She thought she would be baking chocolate chip cookies and selling coffee until retirement. But as Please & Thank You cafés and bakeries expanded, Brooke Vaughn took on a whole new role in the business — ensuring its growth. She says she’s happiest when working on new projects, and she rocks her tattoos proudly. Photo by Melissa Donald.
What was your path to Please & Thank You?
I have a college degree in English and film from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. While in school I worked for Starbucks, and I could see how things could be more organized. For six years I saw what in a corporate structure worked and what didn’t work. I met my husband while I was working there. He was the manager of the record shop next door, and we decided to open up a combination record shop and coffee shop in Louisville. It felt like our dreams were possible in Louisville.
Working on now?
We’ve established our brand, built up the staff, and I want to make sure that those people have careers and opportunity to expand, so I am concentrating on growing the business. Now, I’m not at the café every day.
A defining moment?
When I met Jason, we knew we could do whatever we wanted to do. We were young and in love and just knew that we could do anything.
What makes you angry?
When people don’t take responsibility for their own successes. I’m an atheist, a feminist, and a modern woman. I say, ‘Be proud of you.’
Dislike in yourself?
My brain won’t slow down sometimes. It’s difficult to communicate what I am thinking and hard to make sure people are with me.
Describe yourself in three words.
Candid, intuitive, bossy.
How do you relax?
I’m a hot bath woman. Plus, deep breaths.
I didn’t dream big enough. I believed I would work at Please & Thank You until retirement. People warned me that there wasn’t enough space. People warned me that the business would be very successful. I didn’t plan for its success; I didn’t see myself outside of the business. It was eye-opening to see how many people are willing to buy a part of something authentic. I didn’t see it coming.
When I hired our operations manager five years ago. He was a customer and came in every day on his way to the skatepark. I loved his optimism and his enthusiastic approach to life. He has brought others to the table so that I could be a mother and a wife and take a vacation. He would tell me, ‘Go on home, I’ve got this.’ I feel I have an obligation to help him and people like him who helped us grow so much.
What are your entrepreneurial strengths?
As an employer, I’ve learned that I have a strong sense of self, keen intuition, and am a great judge of character. I’m a natural leader. I also have learned that I’m happiest when working on a new hustle (new work projects, new babies, new spaces).
Who would you invite to the breakfast table?
Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan, musician Rob Zombie, food editor Sam Sifton, and David Bowie. Both of my kids have Bowie references as middle names. Mary Jane’s is Rebel and Clementine’s is straight-up Bowie.
What were your dreams as a kid?
Since I was 12, I said I was going to own my own coffee shop. My dad opened The Daily Grind coffee shop on Frankfort Avenue close to where our cafe is now. As kids, we were there every other weekend so I grew up with an entrepreneurial and coffee background. My second choice would be a professor, but I kept skipping class to go to work.
To what do you attribute your success?
Trusting my people and supporting my people to represent our brand. We love the culture of our brand and that it represents authenticity.
About your tattoos?
Getting a tattoo is a tradition we started years ago. We get tattooed with the management staff every Derby during the race. I have two quotes, ‘The girl with the most cake’ and ‘let go,’ a Ford F-150 truck, and a set of quotation marks.
What have you accepted about yourself?
I’m just going to be me. I’m not going to fake it even if sometimes it doesn’t work out for me. I feel confident in myself because I am authentic. I don’t fake anything for anyone.
If you have a good idea and can physically and mentally give it your all, there’s no reason not to try. Don’t be afraid to ask for the money for your dream.