POSTED ON APRIL 25, 2012:
Shades of Brown owner Melinda Curren savors the sweet life she's made for herself
Melinda Curren was born in Muskogee, but moved to Tulsa when she was two years old. She attended Monte Cassino, Victory Christian School and Oral Roberts University. Not long after graduation a dream was born.
She had started waiting tables to save money for a trip to Europe and realized then that she was really interested in coffee. After returning home from her trip, she worked at a coffee shop for a while, learning as much as she could and falling in love with the "coffee culture," which was gaining momentum in Tulsa at the time.
Next Curren spent eight months in Prague then four months in Spain. As she experienced European culture once again, she got more ideas about what she wanted to do with her life. She said it was "good momentum" for when she returned to Tulsa. "I had a lot of confidence and excitement, and that kind of snowballed," she said.
She started getting a business plan together and buying furniture for what would become Shades of Brown, Brookside's beloved coffee shop. The location she chose had been a train and toy store. "It needed a lot of work, but I could see it becoming what I wanted and I liked the corner slot," she said. "And I liked the strip because there was no other coffee shop here on Brookside.
"I didn't have any money. ... I had some money saved, but not nearly enough to start a business," she said. Determined, she found a way to make it happen. "Even though I was 25 and didn't have anything to my name, I still just went for it and it kind of fell into place piece by piece," she said. "[It] opened up easily and has been not a very difficult endeavor, just because I loved what I was getting into and I loved what I was doing.
"And I had my family to support me. They helped me paint the place. My sister's worked for me since the beginning. ... Almost everybody who's worked for me has been a friend." She said the family atmosphere has created "a lot of loyalty and trust" and she attributes her success to that. They've been going strong for almost eight years, since July of 2004. "Now feeling like we're a staple feels good," she said.
"If you just have a dream or something you really desire or are passionate about, you go for it, people tend to come along side you and support you in that. ... Things can really fall into place. And then that builds confidence for bigger things in the future."
Shades of Brown is open from 6:30am-midnight on weekdays and until 1am on weekends, so she's not there all the time, but does stop by for a little while almost every day. "I do a lot of the stuff just to help it keep running smoothly," she said. "I have such good staff that I feel like I'm lucky in the sense that I don't have to be here looking over their shoulders all the time."
Curren has no desire to open up any other Shades of Brown locations. "I really just enjoy keeping it small," she said. "It's important to follow where you heart leads you, like Joseph Campbell says: 'Follow your bliss.' I feel like I did that with this place and it succeeded. And I didn't do it initially to make money." While opening a second location would perhaps be a good business decision, it's not what her heart is telling her to do. Having the one location keeps it special, she said.
However, just because there's no Shades of Brown 2.0 on the horizon doesn't mean nothing else is in the works. A couple years ago she married Zach Curren, who's very passionate about food (his dad owns Local Table and Biga). "We're thinking about doing something together in the future," she said. At this point they're still in the idea phase, but they would love to open something like a deli or café downtown, close to where they live. The project is new and exciting for both of them.
Pottery is another one of her side projects. A few years ago, she and her mom took a class with Linda Coward and learned how to make coffee mugs, which they now use and sell at Shades of Brown. They work on their creations 2-3 times a week now that the mugs are flying off the shelves. "We can hardly keep up with our production," Curren said. "It's fun because I like to see what we're making being used. People appreciate it; they love hand-made. Each piece is a piece of art."
There is plenty of other art at Shades of Brown as well. "My mom is an artist -- that's what initially started the thought of it also being a rotating art gallery," she said. Seeing a few coffee shops in Prague that also featured art "helped solidify the idea of what I wanted to do here." Along with the art on the walls, they sell everything from handmade journals to jewelry to pottery and local musicians' CDs. She said she likes for first-timers to be able to display their work there along with artists who have shown many times in the past.
While she is plenty busy with all of that, the most important "project" of all is the upcoming birth of Curren's son, due in July. "I'm going to do a natural birth with a midwife (Ruth Cobb). ... I feel like it will empower me even more," she said. "You have to go out of the system and out of the way to do something that you want to be done, but that is sort of my life. If I want to do something a certain way, I tend to make it happen.
"That's a lot, really -- the business and then the baby -- but I really think it can all be done, keeping a positive outlook on everything and living life how you want to."
As far as longer-term goals go, since Curren still loves to travel she eventually wants to "live in a South American country for an extended amount of time" with her son, she said. He could learn another language and get a taste of a different culture -- an amazing experience for a young child. "That's always in the back of my mind, to get that overseas experience," she said.
Her roots are in Tulsa, however, and always will be, mostly because it's where all of her friends and family are, but also because the city itself is growing and getting better all the time. "I love Tulsa," she said. "I feel like it's a great city. It's not huge to where it's overwhelming, and it's not too small. ... It's already becoming what I feel like it's growing into. It's just exciting to be a part of it."
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