Coffee With A Stranger Cup 122 Christa Tess Kalk

Cup 122 – Christa Tess Kalk – Professor, Maker and “Shop Local” Enthusiast

Coffee With A Stranger Cup 122 Christa Tess KalkThe Place: Patrick’s Bakery

The Cup: Mocha for Christa and Cappuccino for me. We may or may not have also indulged in an item from the bakery case.

The Background: Less than a month ago, my husband Dave and I relocated from Austin, TX to Minneapolis, MN. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we know about winter. If you are interested in the story of our move, pop over here and get the scoop. I’ll warn you now — it’s not that interesting of a story. Christa’s is MUCH more interesting, so be sure to read this one first!

In May I was in Minneapolis for a two part celebration. Part one — a LONG overdue visit with one of my very closest friends in the entire world. And part two, a girls’ weekend with my mom which was a belated 40th birthday celebration (for me) and a Mother’s Day celebration (for her). On that visit, mom and I hit up a bunch of cool stores, coffee shops, and visited a bunch of neighborhoods (yes, the wheels were turning already about a possible move). One store we visited was Minnesota Makers, where we met the shop owner herself! We loved the store, the stories (of the artisans) and especially, Christa! So I grabbed her card and made a mental note to reach out to her if I did, in fact, make a move to Minneapolis.

Which brings us to now. Christa’s had a move of her own since I last saw her and has relocated the store to a space that’s more than double in size (with room to add classes and expand with time) and has added dozens of new artisans as well! And it’s just a couple of miles from her home, so that will make juggling her full time job as a college professor of Communications and her role as mom and wife a little more manageable. OK, it might not do that, but it will eliminate a lot of wasted windshield time, that much is true!

Before we get into Christa’s interesting story and find out how a college professor became a shop owner and advocate of local artists, let’s cover some:

Common Grounds:

  1. What is the best gift you’ve ever been given? My husband brought me on a surprise trip to New York City. As another surprise, he had shipped my skates there. I had always wanted to skate at Rockefeller Center, and in center ice, he got down on his knee and opened a Tiffany box and asked me to marry him. He had arranged for his friend to be there nearby taking pictures, so I have photos of the moment.
  2. How did you make your first buck? I was a Skate Guard at the local ice arena. When kids came to open-skating time, I would skate around and make sure they weren’t breaking any rules or getting hurt. {Like a life guard — just on frozen water.}
  3. Imagine you are 80. Complete these sentences: I wish I had spent more time on:  Travel. I always wish for more of that. It’s never enough. If I could be on a plane once a week, that would be perfect. I wish I had spent less time on: Mindless scrolling through social media. I’m getting better at catching myself.
  4. What is the best documentary or movie you’ve seen? One of my favorite documentaries is called Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: A Class Divided. I show it in all my classes every semester just because it’s so relevant and shows how easy it is to be conditioned to think you are superior or inferior. I find that very fascinating. I think it’s a really good eye-opener for people.
  5. What is the best way to unwind? Travel. When I go to a place, I exhaust it. I’m eating the food, meeting the people, seeing this sights. To me, that’s totally relaxing. If I’m ever stressed out, the one thing I want to do is get on an airplane. I want to see this world.
  6. What’s a food you can’t live without? Tomatoes and mozzarella. I love Caprese salad.
  7. Do you collect anything? Maps and airplanes.
  8. What’s your guilty pleasure? Trashy TV.


Christa grew up in a town two hours southwest of Minneapolis called New Ulm. It was here that her love of crafting and creating was born, as she watched both her grandmother and mother create things from scratch. Christa tells me about the first craft she can remember making. She says, “I remember making my grandfather this gift for Father’s Day. It was a pencil holder made from a tin can wrapped with pink construction paper and I wrote ‘Happy Papa’s Day’ on it.”

That was just the beginning. Today, Christa creates beautiful stone, gem and pearl jewelry using sterling silver. Her business is called Beadtique Jewelry. Her pieces are unique, beautiful, high quality and yet surprisingly affordable.

What’s In Store?

After years of doing craft shows with her mother-in-law, Christa began entertaining the idea of selling her pieces in a retail setting. She was approached by a few fellow artisans who talked of opening a co-op, of sots. The idea was great and they even found a terrific location, but when the time came to pull the trigger, not everyone had the same level of courage and faith that Christa had. Christa decided to take the idea to her mother-in-law, and the pair decided to take the leap together and signed the lease.

That was a year and a half ago. They started with about 30 artists and that grew to 60, and they’ve already added 15 more since deciding to open the store in the new, bigger location. At this point, Christa is getting 2-5 offers a day from artists who are interested in being a part of the store.

Due to the location logistics (the store was just too far from her home) Christa’s mother-in-law made the decision to remove herself from the business and Christa’s husband Jay took over in her place. Now Christa and Jay are working side by side, making their dream of running a thriving handmade artisan market a reality, and watching it grow every day.

Opening Doors

Minnesota Makers just celebrated their grand opening and the success has blown Christa away. Even more exciting than the financial success, she is in awe of the kindness and warm welcome they have received from the community of Robbinsdale. To hear Christa describe it, the town sounds like a place from a distant past (in a good way). It’s got a charming downtown complete with thriving stores, bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops and even a brewery. Christa sounds like she works for the Robbinsdale Chamber of Commerce as she helps me plan my visit to the little town. She is so enthusiastic about her fellow business owners and wants the world to know what a beautiful treat you are in for if you pay a visit to their town.

I ask Christa what the most significant thing that’s happened for her in last 30 days is, and she says, “I had a one week period where I finished the manuscript for the book I wrote during my sabbatical, I had to plan five classes to be taught this fall and I was working on the move of my store to a new space that was double in size, and everything that entails.” Wow! On top of being a wife, a mother and well, you know, sleeping.

A Look Back

The book Christa wrote has an interesting genesis. Christa shares, “I grew up in New Ulm – the most German city in America per capita. I thought about writing this story for years and years. I had to pitch an idea for what I would write my dissertation on, and when I told my professors about this one, they were thrilled. Mostly because I had the ability to walk into town, drop my name and get people to talk to me. If someone from the outside who didn’t have a recognizable name were to come in and say, “I want to research how this community stays the same and how it doesn’t change and how it’s so German and why you do it that way.” They would have said, “Oh everything is fine here. Just go on with your day. Here, have some beer.”

“So I was able to do interviews with people who live there who are German. People who live there who aren’t German. Visitors to the city who are German and visitors who aren’t German. As well as business owners who are German and not German – to see both sides and see how that’s perceived. Some of the people who live in the city who aren’t German are called Ausländers, or outsiders. Which could be seen as a teasing sort of thing — like, you don’t really belong here. So it was interesting to see how it has all happened and how it stays the same.”

Christa traces the history of the city back through WWI,  WWII up to current day, and learns how over the years, various groups of outsiders gave the community cause for closing in on itself — which brought to light reasons for how the town came to function as it does today. Christa expected the story to be negative, but in the end she was surprised by many things and says it was ultimately quite positive.  Sounds like a terrific book and I can’t wait to learn more!

Going Deeper

I ask Christa what she would try if she had a year to get really good at something and she tells me it’s silversmithing, adding, “I love silversmithing — if I’ve had a bad day, I light up a torch and make something beautiful. I don’t have many bad days, I have to admit. But I love being able to play with silver and make new things and new designs. I would love to be able to go further. My designs could be a lot more intricate and detailed and there are places in Arizona and New Mexico where I could take classes from some of the experts. That would be really cool.”


Most creative people have a muse, or something or someone who has been influential in their art. I ask Christa what or who has influenced her and she says, “I learn from everybody. I am so interested, so I ask a lot of questions from my artists because I want to brag about them. When someone walks over to their stuff, I want to say, “Hey, let me tell you the story about that person.” It makes the product more special. I love learning where people get their inspiration. I also learn from other business owners. I have found that the maker community is so rich with ideas and they are so helpful. There are plenty of us out there who have stores like this, but I don’t look at them as competition because we’re never going to have the exact same products. And how exciting it is that so many of us can exist — that there are so many people interested in buying from the artists.”

Christa truly is a special person. She is not only a Minnesota Maker herself, but she is a champion for all makers. If you find yourself in her store, I can assure you, you will hear stories of the artists with items on the shelves. Each piece is as unique as the person who created them and Christa wants to be sure you know how the item you’re bringing home came to being, and details about the artisan whose hands created them. You won’t find a shop owner more committed to the success of others. Be it the artists she joyfully sends checks to each month, or the owner of the pizza shop next door who she sends you to after shopping, she believes in the magic of handmade and local. When you shop in Christa’s store, you take home much more than a bag full of beautiful goodies. You take home the warmth, the heart and the soul of a maker who is making her mark. And making it easier for others to do the same. Hard to put a price tag on that!


If you enjoyed this interview, “Like” the Coffee With A Stranger Project Facebook page and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming interviews with new strangers and other fun stuff. Big, exciting news coming very soon! And you are NOT going to want to miss out on that!

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