We talked to: The Zen Frog Cafe

Hi, Emma! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your business, and why you chose downtown Florence as a location?

Hi! Florence is very special to me, as I grew up here. Having the opportunity to open a coffee shop right downtown with Michelle, my business partner, has been truly wonderful and something I’ve always dreamed of. There were spots in Northampton that we checked out, but we felt like offering another place in downtown Florence would be even more meaningful and important for the community. And because I grew up literally right around the corner, it just felt meant to be that we were able to take over this space.

I have been in food service for a while now, starting out at La Fiorentina in Northampton years ago. I’ve also got my master’s in social work and work as a therapist when I’m not at the coffee shop. I just love the idea of food, community, and connecting people, and a coffee shop lends itself to open conversations, getting to be fully present with people, and even discussing mental health. I like to think of it as a “third space” where self-care can happen, relationships are formed, and fun and engaging events can take place.

What are some challenges you’ve experienced as well as some positive things that have transpired in the past several years?

I feel like there have been a lot of ups and downs since the pandemic began. I think quite a few people experienced imposter syndrome and were comparing themselves to others and having a lot of self-doubt. I think because we had so much extra time to think, many of us were wondering if we should be doing something new and different—if we were actually doing a good job at our work and in our lives.

On a positive note, it gave us time to follow our passions and try new things. The year before the pandemic, I graduated from college and began my first social work job. Then, at the beginning of Covid, I switched to remote sessions. Ultimately, I ended up taking a leap of faith and went to work at the Nitro Bar in Newport, Rhode Island, where I learned so much that has helped me transition to running and co-owning Zen Frog. Now I really feel like between both types of work, I have found this balance that brings me happiness and a sense of purpose.

What are some exciting things/products/events coming up for the business?

We have our monthly concerts that we’ve been doing and will continue with those. We’re also going to be hosting a few events for local businesses, including the J.S. Bryant School, a therapeutic day high school that will encourage, support, and inspire LGBTQ+ students. We’ll have a community conversation here so that people can come and learn more about what the school is doing. We are also planning some fun DIY workshops, and will be sponsoring Yet Another Queer Pop-Up Market on May 18th. I’ve also spoken with Madden at Bookends about collaborating on some events, that’s something to look forward to!

As a business owner, what do you do to unwind/relax/rejuvenate?

I really try to practice self-care, especially since I talk about it with other people so much! I love spending time at home with my partner and our dog and two cats. We just moved into a house together, so we have a lot of projects we want to do, which is exciting for us. I also love cooking—I find it’s a great way to unwind and relax.

What is one thing about Florence that inspires and motivates you?

I feel like there are a lot of things—it is truly so special here, and there is a sense that people really want a community. Some of our events are just unique to this village, such as the Memorial Day Parade, the Halloween Parade, and seasonal lights. These events are just so sweet and nostalgic for me, since I grew up experiencing them and I love that they have continued!

And finally... What’s your favorite spring food and/or beverage?

I am really excited for fresh, local produce. I also love a nice, fresh pasta dish and I’ve recently started to make my own pasta. It’s a process and you really have to commit to it, but it’s definitely a fun project, especially if you are making it with friends! Also, my partner makes amazing mocktails, so I’m looking forward to spring-themed beverages.

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