Rhonda Bear talks entrepreneurship and living with addiction
(TULSA, Okla.) Rhonda Bear, founder of She Brew Coffee House in Claremore and Tulsa, has been a beacon of hope for women across the State of Oklahoma since 2012.
After growing up in a criminal environment, Bear became addicted to drugs and was arrested multiple times. She was sent to prison and lost custody of her children.
Bear knew she wanted a different life. While incarcerated she began working with Stand in the Gap, who helped her get back on the right track.
Despite her success with She Brews, a coffee house chain that provides employment opportunities to justice-involved women, Bear told VNN it has been a longer and harder road than many people may realize.
And it almost didn’t happen at all.
“There were so many times when there was 78 cents in the bank,” Bear said. “There was no money. That was my profit for the month. 78 cents. And it was so hard. Oh, my goodness. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done is to start it and keep it going. And not let fear take me down.”
Bear said she struggled to run their first location alone and was considering closing the doors when she got a surprise visit.
“One day, these five ladies came to me and said, ‘Don’t close your doors,” Bear said. “We caught your vision. We’ve come to volunteer for you and help you. I think sometimes when you’re starting a business you need some volunteers to come beside you. You don’t have any money to pay anybody. But see if your business model matches anybody around you. That somebody would maybe want to invest a few hours a week in helping you.”
She said if she had to go it alone, she would have quit a long time ago.
“It was too hard,” Bear said. “I felt like too much of a failure. I couldn’t succeed. Only by sharing the mission and keeping on going, just keeping on going, keeping on going. Sharing the mission. And the original five women that came to help me, they stayed with me for probably about a year and a half. And then they had to go their own ways. But after that, somebody else came.”
Bear told VNN she just didn’t know enough about running a business in the beginning.
“I didn’t know payroll taxes,” Bear said. “I didn’t know workers comp insurance. I didn’t know general liability. I didn’t know how to meet the health department requirements. There were so many things that I didn’t know that I really needed some volunteers to come in my life and just walk with me. So that what seemed overwhelming, I at least had some people to bounce it off of.”
She also credited the volunteers at SCORE with providing valuable resources to getting She Brews off the ground.
But the threat of having to shut their doors would return.
“So many times I would be in my prayer closet, fasting and praying, believing that the doors were fixing to shut, and I was praying on how to do it,” Bear said. “And then I get a call that says, ‘Hey, we want to help you open a second location.’ And I’m like, ‘But I’ve only got like 20 dollars in the bank. And I’m praying about how to close the doors.’ And they’re like, ‘Well, before you close the doors, we’re going to offer you a space and we’re going to offer you free rent and we’re going to help you get going if you don’t close your doors.’”
So with those 20 dollars and that help, Bear expanded She Brews into a second location.
“Even with the Tulsa location being a year old, I am just now getting to the point where I might be making a couple hundred dollars a month profit,” Bear said.
Bear said although she has overcome a life of crime, addiction is something she will live with the rest of her life.
“My kids, they say to me, Mom, you only traded one addiction for another,” Bear said. “Now you’re addicted to ministry. And they’re right. I’m addicted to helping people.”
Bear told us a class she teaches to women in prison helps her manage her own addictive personality.
“Every eight to twelve weeks I’m teaching a class,” Bear said. “And in that class, we talk about boundaries and co-dependency. And so that reminds me. It keeps me reminded that I can’t fix the world and I have to set boundaries. Because the addict does not set boundaries well.”
Her boundaries include setting her phone aside outside of regular business hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and reserving Saturdays for family.
Bear said she still receives a lot of phone calls from people experiencing emergency situations but asks that they call 911 instead. And then reach out to her during normal business hours when they are in a safe place.
For more information about how to overcome adversity and enter entrepreneurship, click here.
This story is part of VNN's Community Voices series, dedicated to reporting diverse perspectives of social issues.
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