Show Melissa Howard a challenge, and she’ll dive in head first.
“We heard the Carter Payne Chapel might be available … nobody knew if the tenant was going to stay or not,” she recalls, “so like a crazy person I got in the car and drove to Texas and found the lady that owned the building. I said, ‘I know this isn’t considered stalking in the state of Texas — it might be in Colorado — but can I take you to lunch and tell you what I want to do with this building?’ She was kind of weirded out, but she said yes.”
“We kind of reverse engineered this brewery,” she said of Local Relic. “There’s no real playbook, so you kind of throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks. … We did it completely backwards. People told us we were idiots and crazy, and ‘What is wrong with you?’ We told them, ‘We still haven’t been diagnosed, nobody knows what’s wrong with us — but this is how we’re going to do it.’
“We really dug deep and figured it out. We are inherently fortunate that the people who have crossed our paths have been super helpful in wanting to see small business succeed.”
Howard’s journey into social enterprises began with Common Cause Catering, which she launched part-time with Jeff Zearfoss, while both had other day jobs.
The catering company expanded into consulting and commercial services and, for eight years now, Howard has been helping people transitioning out of homelessness and domestic abuse situations to gain life skills and culinary training, then move to full-time employment via internships with Common Cause.
“We really had a mission to hire people that were struggling in other areas. …” she said. “We never had to look for those people; they always found us.”
Local Relic came next, then the 121-year-old Carter Payne, which was the first African-American church in Colorado Springs, and has been reborn many times since.
“We wanted to create a space that is welcoming to everyone regardless of religion or race or creed or orientation — a place to come and meet your neighbors,” Howard said. “I feel like our community is so amazing but our world is — um, on the struggle bus, man. Everyone’s angry. So we really wanted this to be a place that, as a community, we can celebrate, we can mourn, we can laugh, we can cry, that we can get to know the people that otherwise we walk by on the street — and never know who they are, what they do, what their contribution is or how you could help them.
“The rising tide lifts all boats,” she added, “so we have to give back to the people and to the community to make sure our tide keeps rising.”
What do you want to be when you grow up?
“I don’t want to be the CEO or the COO — I want to be an example. … That you can find success, you can do good in our world, and you can still be madly, wildly successful.”