Vicki Wilson Spills the Tea on Finding Success by Valuing People

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Vicki Wilson, founder of Door County Coffee & Tea in Carlsville, WI, created the culture of her business based on a Mark Anthony quote: “And one day she discovered that she was fierce and strong and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back, because her passion burned brighter than her fears.”  

Twenty-eight years after opening her gourmet coffee shop, she has learned how to recognize top-notch coffee and tea, market her products, and hire her staff. She values the latter just as much as the Class 1 Arabica beans that make her coffee the best I’ve ever tasted. 

She has grown her business to 65 employees, 53 of whom are women, and her employees say that she’s as much in the people business as the coffee business. Her coffee is now sold in 30 states, and her Door County store has become a meeting place for the community to gather and linger. This is a woman who has never put business before people, and it’s brought her something much greater than financial success.

I spoke with Wilson and asked her how she’s made it all work — from becoming an entrepreneur to raising two sons who are now key players in her business to creating a welcoming space for the community. Her answers are enlightening and inspiring. 

Is your family involved in the business?

VW: When my sons were 8 and 9, they would help out at the shop, then they became full-share, working kids before they were 14 because it is a family business. Over the years, they grew into incredible employees who met my high expectations, and most importantly, learned how to be good to people. They worked every position and then went off to college. When Doug, Jr., my older boy, graduated, he submitted his resume to my VP of Marketing without even telling me! Apparently, he blew his competition out of the water, and now he is the Director of Business Development. My younger son, Conrad, graduated and married, worked for an engineering company, then came to work here. He’s been here four years as our Plant Engineer. My husband finally retired and came to the shop 8 years ago as CFO. Even my daughter-in-law works here as our HR Specialist and Safety Expert. 

How have you created a work environment where people truly want to be?

VW: I’m a big believer in walking the talk. As a business owner, I quickly discovered that our people are the most valuable assets we have. It’s my job to give them the tools to allow them to achieve anything they set their minds to. I’m here to develop people. We promote from within; former baristas are now directors in our company. They all had drive, passion, commitment, and determination and only needed a little help and mentorship. When I look at their success now, it gives me goosebumps. 

Can you share an example of how your people-first approach works?

VW: One employee came to me at 22 years old, a newly divorced single mother who started as a barista making minimum wage. She is now a proud director. I recognized her gifts and mentored her, but she did the hard work and earned that! 

We have a Director of Grocery who has 2-year-old twins and a third newborn. She’s brilliant, a star, a real career woman. But with three kids under 3 years old, she thought about work-life balance and came to Doug Jr. and asked to go part-time for the next five years. This is a big, full-time position, but we didn’t want to lose her, so we said okay and found a way to make it work. We told her, “We have to hire someone to drive the business, but we don’t want to lose you, so work part-time and when you’re ready, you will not have missed a beat and we will return you to director.” 

I am so grateful because in my day, if women wanted to unplug to take care of our families, our careers would be over. We’re all about family, and it’s just the right thing to do. 

How has your shop become a meeting place, of sorts, for the Door County community? 

VW: A lot of people come together here as a gathering place. I mean, who doesn’t love coffee? I love what we offer and the feeling people get when they’re here. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone. Plus, we’re aware that we’re part of a much larger community outside of this shop. We get asked constantly to support events with coffee, and we do. We are a year-round employer — many businesses shut down during the winter months — and while we’ll never be the biggest, we try to be the best. 

Tags: Entrepreneur, Family, Inspiration

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Written By

Rebecca Deurlein

Rebecca is a freelance writer, author of the book Teenagers 101 (Harper Collins), and a former Girl Scout. Her home is Houston, TX. See Full Bio

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