When It’s Time For A Change

Sep 11, 2020 | Community, Featured, What She's Changing

Kathy Cary, former owner of Lilly’s restaurant, is leaning into a big change after 42 years in the restaurant business.

Even if a major historical event doesn’t affect you personally, it can often change the trajectory of your life. For many individuals, this writer included, the events of September 11, 2001, didn’t harm anyone they knew or change their job or lifestyle, but it changed their outlook. It made them reevaluate what they were doing and why. Many people asked themselves, “If my life ended tomorrow, what would I hate to have missed out on?”

For women in Kentuckiana, COVID-19 has been the historic moment that is forcing them to reconsider both their personal and professional lives. Even if they haven’t been personally impacted by the pandemic, the shutdowns and quarantines have given them time to reflect and decide what they want their futures to look like, and for many of them, that future looks markedly different.

“After 46 years of cooking in Louisville, it’s time for [me] to take an exit,” Kathy Cary says.

THE KITCHEN IS CLOSED

Kathy Cary’s mother was admitted to the hospital on Feb 28, 2020. “For that first part of March, I pretty much watched my mother die,” she says. Her mother passed away on March 10, and on March 14, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear made the announcement that restaurants would have to close due to COVID-19. Kathy, owner of Lilly’s Bistro and La Peche, had to immediately transition from one supremely stressful life event to another.

“I had a lot of time to think,” she says. “Life was changing not only for me personally, but for all the restaurateurs around the world.” Being away from her restaurant and her staff forced her to consider what her future would be. When new rules began to be formulated about how restaurants would have to manage COVID-19 — with masks, gloves, plastic utensils, and limited seating — Kathy thought, “That’s not dining the way I’ve been used to for the past 42 years.”

She and her limited staff transitioned to curbside, but she acknowledges the difficulty of answering phones, cooking, and delivering food to cars on a skeleton crew. In an effort to not waste food, Kathy asked her customers to order 24-48 hours in advance. “I made 100 pot pies [one] week, and I said, ‘I can’t make any more. I physically can’t make any more,’” she says.

Kathy came to the conclusion that it was time to begin her next chapter. “After 46 years of cooking in Louisville, it’s time for [me] to take an exit,” she says. Not only was the world changing, but having just watched her mom die brought home just how short life is. She also didn’t want to put her staff and clients at risk of contracting COVID-19. She says even if her mother hadn’t passed away, she would still be too scared to open her doors to in-house dining.

Because of the Federal Pandemic Compensation Program, Kathy felt like, with her decision to retire, she was able to give her staff a window to find jobs and have a safety net while doing so. “I thought a lot about my customers, my very loyal customers who’ve been with me for years, who I totally love,” she says. “It was a really hard decision,” she said. “I couldn’t keep cooking in this kitchen, working as hard as I do, and feel that life was going to pass me by and one day I was going to die,” she says.

When COVID-19 hit in March and salons were forced to close, Michele Mandlehr had time to think about her career as a stylist and whether she wanted to continue doing that for the long term.

FROM HAIRSTYLING TO HOMESTYLING

Michele Mandlehr spent 15 years as a professional cosmetologist at NOVA Salon. “I grew an amazing clientele and became an educator for our salon’s apprenticeship program,” she says.

She traveled across the country as an educator and helped develop NOVA Collective, a creative team that allowed her to be part of photoshoots, and won North American Hairstyling Awards.

She credits NOVA owner Bennie Pollard as a tremendous mentor and source of support throughout her career. “His example has nurtured an entrepreneurial spirit inside me,” she says.

While still a stylist in 2019, Michele and her husband, Stephen, with help from his father, renovated and resold Stephen’s childhood home. “We just couldn’t believe how well it turned out,” she says. They began thinking of how they might turn this fun project into something more, although they didn’t have a timeframe for when they might do that.

Michele Mandlehr asked herself: “Do I want to wait five or 15 years to achieve another goal?”

When COVID-19 hit in March and salons were forced to close, Michele had time to think about her career as a stylist and whether she wanted to continue doing that for the long term. She spent more time with her children, Stella (5) and Leo (3), and came to realizations about how quickly time was passing.

“‘Do I want to wait five or 15 years to achieve another goal?’” she asked herself. “I used that time to clarify what I want for my future and imagine what life would look like if I pursued other passions.”

Bennie Pollard became a sounding board for Michele as she considered what she wanted to do. She didn’t want to leave her salon family in the lurch, but Bennie helped her see that pursuing her goal would allow other stylists to build their careers if she transitioned her clients to them.

The flexibility of her new schedule has allowed Michele to set up her LLC, network with local investors, and read as much as she can. She has the time to dream and be excited about what her future holds. But she has also made a point to grieve for the loss of her old life. “I gave myself the freedom to feel the emotions I’ve had,” she says. Her 15 years as a stylist shaped her into the person she is today, and she realizes she has to feel all that is bittersweet about leaving one life behind to venture onto a new path.

Stephanie Feger is changing the way she works, which also will allow more time for her children.

NOT JUST THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX, BUT THROWING THE BOX OUT

In January, Stephanie Feger was positioned to have an amazing 2020. For a year and a half, she had worked with a laser focus to build her business to help authors promote their books and help small businesses market themselves.

She was consulting, doing public speaking, and working on two books and says, “I had every minute of the day figured out.” She was also balancing the needs of her three children: Eli (8), Lyndi (6) and Luke (5). Early in 2020, Stephanie and her husband, Cory, had gotten Luke screened for Sensory Processing Disorder, and he began working with an occupational therapist. “[Luke] was really thriving,” she says.

But then things got weird.

COVID-19 shut down schools, and Stephanie’s children were having to do online instruction. “Everything within my business was still strong and moving fast, which sounded great except I had three little kiddos staring at me full time and having a different set of needs,” she says. “Nontraditional instruction (NTI) was hard.” Like many parents, Stephanie found that online instruction didn’t always allow her kids to show their strengths or provide what they needed from an educational experience.

“[The pandemic] ended up really pushing me to evaluate what my purpose was in life, what I was supposed to be doing, and how I was supposed to get there,” she says. A networking meeting with other female entrepreneurs during quarantine helped Stephanie realize that she had to create a whole new box rather than just thinking outside the box when it comes to balancing her career and her children.

She purchased curricula to use with her children over the summer and ultimately decided to homeschool for the next school year.

“[The pandemic] ended up really pushing me to evaluate what my purpose was in life, what I was supposed to be doing, and how I was supposed to get there,” Stephanie Feger says.

“COVID-19 has been a perfect opportunity to reflect. In my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve always come from a place of ‘yes.’ When an opportunity presented itself, I would say ‘yes,’” she says. “I realized that coming from a place of ‘yes’ for my business was pulling me away from the time my kids deserve.”

Stephanie isn’t saying ‘no’ to her business. During the spring, she launched a website and officially named her company, emPower PR Group. What she determined she needs to do is be more strategic and efficient about her work, such as offering on-line courses and webinars.

“I’m reevaluating how my business works,” she says. She has also realized that she needs to look at success differently. “I no longer look at financials or client load as determinants of my success. I’ve had to reevaluate what success looks like to me.”

P.S. Read more about how people are working through adversity and making things happen.

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