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Front & Center: Chaps owner Celeste Shaw writes her own script for success

Celeste Shaw, owner of Chaps Diner and Bakery, stands in the Paper and Cup cafe, her new business in Spokane’s Kendall Yards, on Friday, June 16, 2017. (TYLER TJOMSLAND
/The Spokesman-Review)
Celeste Shaw, owner of Chaps Diner and Bakery, stands in the Paper and Cup cafe, her new business in Spokane’s Kendall Yards, on Friday, June 16, 2017. (TYLER TJOMSLAND /The Spokesman-Review)

Growing up in Norway, Hans Tveten dreamed of living the cowboy life in faraway Montana.

At first, his mother adamantly opposed the notion. But eventually she relented, and even made Hans a pair of chaps to protect his legs while riding the range.

So when Hans’ granddaughter Celeste Shaw embarked on her own life-changing adventure nine years ago – opening her own restaurant – she named it Chaps Diner and Bakery.

She went on to launch the home décor shop Lucky Detour, which she recently moved down the street from its original Vinegar Flats site and renamed Lucky Vintage. And this week she and business partner Gina Garcia will open Paper and Cup, a café at Kendall Yards.

“I’m the owner,” Shaw said, “but Gina is the mastermind. We’re very yin and yang – we balance each other.”

During a recent interview, Shaw offered advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, including don’t follow prescribed scripts and learn to let go.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Shaw: Havre, Montana (pop. 9,000). I lived part time with my mother and part time with my grandma Selma.

S-R: What was your first job?

Shaw: When I was 8, I got 15 cents for hauling drinking water from the well to the cowboys who were branding baby calves in Vida, Montana.

S-R: Did you have a favorite activity during your teen years?

Shaw: I was really involved in dance, and taught ballet to 5-year-olds when I was 16. I also did track and field – I was a long jumper and anchored our 440 relay.

S-R: What career did you envision for yourself?

Shaw: I thought I would teach children who were deaf and blind.

S-R: But that vision changed?

Shaw: I had a difficult life with my mom, so one day I got in my car and drove to Spokane where I had a relative and enrolled in nursing school. After graduating, I worked as a critical-care nurse at Deaconess until I decided to open a restaurant.

S-R: New restaurants are notorious for high failure rates, and you had no restaurant experience – not even waitressing. What did you rely on?

Shaw: (laugh) Faith in my ability to work incredibly hard. I honestly think if I had had any restaurant experience, I would have failed, because there’s such a scripted way to open a restaurant. I owe part of my success to being naive about how I was expected to do it.

S-R: What was your unscripted approach?

Shaw: I borrowed very little money and I did most of the work myself. I bought an old farmhouse and moved it half a mile to our current location (at 4237 S. Cheney Spokane Road). It took me three years to pull everything together.

S-R: Were you successful from the start?

Shaw: Yes, and we’ve been growing ever since. One of the best things to happen was when Gina closed her Bitter-Sweet Bakery on the South Hill in 2007 and joined me at Chaps.

S-R: What business lessons have you learned during the past 11 years?

Shaw: To not deviate from my original vision of being embracing and giving and focused on community, instead of being driven by money.

S-R: What’s the best business advice you’ve gotten?

Shaw: To remain honest and transparent. And have a good accountant, because it helps to have someone pay attention to the business side of business.

S-R: Let’s talk about Lucky Vintage, formerly known as Lucky Detour. I recall visiting the store early and being told that the stuff I wanted wasn’t actually for sale.

Shaw: (laugh) A lot of that came from me displaying things I couldn’t part with but wanted people to see. We had to change that. And we outgrew the original site. We just relocated down the street in the old Goodyear gas station (at 1930 S. Inland Empire Way). We’re open Wednesday through Saturday.

S-R: What’s your typical workday?

Shaw: Easily 16 to 18 hours. I get up around 6 and feed my chickens, then go into Chaps, occasionally run up to Lucky, and am usually back at Chaps into the night.

S-R: Do you still do any nursing?

Shaw: I go to Rwanda every other year with Healing Hearts Northwest, an open-heart surgical team founded here in Spokane.

S-R: What do you like most about your job?

Shaw: Interacting with my customers and staff.

S-R: What’s a favorite customer reaction?

Shaw: I love when people are happy standing in line, because I know there are not many places they would do that.

S-R: When are the lines longest?

Shaw: Sunday morning.

S-R: What do you like least about your job?

Shaw: The fact that money interferes with me doing things I want to do.

S-R: If money didn’t matter, what would you do?

Shaw: I would have some kind of giant community garden where I could bring latch-key kids or homeless children who don’t have access to healthy food. I think if kids could put their hand in dirt, they wouldn’t touch a video game. There’s something life-changing about growing your own food.

S-R: What about your job are you most proud of?

Shaw: That my own children have seen me build something from scratch. And that there’s nothing we ask our staff to do that Gina and I won’t do ourselves, whether it’s cleaning toilets, busing tables or washing dishes. We lead by example.

S-R: Are there any misperceptions about your business?

Shaw: The most common misperception about any kind of service job is that the public gets to be right or feel entitled – that they can treat someone serving them in a way that’s unacceptable. I expect my staff to be thoughtful and courteous with the public, but I also expect the public to act that way toward my staff. And if you don’t, you’re going to hear about it from me. I say, “I didn’t appreciate the way you talked to my staff, and I need you to say you’re sorry.”

S-R: Do they?

Shaw: For the most part, yes.

S-R: What has this adventure taught you about yourself?

Shaw: That I can help change a community I love by doing something I believe in.

S-R: What sort of person is best suited to be your brand of entrepreneurship?

Shaw: Someone who’s fearless, committed and passionate.

S-R: What qualities do you look for in potential employees?

Shaw: Rawness – someone who doesn’t come with a doctored-up résumé. In fact, I tell job applicants not to bring a résumé. I can teach them to serve food or wash dishes, but I can’t change the kind of person someone is.

S-R: What would you change about yourself?

Shaw: I’d like to be better at delegating.

S-R: What’s at the top of your bucket list?

Shaw: To write a book about my experience growing up, and getting a second chance and career with Chaps.

Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at mguilfoil@comcast.net.