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Serendipity plays role in Shawano woman’s dream of owning coffee shop

Karen Benishek purchased Beans & Books Coffeehouse in 2016

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May 14, 2024

SHAWANO -Karen Benishek said her love of coffee shops started decades ago when her sister purchased a run-down, old house in Rhinelander and remodeled it into a coffee shop and boutique.

Until then, Benishek said she’d not been to a coffee shop.

Having the coin-operated laundromat she and her husband, Jim, owned and operated right next door, Benishek said it was convenient for her to help out in her sister’s coffee shop.

After moving to Shawano, Benishek said she struck up a friendship with a woman named Sheri Schultz, who had opened Beans & Books Coffeehouse in 2004.

“I was a good customer but had always told her how I would like to open a coffee shop, as well,” she said.

That idea, Benishek said, stuck in her mind for several years.

In the meantime, Benishek said she and her husband continued raising their seven children, while Jim worked at his job as a director of building maintenance, mostly within the nursing home industry.

Opportunity comes knocking
In 2016, Benishek said Schultz was ready to sell Beans & Books and approached her about buying it.

She said it didn’t take much convincing for her to say yes.

Even though she and Jim had owned the laundromat, Benishek said there wasn’t much business management to be learned from that – aside from collecting money from the machines, keeping the place clean and fixing the machines when something went wrong.

So, there was quite a learning curve when they purchased Beans & Books.

“Yes, we had business ownership experience, but it’s different from retail where you are seeing customers face-to-face,” she said. “I had to learn the coffee shop business on the job. Sheri gave me about one month of training, and then I knew how to make espresso drinks. But, I didn’t realize how many other drinks, besides coffee and espresso, coffee shops offer that are also popular.”

Beans, beans and more beans
Benishek said Beans & Books serves a wide variety of coffees, lattes, teas, smoothies, blended frappes and anything the customer wants iced.

She said they recently started serving Iced Lotus Energy, a plant-based energy drink, as well.

“It’s like an energy drink but healthier,” she said. “We have somewhere between 80 and 100 different flavors, and we feature a different one every day, but people can get any of them any day. We serve them either hot or iced.”

Blended drinks, Benishek said, are also popular.

Beans & Books Espresso – the shop’s second location, which opened in 2022 – is located at 215 Main St. in Shawano. Submitted Photo

“We can blend just about anything,” she said. “You can blend a latte, a smoothie or a frappe.”

Benishek said Beans & Books’ top seller is always whatever the Latte of the Day happens to be.

“We feature a different latte of the day daily,” she said. “It’s a combination of flavors, and it’s based on something they might be familiar with like a candy bar flavor, for example.”

In addition to drinks, Benishek said Beans & Books offers different flavors of breakfast bagels and wraps, along with sweet treats, like cinnamon rolls, scones, biscotti, breakfast bars, bananas and oatmeal.

Though Beans & Books Coffeehouse is located in a high-traffic area, with a KwikTrip next door and a Walmart across the street, Benishek said it doesn’t impact their business.

“I think what we’re offering is different,” she said. “Each coffee is handcrafted. Each sandwich is handcrafted. It’s made specifically for you, the way you ordered it and when you ordered it. I don’t think having KwikTrip next door hurts us – if anything, I think it increases our visibility. We have a drive-thru window and that window faces KwikTrip.”

Books, books and more books
Aside from handcrafted food and drinks, Benishek said Beans & Books sells both new and used books – which represents the other half of the name.

She said the shop also sells kids’ crafting books, journals, sticker books and stickers.

The space, Benishek said, offers a nice spot to settle in with a good book while sipping your favorite coffee drink.

Surviving the pandemic
As with so many businesses, Benishek said supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic were challenging for Beans & Books Coffeehouse.

Certain products, she said, weren’t available.

And if products were available, Benishek said, the packaging they came in wasn’t.

This, she said, meant pivoting until things were available again.

Some companies, Benishek said, quit producing certain less-popular flavors altogether, forcing her to permanently update the menu.

Other things in short supply at times, Benishek said, were cups, lids and straws.

Vendors offered different products, but she said there was no guarantee the lid would fit the cup, for example.

Though she was forced to close the inside of the store in the early days of COVID, Benishek said the drive-thru proved to be instrumental in their survival.

“That’s how we were able to succeed during the pandemic,” she said. “(Because we had that), we didn’t have to close completely. Our business increased during the pandemic because of our drive-thru, and because at other businesses, people quit going there.”

Selling books during the pandemic, Benishek said, wasn’t the easiest of things to do, either.

She said she tried to do more on social media to promote the books they had, but it still was somewhat challenging.

Beans & Books Espresso
Two years after the pandemic, Benishek said they opened a second store – this one called Beans & Books Espresso.

Since 2020, she said downtown Shawano has seen a lot of people renovating older buildings and repurposing them into new businesses – which was aided largely by grants that became available because of COVID and the need to rebuild the economy.

With the downtown resurgence, Benishek said many business owners and people who worked in the area had expressed their desire for a coffee shop downtown.

At the same time, she said her two oldest sons – Ben and Jesse – were looking for a place where they could open a music store because the one music store in town had closed after its owner died.

Benishek said they purchased a building that had been the home of a motor shop that had relocated elsewhere in 2021 and started renovations.

Karen and Jim Benishek purchased Beans & Books Coffeehouse in 2016 and opened a second location, Beans & Books Espresso, in 2022. Submitted Photo

In April 2022, Music Asylum and Beans & Books Espresso opened.

Though located in the same building, Benishek said they are two separate units.

Buying a property and starting a second location so soon after the pandemic was scary, but Benishek said they decided to take a leap of faith.

“The community is supportive of both places,” she said. “The courthouse, the jail and the sheriff’s department are all nearby, and the EMTs are across the street from us, so we have a lot of those people as our clientele at that location.”

Benishek said the two coffeehouses are less than three miles apart – both offer patrons the ability to sit down, relax and enjoy a good book if they want.

However, she said, there are a few differences between the two.

The original coffeehouse location, Benishek said, has food made-to-order, while the Espresso location has sandwiches customers can heat up in a microwave.

The original location, she said, has the drive-thru, while the Espresso store has a meeting room that can accommodate up to 16 people.

Benishek said the espresso store only sells new books, nothing used.

Book club
In a time when many people are looking to slow down a little bit, Benishek said Beans & Books Coffeehouse has the perfect way for folks to do that.

At the suggestion of one of its teenage employees, the coffeehouse recently started a chapter of the Silent Book Club®.

Started in 2012 in San Francisco, Benishek said the Silent Book Club began with two friends who got together to read.

Since then, it has grown in popularity around the globe.

Unlike traditional book clubs, Benishek said there is no assigned reading and no feeling of being called upon to say something about what you read as part of an assignment.

She said people get together for 90 minutes or so, disconnect from the world and read.

And, Benishek said, it doesn’t matter what kind of device they’re reading from – a hard-copy book, phone, Kindle or tablet.

She said it also doesn’t matter what people are reading – it could even be a comic book.

Benishek said the purpose is for people to get together and read – period.

The club started about four months ago, and she said in the first two months, it doubled in size.

Held during hours when the store isn’t open, the Silent Book Club meets the first Wednesday of the month from 6-7:30 p.m.

“People always say, ‚ÄòI don’t have time to read’ or ‚ÄòI wish I had more time to read,'” Benishek said. “This gives them that opportunity.”

For more information on Beans & Books Coffeehouse, Beans & Books Espresso or the Silent Book Club, visit

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