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Business Partners Planning To Offer A Little ‘Refuge’
The faces behind Refuge Coffee Oakdale, business partners Kara McGaffee, left, and Kirsten Rodrigues. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

It is perhaps one of the biggest mysteries remaining along North Third Avenue.

With the reopening of North Third Avenue in February of this year, followed by the grand opening of Bistro 120 this summer, the building at 113 North Third may appear to be the only one with unfinished business.

Yet the community need not worry, as shop owners and coffee lovers Kara McGaffee and Kirsten Rodrigues are diligently working with their team to bring the community of Oakdale something a little unique. McGaffee and Rodrigues are the owners and founders of Refuge Coffee Oakdale.

While the storefront officially broke ground in April of this year, this labor of love officially came on the heart of McGaffee by way of family tragedy in 2019.

“One hundred percent this came about on her heart first,” Rodrigues said of her friend and business partner.

According to McGaffee, the idea was first prompted when a family member was faced with a tragedy. Looking for a place outside of home to have a little respite, talk and just be in the emotion locally became hard to find. McGaffee began considering how this void could be met as well as what that might look like.

“It really was in praying over what can we practically do to meet that kind of need?” McGaffee said of sharing the idea with her husband and a few close friends. “What does that look like and why doesn’t our community have it?”

By mid-2020, McGaffee began looking for a space with local Realtor and friend Vickie Cordoza.

As fate might have it, Cordoza is also Rodrigues’ mother and through conversation she learned of McGaffee’s idea and search. At the time the two women also worked together at Get Fit Oakdale.

“I really wouldn’t describe us as close friends at that time, necessarily,” Rodrigues shared. “I felt like I wanted to be involved somehow.”

A simple phone call to McGaffee expressing those sentiments found the two looking at a potential downtown rental space three days later.

“We had been praying for other things too,” McGaffee said during this same time. Recognizing she could not do it by herself, she had begun praying for pieces to come together; a person to complement her skill set and strengths.

While the first space they saw was not quite the right fit, a tip to their realtor would later find them looking into the former Curves location. Together, they drafted a letter to the owner and made an offer for purchase of the building, which was accepted.

“We knew what was coming with the street. So, we already knew we had time,” Rodrigues said of the pending construction which was needed for the 113 North Third space.

The duo shared purchasing a building in the middle of a pandemic for a business which had not yet been started and knowing of the road construction which was pending, they were not in a hurry.

Instead, they began a pop-up business, initially selling their coffee at Get Fit Oakdale and creating their business model.

The business owners shared that, since there was no hurry when the building was purchased, starting the pop-up business was a great way to get to know the community.

“We were not planning on doing anything until that was done,” Rodrigues said of the extensive renovation/construction work on North Third in the downtown corridor.

Rather than rush, they have used the two years to establish themselves as a business and business owners, leading up to the groundbreaking for their Refuge Coffee Oakdale storefront this past April.

“We went completely backwards,” McGaffee said of their Business 101.

“We leapt based on faith and honestly it just felt right,” Rodrigues added.

Now as the building and its construction prompts curiosity and questions, the coffee duo are both excited, as well as realistic.

“It is far and vastly different than opening up a shop, putting in some goods,” McGaffee said. “You can do that in a couple of weeks if you want to.”

“This is quite an undertaking if you think about it being a Curves before and just simple things like plumbing and electrical,” Rodrigues offered.

With the guidance of a strong team of advisors as well as their contractor, Tim Pitassi, the business owners are both thoughtful, as well as intentional with each and every one of their choices.

The 2400 square-foot location will accommodate as many as 49 customers in its indoor/outdoor space. A space they have envisioned for meetings with girlfriends, moms with kids, remote workers looking for a place to plug in and those looking for a quiet spot wanting to check out and have privacy.

“It’s been a huge team effort,” McGaffee said of the gutting of the building and all that has entailed. “I want it to be right.”

“We don’t want to rush it,” Rodrigues echoed. “I know everybody’s excited and we’re excited too. It’s going to be great when it happens, but it’s been a lot.”

While they had initially hoped to be open in late 2023 for Small Business Saturday, the business owners have shared they do not plan to be open until 2024.

Not to be dissuaded by roof damage which caused the building to flood in June, a need for going into the concrete to add plumbing, fluctuating materials costs or countless inspections and permit requests, the coffee duo is certain this is exactly what they are supposed to be doing and how it’s to be done.

“When we hit a hiccup or a bump in the road, we sit on it,” Rodrigues said. “Because it’s worked out the way it’s supposed to, every time. We have to stand in our faith.”

The overall mission of the space is about community and as if perfectly written, the two shared they have felt blessed by a tremendous supportive community.

“Lots of community,” McGaffee said of input and advice. “The coffee world is incredibly small and it’s been really cool to get those bits and pieces.”

They also have remained focused on the big picture.

“Everything that’s going to be in here is based off of how can we change the way you feel for the better,” McGaffee continued.” When you leave here, we want you to feel better than how you stepped in.”

“I just really want us to provide a space where people can come, however they are that day. If it’s a great day or a rough day; a day of grief and day of joy. We want people to feel that we’re going to meet them where they’re at,” Rodrigues said. “Whether it’s pouring them a cup of coffee or having a conversation. We don’t have that. That’s what’s on our hearts to bring to the community.”

Now four years since facing that tough time with a family member, sitting on a leather couch in their still-being-renovated building, McGaffee shared what the space has taught her and she hopes will teach others as well.

“I really want people to know that they can do something in their hard and with their hard,” she said. “There’s hard and we need to sit in that, but I think there’s also something really amazing when we can do something with it, our hard can be for a purpose.”

The dynamic duo continues to host pop-ups, offering their coffee throughout the community until their space becomes open for business. To learn more about upcoming events and locations, visit their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.

The guts and the glory of the soon-to-be Refuge Coffee on North Third Avenue. Beginning construction this past April, the downtown storefront is slated to open in 2024. Teresa Hammond/The Leader