Business owner talks about expanding and molding to Eugene
There are points in every person’s life when someone is there to help them up and give them the opportunity to succeed. Aaron Chester is that kind of person.
At the 34 years old Chester, the owner and manager of Perk Coffee & Espresso on
Willamette Street, has been all over the place. After being born in Leavenworth, Kan., his family moved around a lot. Upon graduating from high school he attended a number of colleges, including Lane Community College and the University of Texas. Though he did not graduate, Chester had been going to a technical school, and had previously been employed as a fiber optics technician.
Asked about why he left that line of work, he said “It was a job that I didn’t feel like I could be myself in, and being myself was more important to me than making money.”
Chester isn’t limited to the ownership of one business, either. Along with his wife Mitra, he owns the café and two clothing stores. Deluxe, which is located on the 1300 block of Willamette Street, and Kitsch, which is on the 1000 block of Willamette Street, cater to the Indie-style that has begun to resonate in the Eugene area.
While Deluxe contains “the darker side of vintage, local and modern men’s and women’s clothing” according the its website, Chester says this about Kitsch: “It sells the sillier side of things… Kitsch serves a younger demographic; brighter colors, sillier things, more geared towards being able to go out on the weekend.”
He also enjoys having a direct influence over the environment at the stores. Not only that, it “adds a validity to me talking about things I care about in the area,” he says. The fact that he owns three businesses in the Downtown area lends credence to his words, making what he says is taken more seriously than if he was a regular citizen of Eugene.
Having an influence in the community is not limited to city or neighborhood council meetings, according to Chester. It also allows him to take in employees that he thinks he can create a “nurturing environment for.” Having direct control over everything in his businesses allows Chester to do many unconventional things. For instance, he often doesn’t have enough money to pay a new hire, so instead he hires them as an intern, teaching them how to be a barista and make coffee so that have enough experience to get hired at another coffee shop in town. An example of that is Okon Udosenata, a barista at Perk for about a year.
“I own my own coffee shop, and Aaron helped me with training,” said Udosenata.
His wife Mitra and mother-in-law Deborah also help others via Deluxe by offering sewing
classes to the people of Eugene, as well as more intricate techniques like pattern design and machine sewing. By being able to improve his employees’ lives, both while they work for him and in the long run, “it lends to a really enjoyable level of life satisfaction in a lot of ways.”
For the number of customers who come into Perk daily, one would think that Chester does a good job of advertising his business.
“I don’t advertise,” he says. “I was in the Register-Guard once. Otherwise, I completely depend on word of mouth.”
It’s obvious that he values those regulars as well, making sure to remember what is going on with them, and his knowledge of the little things seems to endear him to his customers. At one point, a motorcycle pulls up in front of Perk, and the rider talks to Chester about a rally that he is attending. Chester immediately knows what he is talking about, along with the models of specific motorcycles that he would like to ride or has ridden. He puts his name and business out there to friends, and by taking that kind of chance, he has been able to attract exactly whom he wants to attract.
“I’ve been able to get a really diverse group of loyal, local people who are looking for what this is,” says Chester. “And to have 80 percent of my customers be regulars, and will tell me an express direct towards what I do.”
Even with the mark that he has left on Eugene and its community, Aaron Chester knows that Eugene has to accept you, not the other way around.
“For the first 5 years that I lived here, I fought to make it what I wanted, and it just resisted the entire time,” he said.
Usually in most towns you are told to dive in and make a little niche for yourself, but in Chester’s opinion, if you try that here, you are bound to belly flop. By waiting patiently, Aaron Chester has created a name for himself here in Eugene by making Eugene part of that name.
“You have to wait for Eugene to open itself to you, and then it will provide everything that you want.”