Meet Kristin Fox-Trautman, owner of Inspire Community Café. To say this woman is a “shero” among heroes is an understatement. Let’s put a cape on her and cast her in the Marvel blockbuster as one of the entourage. She inspires social justice with a joyful demeanor, a warm embracing smile that sparks love and light and a peaceful spirit that is her captivating weapon. But that’s not all — she is making a big impact with her small business located in the Binghampton community at Broad and Sam Cooper.
Binghampton is one of Memphis’ impoverished communities with more than 30% of its community living below the poverty level. Kristin’s employees are part of her family and forward-thinking, inclusive business model — they are paid a living wage, included in business decisions, participants in profit sharing and fully engaged in the development and growth of the business model. Kristin is working to beat the odds and proving that we can all be a vessel of life-giving hope through an inspiring and groundbreaking business model. Meet today’s FACE of Memphis, Kristin Fox-Trautman.
What brought you to Memphis?
I came to Memphis in 1994 from Union City, TN, to attend Rhodes College. The decision to attend Rhodes transformed my trajectory in life professionally and personally. Rhodes community engagement programs and opportunities gave me insight into the varied styles of humanity as I connected and engaged with diverse cultures and communities through service. I fell in love with Memphis and the opportunities to learn about others and grow as a person.
Tell us a bit about your career journey.
I served in the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years, starting in college with internships. My first job was Director of Urban Ministry with the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA). I worked with youth in Madison Heights — a vibrant community housing refugees and local residents. They gave me opportunities to expand my heart and mind by learning from all people from all places and backgrounds.
I taught high school for a couple of years, but I spent most of my career as Vice President of Youth Development at Bridges. I grew a lot professionally, but mostly I grew personally in my time at Bridges. The mission was to bring youth from all over the city together to learn from each other, grow in leadership, find common ground and see the value each brings to making the community a better place. The environment and program were a great honor for me.
Once I started having children, I started consulting and doing freelance work with nonprofits. The passion for community and social justice started the conversation with Terrence and the team to bring Inspire Community Cafe to life.
Tell us more about the mission of Inspire Community Café.
The mission is to nourish community change by providing living-wage jobs, life-giving food and a gathering place that inspires and connects people for the sake of a more just and compassionate Memphis.
We have created a place where people are valued and paid well. We have an employee profit-sharing model, so as the business does well so will our team. I have a flat model. I am not the boss. Everyone is equal in decision-making. We are completely transparent with finances and goals with the employees. I share knowledge of costs with the employees, and together, as a team, business decisions are made. It is important to include the team in decisions and overcoming obstacles together. This is the way to help the whole team understand how to run a business and understand the business model.
We have a passion for life-giving food. Everything on the menu is freshly prepared — no high-fructose corn syrup, no sodas, no fried food. The menu is intentional with vegan and non-vegan options. Terrence, the chef, will say he didn’t have access to healthy food growing up; many people in areas with lower incomes grow up on sugar water, hot chips and corner store food to sustain them, which is not sustainable health.
Additionally, we have a commitment to give 10% of our profits back to the nonprofit community. Each month, we highlight a nonprofit and allow them to utilize our space. They can have a fundraising event here, a board meeting and use the space to raise awareness of their mission. We are intentional about raising awareness and building a compassionate community throughout the city of Memphis.
What is the driving force or inspiration that propels you to enact change?
Our thirst for justice comes from recognizing a lot of people in Memphis work their tails off and don’t make enough money to support their families. We are an advocate for a living wage. As a small business owner, I know it is a challenge to accomplish, but something to strive for. No one in this country should work a full-time job and not make a living wage. In Memphis, a local economist deemed $15 an hour as a livable wage, but that is the bare minimum. If you have more than one child that really is not nearly enough — $15 an hour is a baseline. Minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The average food service wage is around $9 per hour, but we are fighting for $15. Nothing on the menu is over $10, so it’s a challenge to make sure we do not waste anything, and we make the most of everything. I am looking at ways to increase the wage and help people understand tipping and helping increase the wage. So many people in Memphis are working and making minimum wage and having to decide each month which bills to pay to live within a home with basic needs like working electricity.
Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Dorothy Day — prominent key leaders, of course — but, honestly and genuinely, I am most impressed with the people in Memphis who have not had the opportunities of privilege, yet they get up every day and work their fingers to the bone to make a better life for their children. My team members inspire me with their tenacity and resilience and the hardships they face every day, yet they show up every day with a smile on their face. Working single moms in our community, who have no resources or time for themselves — they are my sheroes!
What question would you most like to know the answer to?
Quantum physics and depolarization — I am inspired by how connected all of life is at the cellular level. How can we disparage one another when we realize how deeply connected we are?
What do you want your epitaph to be?
“She let her light shine.” We all have a light within us, a God-given light. Letting my light shine means feeling loved and not needing affirmation from the world, feeling love and acceptance from within, rooted in joy.
What is something you will NEVER do again?
Skydiving – I tell others, do it once, but never again. It was totally exhilarating, but never again.
What is the strangest thing you have come across?
Without judgment, an insect buffet in another country
What makes a good life?
Family, community, a deep sense of purpose, laughter — there is so much joy in being connected with others, being known and loved and being able to live out the mission.
What is your best piece of advice?
Don’t let others dictate your destiny. You have great strength, intelligence and wisdom inside of you that can help you create the path in life that is your true calling.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Chocolate, (having recently experienced the struggles of my car being in and out of the shop) a reliable vehicle and sunshine
Thank you, Kristin! And thank you to Elizabeth Looney of Elizabeth Looney Photography for today’s beautiful images!
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