20-year-old finds success with coffee shop in hometown

BROWNSTOWN — At 19, Kaylee Branaman decided to start her own business in her hometown of Brownstown.

At 20, she opened the coffee shop Kay’s Kafe at 214 S. Sugar St., Suite 1.

Before she turns 21 later this year, she will finish her college degree in business administration.

She has accomplished a lot at a young age, and she hasn’t let anything hold her back from pursuing a passion she discovered as a youth.

“I do remember having conversations with my mom in middle school and I told her, I was like, ‘I think Brownstown needs something. Brownstown needs a coffee shop. This would be so cool to do one day.’ I always had my ideal location of where I would do that when I was like 40 years old,’” Branaman said, smiling.

Twenty years earlier than she originally thought, she’s a business owner.

Of her early success, she said she thinks of a Bible verse that has always impacted her life, 1 Timothy 4:12 Verse 13: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

“I have a lot of people tell me ‘Oh, you’re very mature for your age,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘These are the God-given abilities that I have, and I want to share those with people.’ Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m not capable because I serve a capable God that has given me that strength and knowledge.”

She hopes she inspires other youth.

“I hope that these kids are able to see that they are capable of doing things, that nobody should look down on them because they are young, because they maybe don’t have the knowledge,” she said. “Well, seek out the knowledge. Where can you find that? Where can you grow and find what’s best for you? You have to learn something new about yourself every day and new about the world.”

Throughout elementary and middle school, Branaman said she knew she someday wanted to have a job where she could help people.

“My mom is a nurse. She always was like, ‘Oh, you would be such a good nurse.’ She wasn’t trying to push me at all but just saw that in me that I liked to help people,” she said. “I kind of thought that maybe I would go into the medical field in some way, shape or form.”

During a convocation in middle school, Brownstown Central High School DECA members talked to eighth-graders and encouraged them to join the business organization in high school.

“I can remember like, ‘Oh, that would be a good group to join,’” Branaman said. “I was like, ‘Maybe I don’t even want to go into business, but it will teach me how to do an interview, how to interact with people better,’ so that’s why I joined DECA in high school.”

She became very involved in the group, even serving as president one year, and she was part of the establishment of the school’s coffee shop, Brewed Awakening.

“I just knew that I liked being in leadership, being able to manage people, manage the tasks,” she said. “I had already had experience. I worked at Blondie’s (Pizzeria and Pub in Brownstown) all through high school, so I worked in the food service aspect of it, so I knew a little bit about that to bring into the coffee shop and how we did things there and how we could better do things at the high school.”

After graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 2020, Branaman considered studying business administration with a health care focus or working in the business aspect of a faith-based missions company that sends missionaries overseas.

On her way home one day, though, she saw where part of the building at 214 S. Sugar St. was available to rent. The owner, Heather Boknecht, commented on the Facebook post that Brownstown really needs a coffee shop.

“I like literally audibly laughed out loud at the comment, and I was like, ‘That is so funny. I’ve always had a dream to open a coffee shop in Brownstown,’” Branaman said. “Then I had several of my friends and her reaching out and they were like, ‘Kaylee, this would be such a good thing for Brownstown. You should totally do this. You would be so good at this.’”

Her mother, JoAnn Branaman, encouraged her to meet with Boknecht and find out all of the information she could.

“That was when I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this might be real,’” Kaylee said, smiling.

For about six months, she worked at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour as a medical assistant, and that helped her save enough money to start her business.

In May 2021, Branaman officially decided she was going to pursue the new venture. An experience during a Chrysalis church event made an impact.

“I remember a speaker talking about God has different paths for your life,” she said. “Your purpose now and what your purpose is in 20 years, 10 years, 40 years is not always going to be the same, so go into what God is calling you to do right now and what your purpose is right now. I just felt an overwhelming peace and like, ‘This is what God is calling me to do now.’”

Once she went through the business aspects, she turned her attention to transforming the empty space into a coffee shop. The building was only studs, and after she wrote Bible verses on those, she worked with contractors to bring her vision to life.

Between visiting coffee shops in the area and out West on a trip with family and friends and looking up ideas on Google and Pinterest, she took elements from those and put them into her business.

Construction began in July 2021, and Kay’s Kafe opened Jan. 31, 2022.

She knew she wanted a study room for people to gather, and it includes a table with eight chairs and a couple of massaging chairs. It can be rented or used for free during business hours — 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays — or there’s a small fee for outside that time frame and an additional cost to include food and drink service.

So far, churches have used the room for Bible studies, a bridge club has met there and old friends have reunited there.

“There’s just something about a coffee shop that allows people to come in and to sit,” Branaman said. “The first coffee company that I talked to, their whole idea was around this third place. It’s not home. It’s not work. It’s this third place where you feel welcomed, people are invited and they can come and meet.”

For the menu, she knew she wanted different types of drinks with a variety of syrups to add flavoring. That’s not just with coffee, but also with tea, lemonade, hot chocolate and smoothies.

“I wanted to be able to provide a range that people really hadn’t seen before, try different things that they’ve not tried before,” she said. “I wanted to make sure to be able to have a lot of options for people.”

Adding food to her menu was important, too. That includes bagels, biscuits, breads, cupcakes and cookies.

“My mom had made a Swedish nut cake for several years, and so I decided to put that in a cupcake form to be easier to serve for my customers because that was something that was part of my home, something that I enjoyed that I wanted to share with other people because when we would take it to family events, they would be like, ‘Oh, I’ve never had this before. This is good,’” Branaman said.

All of the food is baked in-house. The different types of cupcakes and biscuits are a scratch recipe, while the cookies are premade and baked. The chocolate chip cookies are her bestseller.

There also are sugar-free and gluten-free options available.

Down the road, Branaman said she would like to add lunch options.

“That’s something that I definitely hope to add in the future,” she said. “I’m still in school, so I’m trying to get a few things done and off my plate before I add stuff.”

Since opening day, Branaman said she couldn’t be happier with the reception from her hometown and beyond.

The first week, she was nervous because a coffee shop she had visited in the area told her they were lucky to get 30 customers in a day.

“Then that first week, I had like quadruple that number,” she said. “There were so many people here that I was not expecting. The volume that we saw at the beginning was huge.”

That volume has continued.

“It has been very overwhelmingly comforting. These people supporting me and encouraging me what I’m doing, it has been so overwhelmingly honoring,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my family, if it wasn’t for my friends, my community support, if it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t be able to do this. If it wasn’t for my faith and just God giving me the knowledge that I needed to be able to do this, it’s not by my own power, that’s for sure.”

At a glance 

Kay’s Kafe is at 214 S. Sugar St., Suite 1, Brownstown.

Hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to noon Saturday.

The owner is Kaylee Branaman.

For information, call 812-528-7940 or visit facebook.com/brewedandblessed.