years. Then they moved from Seattle to the Portland metropolitan area, with Foster landing in Washougal. And, finally, they decided to turn their previous “back-burner venture” into their main focus.
Their new business, named Boite (pronounced bwat), delivers care packages to students and soldiers, with the personal touch that Foster, Grimes and Liday developed during their tenures as small business owners.
“We want to connect with people. That’s what our real passion is,” Foster said. “At every location we had, we grew exponentially. Our first coffee stand made $18 the first day it was open, and by the end we were making $700 to $1,000 every day. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but the only thing we did (differently) was focus on the people.”
Connecting with people “comes natural” to Foster, according to Seattle resident Shay Read.
“But (that ability is) augmented with wisdom and experience,” Read said. “And on top of that, she speaks with clarity, compassion and honesty. The world needs more business leaders like Kate.”
Read, a designer and art director, helped Foster, Grimes and Liday with some of their early design and branding work for Boite.
“I first met Tracy when I stopped by their coffee drive-through on a whim one day because it wasn’t too far from where I worked,” Read said. “She was so kind and the espresso was so good that I stopped by almost every day after that and eventually got to know Kate and Noelle just as well. I started as a regular coffee customer first and grew into a friend.”
Boite offers students a variety of breakfast and lunch boxes, filled with nuts, chocolate, granola bars, potato chips, yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, coffee and more. Its soldier boxes include non-perishable items such as socks and puzzle books in addition to food.
Foster, Grimes and Lindsay purchase the items through distributors and sell them on their website, boiteit.com. They are also preparing regional delivery options.
“(With Boite), we went back to basics and back to our original vision,” Foster said. “We thought, ‘There’s 1,000 coffee companies out there. Let’s take what we have in terms of our relationship-building and customer service skills, combine them with quality products and bring that connection point to the next level.”
Foster, Grimes and Liday generated some positive momentum earlier this year. They developed a production system, researched and met with vendors, bought supplies, and made arrangements for college students to sample their boxes and provide feedback. They even came to a tentative agreement on a contract to provide their services to a large Pacific Northwest university.
“That was the real shot in the arm, the moment I knew that we were on the right track,” Foster said. “Then COVID-19 hit, and (the contract) was put on hold. That was tough. We basically had to reassess if we even wanted to do this. Once that we decided that we did, we followed through. We’re hoping that we can still come (to an agreement) with the university. The students said that (our products) are what they’re looking for.”
Reed said that Boite will succeed because of its owners’ “kindness, empathy, humor, perseverance and self-awareness.”
“These three women have the ability and emotional capacity to connect and positively affect just about everyone they meet. People remember that,” she said. “It gives authenticity to their entire business model and purpose. Plus, on a practical level, now more than ever, we are looking for innovative ways to connect with those we love from a distance. It’s the perfect time for a business like Boite.”