Celeste Shaw spent much of her childhood on a farm near Wolf Point, a tiny town in northeastern Montana. From an early age, she says, she was torn between being out with the cowboys where the action was, and being inside with the women, whose job it was to do the cooking.
“When I was 4 years old, I remember my grandmother Selma saying to me, ‘Sissy, there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who want to be served, and those who love to serve,’” Shaw says.
She has always chosen the latter.
From Shaw’s long-time career in critical care nursing and her work for Healing Hearts Northwest, an organization that provides open heart surgery to children with rheumatic heart disease in Rwanda, to her Chaps restaurant in Latah Valley, and her new vintage retail shop—Lucky Detour—her mission has always been to give back.
Chaps Restaurant and a separate bakery there called Cake, run by her business partner Gina Garcia, are well known for their baked oatmeal, pancakes and breakfast scones. They occupy a renovated 4,000-square-foot, circa 1912 farmhouse, located at 4237 Cheney Spokane Road, off U.S. 195 in Latah Valley. The décor is unexpected, vintage chic, and styled by Shaw with valued antique possessions she has curated from across the country.
The restaurant is open for breakfast on most days by 8 a.m. followed by lunch and dinner, which on some days is served until 10 p.m. Shaw has 20 to 25 employees, depending on the seasons.
Today she employs eight kitchen chefs and four pastry chefs. The restaurant has been written about in a number of national magazines and was the subject of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives segment with Guy Fieri in 2010.
Shaw says Garcia manages the bakery at the restaurant and is “dear to me like a sister.” Shaw says she is amazed at how accomplished and talented Garcia is. “I have so much respect for her, and I’m in awe of her talent as a mother, a boss, a business woman. It’s such a gift,” she says.
Besides her culinary talents, Shaw is also well-known in the local and regional shabby chic world of antiques and junking for her style and design chops.
She says she started working on the house three years before the quaint restaurant opened. “It took me about three years to build it out,” she says.
She had no retail or restaurant experience to speak of but decided she wanted to re-create her grandmother’s homestead. She says she long dreamt of calling the restaurant Chaps in honor of her grandfather’s work-worn leggings. Her grandfather, Hans Tveten, a Norwegian immigrant, and her grandmother, Selma Elizabeth Olson, left Minnesota to homestead under the big skies of eastern Montana shortly after they married, she says.
“I dreamt of a place filled with friends having coffee, and lemonade with cake … a coffee house with the memories and memorabilia of my childhood life. In this coffee house I would wear an apron, stained with coffee, cake, lemonade and Hershey chocolate,” she writes on her website, chapsgirl.com.
Her business philosophy is focused on “embracing community,” she says, much of it based on what she experienced with her grandparents.
“Every day, it’s amazing to me … what the Spokane community is about, a community of family and loyalty and support. I see that manifested by people standing in line,” she says. “Sometimes there will be as many as 200 people who will stand in line waiting for (breakfast). They’re talking with one another, letting their children play, meeting their neighbors, meeting people they don’t know … they are patient and happy, making friends, seeing friends, that’s what is amazing to me. I’m lucky enough to be part of that.”
Although she calls herself naïve about opening a business, especially a restaurant, with no business background, she says at the same time her lack of experience helped because she wasn’t jaded, or had the idea that what she wanted to do was too hard. Shaw says the restaurant is profitable, but she declined to discuss revenue.
Lucky Detour, Shaw’s latest endeavor, is a vintage décor store opened last month at 1930 S. Inland Empire Way near Hangman Creek in an old 1930s gas station in about 1,500 square feet of space. The neighborhood, just south of downtown and about three miles from Chaps, is commonly known as Vinegar Flats. The store features vintage architectural pieces like archways picked from turn-of-the-century homes, repurposed furniture as well as antiques, new reproductions and quirky items for home and garden.
The name Lucky Detour was the brainstorm of Penny Simonson, one of several local vendors who sell on consignment in the store, and longtime owner of an antique store in the Puyallup, Wash., area.
“She said this was the original road into Spokane and as it has grown and changed, this road became just a detour. To find this place is lucky. This place is a super find. You’ve found a lucky detour if you’ve found this little neighborhood,” she says.
“Celeste is such a joy,” says Simonson, who says Shaw is also a “junking buddy.” “I’ve come to admire that she is all about community and friendship,” Simonson says.
Simonson says she respects Shaw’s business savvy as she has watched her run the restaurant.
“When you walk into Chaps, it has such a look about it, she’s got her thumb on the pulse of what is going on,” she says. “I’ve watched how she treats her employees … she runs a tight ship but she is always in there right alongside them, washing dishes and pouring coffee. She’s got a sharp eye and a brilliant mind when it comes to business.”
Besides Simonson, Shaw works with several vendors, including local broadcaster Dana Haynes who owns a line of candles called Dandles Candles; Holly Baublitz, a former antique store owner; and Dan Webb, a local collector of vintage industrial pieces, among others. She says Webb has fun, industrial types of vintage decor and lighting.
She says business processes and systems are all in place for the store, keeping track of separate vendors and everything is working well, although she has been open only about a month. “I have a really good system for sales and (inventory) and we all work in such a cohesive way. It’s such a happy environment and everyone is so supportive of everyone else,” she says.
By education and training, Shaw has a master’s degree in nursing, specializing as an intensive care unit nurse for many years at Spokane’s Deaconess Hospital. She and her husband, Dr. Dan Coulston, a critical care physician in Spokane, now travel to Rwanda every year with Spokane-based Healing Hearts Northwest.
Shaw says she has traveled with pediatric surgical trauma teams on more than 50 medical missions.
She credits the medical teams she’s worked with in providing the best care possible.
“These people are very generous and talented nurses and physicians that have done work all over the world, with no deviation in the standard of care. The standard of care is of the highest level,” she says.
Shaw still works as a critical care nurse but mostly part time in her husband’s practice. The couple also has a combined family that includes three grown sons.
She says she loves being a nurse and now loves being a businesswoman.
She isn’t even sure herself how she gets it all done.
“You know what they say, if you need something done ask a busy person. You just find the time for what matters,” she says.
“I’m not a vacationer,” she explains. “I find joy in working, being inspired, being inspiring, being happy. I bring those things into the business every day. You have to love people, whether it’s nursing or serving people in a retail business, or a restaurant.”
Shaw is at the restaurant for at least part of the day on a daily basis and at Lucky Detour part time. The store is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Her values around business and money are as atypical as her design sensibilities.
“It gets in the way if everything you do in business is based on whether there’s a profit to be made,” she says. “If you do the right thing, the money follows.”
“I don’t think everything should have money as its basis,” Shaw says. She says when she approaches a project or business, money is not a primary motivator.
“First I think … I’ll do it. Then, I think, I’ll love it and I’ll work really hard. Good business is based on thoughtfulness first. The money has to be something that follows. I don’t want to be rich. I just want to change the world,” she says, laughing.
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