Laura Bell is the word 'extraordinary' made manifest. She goes about her days with wisdom, care, and resolution rarely found in people of 25 years. Undaunted by risk or challenges, Laura has assembled an impressive life resume already – earning an English degree, marrying her high school sweetheart, buying and restoring a beautiful old home, blogging like a boss over at The Ivory Bell, teaming up with fellow dreamers to run local businesses and ministries, and starting TWO coffee companies with her husband Cody. Her work ethic, humility, a God-sized imagination will change our community. Mark my words.
Though we've been pals since middle school, Laura and I recently reconnected over some graphic design work. After moving back to my hometown from London, I'm convinced God placed Laura into my path to inject some much needed truth, encouragement, and vision into my weary bones. "I'm tired of the fuss. We all need to hush with the complaining and just do something." These were Laura's words over breakfast last Monday as we discussed the dark cloud that's been park over the world recently. In a season where my dreams have felt foolish and my frustrations have loomed large, Laura's words realigned me with reality. I'm with Laura – let's choose action over opinions, commitment over commentary, and love over being right. Let's join this star member of the Girl Gang in her good, good work.
Tell me about your business – when did you start Market Town Coffee Company? Why did you choose to sell coffee?
We opened for business August 3, 2015. A very simple, product. No fancy frappes or mochas, just drip coffee and cold brew coffee! We went to coffee school in Arlington, TX, and learned all about coffee types, cold brew recipes, and how to run a business and just took off from there. We honestly chose coffee because we love coffee. We realize that even people who don't like coffee will meet at coffee shops because there's something homey about them. Coffee literally creates community. It is a sit-and-sip kind of drink and we know the world needs a little more "sit-and-sip" type atmosphere in all of the busy.
Market Town is a non-profit that supports efforts to end human trafficking in Alabama. Why did you choose to benefit anti-trafficking causes specifically?
My husband, Cody, is very passionate about the issue of human trafficking, even more so than I am. We both felt plagued by the epidemic in college and his passion was to do something about it. We recognized the power of the people and organizations that brought awareness, but we REALLY wanted to help people who were in the business of rescuing women, because that is one of the most grueling and difficult jobs out there. Human trafficking is HUGE in Alabama and we wanted to be a part of loving the ministries in our state that were rescuing and rehabilitating the victims!
How do you think small businesses can improve communities?
I always think of that scene in School of Rock when [Jack Black] gives the lesson about "the man". Often times it's so much easier to have towns full of franchised establishments and let "the man" take over. Money is more accessible, things are more convenient, it takes less [effort] to participate in the big corporations. With small business, you have to give more of yourself. The small business owner is running the game, they want to help other people do what they do, customers know the owners personally and grow a relationship. Communities might have to inconvenience themselves just a *touch* more for the small business rather than a huge corporation, but it draws in a sense of community, development, kindness, effort, and selflessness. It makes people feel like they are a part of something when they know they are buying from a small business owner... you feel like you are connecting to your town... you are owning your town. Dang, it's just good.
Your run your businesses with your husband Cody. What are the strengths that each of you bring to managing Market Town and Goat Hill Coffee (your for-profit coffee company)?
My husband is passionate about the product and the numbers. I love seeing him roast coffee. It's such an art to him. He will watch and let coffee roast 30 seconds longer to make it perfect. He is a strategic business man with numbers, spreadsheets, timelines, and clients. He majored in business and knows how to project where we are going and what we could achieve. I'm the go-getter and the people person between the two of us. I meet with the clients for Goat Hill, I respond to the emails, I stood on the street corner for MTCC and spoke to strangers. I could talk to a wall if I needed to. I love the people aspect of business, which I think is a strength when it comes to making our customers feel like they are a part of what we are doing!
What is the most difficult part of running a business?
Actually running the business, HA! Running a business is hard because if you don't get up and get to work, you don't get paid. When others are doing 8-5 with paid vacations and sick days, we are working to make sure our budget is balanced, projecting new goals, roasting more coffee, packaging, delivering, etc. It's all so wonderful and challenging and motivating... but owning your own business is NO JOKE. Cody and I work other jobs alongside running our businesses, so basically we are insane. But we love it.
What is your favorite part of running a business?
I love that it's mine. I get to make the calls, I get to make it what I want it to be, I can add or take away. It is all about creativity and a good product. I think the Lord wants us to tap into what we love and just lean into it completely. I love that this is our thing to lean into and just go for it. We love that He has given us permission and freedom to pursue that with full force. We were created by the Creator to be creative! What an awesome gift we have been given to do that!
A lot of people leave Montgomery once they finish high school. Why did you decide to stay in Montgomery?
Well, if I am being real, I left for a semester to go to my dream school in Nashville. As life would have it and God Himself would orchestrate, I shortly came home and went to college here. Family finances in those years were tight and Faulkner University was an affordable option. It wasn't my dream, it wasn't my aim, but I can honestly say it was a very pleasant surprise. I'm glad I ended up back home. I ended up in college with my now husband, I ended up in a city that needed better local businesses and I got that opportunity. Montgomery... it's better than we alllll think.
You are prodigiously productive and, from the outside, it kinda seems like your day has more than 24 hours! One of your many jobs is at Common Ground Montgomery. What is Common Ground and what's your role there?
Ha, yes! Common Ground Montgomery is an urban ministry in west Montgomery County reaching kids in the Washington Park community through educational development and spiritual growth. We run an after school program during the school year that helps kids with their schoolwork and gives them knowledge and understanding about the person and nature of Jesus! In the summertime we run an 8-week summer camp that basically does the same thing, only with a lot more fun activities and incredible interns that come and love our kids all summer alongside us! I am the volunteer coordinator, the assistant to the executive director, and the middle school cooking teacher! I basically answer a ton of emails and phone calls, get people involved in the ministry and teach our awesome kiddos how to cook, read recipes, use measurements and other tricks of the kitchen!
How do you believe we can best love our neighbor?
I love how the Lord talks about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. I think for a long time I lived my life with no boundaries. I thought being a "good Christian" meant exhausting myself for the sake of the kingdom. But in reality I was just a sweet girl who loved no one because I never took time to take care of myself. In time, I have learned that by coming to love myself and who I am – quirks and weird and good and bad and all – I am so much better at loving my neighbor. I can totally be myself. My neighbor deserves my love and goodness, which can only be given if I know and love who God created me to be. I've never enjoyed an ounce of time spent with a person who was hardly listening and barely present. But when I'm with the people in my life who set good boundaries and dedicate the time they have with me solely to me, I feel the greatest presence of the Lord and experience a type of heaven-on-earth goodness. I know that God has asked me to love myself and partner with him so that my neighbor feels the best kind of heaven-love there ever could be when we are together.
In your wildest dreams, what would your future look like?
In my wildest dreams, I would be an author of a New York Time's bestseller. I would go on a book tour and something about that book would help people come to know what they are capable of and that they are loved by Jesus. Oh, and I would do all of that as a mama, so that my kiddos could know and see that you can be anything you dream of and carry a bravery to pursue what they love. Oh, and I would totally have a personal shopper with me that would show me the best clothes to wear in it all. Vain? Whatevs. I need a personal shopper now.
What is the most important quality a woman can cultivate in herself?
AH, so many. The best, most important quality is learning your value. I think it is really hard to know how valuable you are as you go through all the quirky phases of life. I think the most beautiful women in this world are the confident ones. What if we were all confident? Women are only catty because they want to be noticed and valued. If we were all confident in how valued we are by the Lord, we wouldn't let anything hold us back. When we value ourselves, we value other people around us, especially other women. Ah, imagine if we just all valued each other, then we would honor creativity and beauty on a whole different level! Know your worth, and just rock it.
Who is the woman you most admire?
Ah, my mama. My Wendy girl. She is such a dream. She has always been such a source of strength and truth in my life. I love that she never tried to be the "cool" mom. She was always ahead of everyone else in wisdom. She honors people and their season of life. I love that. We need a culture of honor in our world so badly and my mama, she carries that. She carries it with her wherever she goes. The other day she told me I was like her "little Gilmore" – she meant Gilmore girls, "Lorelei and Rory vibe". She has her own vocabulary that she expects everyone to know, which is one of my favorite traits of hers. So, I rolled with it and she said, "I love that I get to be your mama and your friend, it's one of my favorite things in my life." Goodness, it's mine too. A woman who is so full of honor that she cultivates honor in everything she does.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be proud of what you love – own it, rock it, tell the world about it and don't let other people's opinions steal the joy that you have it in. Encourage other people to do the same. They deserve to be noticed and honored for their creativity just like you!