A Little Yak With Mike Kerns, YAKS Owner

I talk with Mike Kerns, who, with his wife Nancy, owns the local YAKS coffee houses in Redding. Nancy hails form Albany. Ore, and Mike’s from Mt. Shasta. The couple likes to say that they’ve  lived a life of entrepreneurial successes and failures, and each venture has served as their business classroom. Nancy attended college in Corvalis, and was runner-up for Miss Oregon in 1985. Mike completed his AA at College of the Siskiyous and earned his BA at ORU in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

As co-founders of YAKS, Nancy serves as coach and quality control, while Mike says he drinks way to many espressos and is the senior pastor of the Vineyard City Church. They have two teenage daughters, Sarah, 16, a sophomore at Anderson New Tech, and Sheree, 18, a senior at Southern Oregon University. The couple’s long-range plans include living and dying in Redding and hopefully – one day – having many grandchildren.

Q: Mike, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I know you are super busy, so I really appreciate your taking time to answer my questions.

First, for those who just landed in the North State and know nothing about YAKS. What is Yaks, exactly?

We have given ourselves to creating some of Redding’s finest “Living rooms.” Each location is a synthesis of local art, aesthetic décor, and unique interior design. Our hope is to be a place where the community can gather comfortably and eat and drink great goodies. We currently have five  locations in Redding: 3274 Bechelli Lane, 1712 Churn Creek, (behind Dairy Queen), 1715 South St., 930 Hilltop Drive (next to the Sweet Spot), and 913 Dana Dr. (next to Jamba Juice).

Q: I remember before YAKS arrived in Redding, you had a clever marketing strategy to create a buzz. “What the heck is YAKS?”  What a great campaign idea.

It was the brain child of one of our staff members and was a huge hit with the Redding community. We placed signs wherever we could around town and got everyone talking about us before we ever opened. From radio DJ’s to high school English classes. Some of the best guesses were either a new minor league baseball team or a new cell phone company. People still talk about it to this day.

Q: Of course, I have to ask. Where did the name YAKS come from?

We were in a brainstorming session and were joking about how many coffee shops there were and I wrote in my notes, “yes another coffee shop.” We then changed the “c” in coffee to a “k.” The rest is as they say history.

Q: What other kinds of unorthodox out–of the-business-box strategies to you use?

We love guerilla marketing and with the advent of social media it’s more doable than ever before for small businesses with little to no ad budgets. Take, for instance, our video posting on the Facebook page for the South Street store. Each morning our barista posts a humorous video highlighting the day’s specials. Our people are just amazing.

Q: Your YAKS all have a distinct, arty, comfortable look. Do you have a formula of sorts that helps you achieve that look?

The credit goes to my wife Nancy and the team of artists that come together with the creation of each new location. We have done six stores so far and  the most common theme is reflected in the use of texture on the walls. In addition, our furnishings and fixtures are not your usual restaurant type.

It is an eclectic mix of styles, textures and colors. We are most proud of the local art and the contribution each artist makes in the overall design. Dan Ferrarese’s input and art are seen in every shop. From wall textures to clay sculptors to glass table tops and custom designed bases in the style of “found art,” his hand prints are the most predominant.

Q; The look is one thing, but the coffee and food are another. Can you talk about what makes YAKS food and coffee distinct?

We started with a simple concept and value: we would never serve something that we ourselves wouldn’t be willing to pay for if we were the customer. Every food and drink item at YAKS has been created by our in house “food artists” and must be something we would love to eat or drink personally. This means that all our breads, bagels, pastries, salad dressings, croutons, cookies and coffee are painstakingly prepared from scratch using the best available ingredients possible.

We started roasting our own coffees about  four years ago primarily out of a need for better margins and quality control. We currently roast both conventional and fair trade organic coffees from Ethiopia, Sumatra, Costa Rico, Brazil, El Salvador and Colombia. We are always sampling coffees from all over the world and can satisfy anyone’s special request.

I roast Thursday nights and 6 p.m. (at Bechelli Lane) and the public is welcome to come by and watch and smell.

Q: I just heard about your newest YAKS, over in the Shasta Center, off Churn Creek, formerly Sue’s Java. When did that YAKS open?

It’s been a little over three weeks now, and we love all our new friends.

Q: I’ll bet that most YAKS customers are like me, that people have their favorite YAKS. For example, I’m partial to the South Street YAKS, because it’s closer to where I live. Do you find that certain kinds of customers seem to gravitate to different Yaks? Do you have ways you think of the different YAKS, like the little one, the big one, the busy one, the mellow one, etc.

We definitely have seen this. Each store, because of its location, has a unique feel as well as clientele. Downtown tends to be more business professionals. Bechelli draws more groups and seniors while students and tourists tend to gravitate towards South Street and Dana Drive. We are still waiting and watching at Churn Creek.

But one thing we have noticed is that if someone has their favorite store they will drive across town to go to it. As for special names, only Bechelli Lane, we call it the “mother ship.”

Q: Speaking of the South Street Yaks, it was closed for a while, but I’m so happy that it’s back in business. Can you talk about what happened?

A perfect storm of vandalism and theft. Within three weeks we suffered the sting from each which caused us to close and rethink our strategy. It took almost five months and we hope to be around for a long time.

Q: You and Nancy have created quite a YAKS empire. Is that what you had in mind?

If,  by empire, you mean multiple stores, then yes it was planned from the start. We love creating venues for people to enjoy good food, good drinks and good times with friends

Q: Where do you see YAKS heading?

We hope to one day have a franchisable model. We get many requests for YAKS  in other communities. If all factors come together in the right way at the right time it could be possible. We are still learning to navigate the current economic realties but are hopeful along with many others things will get better.

Q: Anything else happening in the YAKS universe that you’d like to share, or anything else you’d like us to know?

YAKS was started as an extension of the values shared by a faith community known as Vineyard City Church. These values include job creation, compassion and benevolence, as well as quality product and service.

We began almost nine years ago with volunteers as a nonprofit, which allowed us to give away our profits each month to worthy and underfunded organizations.

Within the first year or so we were forced to change our model and had to redirect our profits to cover labor costs. As the economy continued to tank, any and all profits disappeared, and other than being a living room to our community and providing jobs, our benevolence has been slim, to say the least.

To this day each and every person associated with YAKS is a paid employee. We currently provide over 40 jobs to folks here in Redding and hope to innovate ourselves into an even greater job provider in the future.

As the future unfolds YAKS  is on track to become a for-profit business with the hope that when we become profitable we can once again use those profits for the things that we think are near and dear to God’s heart.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon says:

    Speaking of the marketing campaign with all of the "what the heck is YAKS" signs, although it was interesting it was a violation of the Redding sign ordinance; and it was not really fair to all of the other local businesses that play by the rules. The signs were placed all over town on public and private property. In fact, I know for sure that they called to inquire about the legality of the promotion and were told that it was illegal. But they did it anyhow. Now if you're anti government / anti regulation you might say who cares about a sign ordinance, and you might also say that government should not regulate private businesses at all. But can you imagine what our town would look like with no regulation of signage at all? It would be a mess. I can't blame someone with a punk-rock attitude who wants to break all of the rules, but that doesn't mean that I'll spend my hard earned $ at their business. I've never been to the YAKS shops because I was skeptical of the non-profit status of a commercial business, especially its relation to a religious organization. It just seemed unfair for a commercial business to NOT pay sales tax as all other businesses do. Those tax dollars pay for streets and other public services that serve commercial businesses. And the whole volunteer employee thing just seemed unfair, too. Just my opinion on YAKS.

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    I second Brandon's concerns.

  3. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    I enjoy drinking coffee at Yaks. The atmosphere is very homey and the employees are super friendly.

    Brandon Dude, read Doni's interview again. You missed Mike Kerns' comment that all of his employees are payed a salary now which means withholding taxes are going to the goverment. I think you're nitpicking and very petty.

    Try Yaks and you're sure to like it and it may change your slanted opinion.

  4. Avatar Scott says:

    I agree with Brandon completely, and I'm glad he had the guts to voice those concerns, since I considered doing so this morning but chickened out. The benevolence may be slim at the moment, but the intent is still there, I'm sure, given the owners' philosophy and their track record. If I boycott larger companies for supporting causes I disagree with, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't do the same with local ones…

  5. Avatar Linda says:

    I was devastated when Sue's Java closed. It was the only coffee house left in Redding that catered to the "alternative" crowd and it was like home to many people over the years. I have tried the new YAKS, which I call Sue's YAKS, but it is extremely expensive and just not as down to earth and comfortable. I am glad to hear they aren't using volunteers, considering how expensive they are. A friend mentionned the YAKS-OPOLY in Redding and I agree. Can't we go anyplace anymore in Redding that isn't "Christian" based?

    • Avatar Annie says:

      Yes, our group had a weekly meeting at Sue's but we won't patronize Yaks knowing it's a Christian-run organization. We've moved elsewhere.

      Redding is predominantly Xian so it's impossible to avoid them altogether. But I stay away from those who make it a mission to preach, as these people do.

  6. I appreciate YAKS as a local coffee shop that has a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere. I like YAKS salads, especially the glazed walnut.

    As a small business owner who works from home, and as someone who tries to support local businesses whenever possible, I often rely upon YAKS as my defacto office, a comfortable, locally owned place to meet and or write (using YAKS wireless).

    If I had a nickel for every work-related meeting I've held at a YAKS I'd be a nickelaire.

  7. Avatar Marc Dadigan says:

    For the love of all that is holy, I just want to know when any non-Starbucks coffee shop will be open late past 9 pm!

    That is really all I want out of life, Redding!

  8. Avatar shelly shively says:

    I find the Yaks coffee shops a source of artistic inspiration, welcoming atmosphere, good food and coffees. Sorry to see such sour comments right out of the gate. Sheesh. I like Yaks friendly style…a few weeks ago, a Yaks "rep" came to the office I work, ( a block from the newest Yaks) the young woman came with a basket of baked goods, menus & a card offering a free bagel each day of the week. Folksy-neighborliness is appealing, and after visiting the new Yaks for lunch, will become a favored local eatery. Welcome to the neighborhood, Church Creek Yaks!

  9. Avatar shelly shively says:

    oops…Churn Creek Yaks 🙂

  10. Avatar Canda says:

    I've enjoyed the Bechelli Yaks, and have also visited the new Churn Creek Yaks, and love them both. Their salads are absolutely delicious, as well as their coffee. I like how each Yaks has it's own decor, and each one is beautiful. I'm surprised to see negative comments about such a friendly, yummy restaurant, where good people are simply trying to make a living, just like the rest of us.

  11. Avatar AJ says:

    I'm gong to have to Google Yaks to see all the locations. A locally owned alternative to the mega coffee invasion from the north which includes good food and good coffee. . . what's not to like!!!

    About the signs? I bettcha that's fixed now.

    • Avatar Scott says:

      You want alternatives, and good coffee to boot? Try Naked Coffee. Or The Human Bean. Or Barista's Roasting Company. All great, all local, all alternatives to the "invasion from the north," without all the baggage—and very nice people to boot in all instances.

  12. Avatar Joe Piazza says:

    I would be interested in clarification of whether the YAKS employees are getting paid at least minimum wage, or just a flat rate that ends up being less than minimum wage. I have heard of church-owned businesses that get all the tax breaks, and then end up paying their staff, say, $40 a day for an 8-hour shift, without deducting payroll taxes and then giving them a 1099 at the end of the tax year.

    Since the good pastor addressed it in the interview, it is obviously a PR issue they are concerned about. So just please clarify whether ALL 40 YAKS employees get paid at least minimum wage and get their payroll taxes deducted.

  13. Avatar Amanda says:

    Ive never had better service at a local coffee shop or eatery than at Yaks. I used to be a big fan of Sue's but over the years it went downhill. The service went from bad to worse and the vibe infiltrated the coffee:(

    I'm happy to see Yaks is doing well and continuing to provide jobs and stellar service. Now….if they could match the chocolate croissants of "From the Hearth" we would really have something!!!

  14. Avatar Nathan says:

    I'm not a fan of Yaks at all. They may pay some of their employees, but give them the guilt trip if they dont put it back in their church. It's a racket. What they put on their employees is mean and should be illegal. It's no wonder why they arent doing well. $12 for a sandwich that goes straight to the owners pockets? No thanks.

  15. Avatar Steve says:

    Wow!

    I think its amazing that people will write things about a business that are knowingly false. Don't you guys know you are playing with people's lives? A business is a huge investment of time, energy, and money, and a lot of people have sunk a lot of themselves into making YAKS a reality.

    Nathan, Scott, Brandon, you guys are wrong, and what's more, you know you're wrong. If you had said you were suspicious of something, then you wouldn't have got me so worked up, but when you claim to know something then you are just outright lying. It makes me think you have a personal axe to grind. What's your story? Why would you lie publicly about local business people? Is it personal animosity at work, or is there something else? Are you guys out of business coffee-shop owners or something? The YAKS owners/employees/founders have family and friends that have to read your words, I am one of those friends, and it hurts.

    You need to consider that there are human beings reading these words; people with real emotions, and people who's lives can be genuinely effected by the power of your words. If you have concerns or questions, go and ask the owners of YAKS. I am sure they would make time to meet with you and address your concerns.

  16. Avatar Name says:

    All I know is that the food is decent, but the coffee was WAY better at Sue's. I wish they would have at least used Sue's coffee, because what they serve now is just meh, and not worth the price.

  17. Avatar keri hayes says:

    Aloha,

    My name is Keri, and I am from The Big Island of Hawaii. I loooooooove Yak's. Whenever I go to visit my son in Mt .Shasta, I go to Yak's. Nancy ,the owner, is one of the nicest ladies I have ever met! The chocolate chip cookies are delicious (filled with real chocolate chips) and if you like peanut butter and chocolate ,they have a delicious frozen mocha type drink that is to die for! The salads are large enough to serve two individuals, and are sumptious as well. There is seating in the front and the back of the store, and the atmosphere is relaxing. If you are a" nachos fan" you are in the right place. Try a plate, you will never eat nachos anywhere else ever again. The staff is upbeat ,hardworking and friendly. Nancy sometimes concocts different drinks, and sets out a sample for her costumers to try. As far as it being a Christian cafe. I never once heard their faith pushed on anyone. Everyone is welcome, there is no judgement there. Now that I am back in Hawaii ,I really miss Yaks. If you are in Redding, Dunsmuir or Mt.Shasta , make sure to stop by, you will be glad you did. P.S. I forgot the name of the desert they have, sort of like a blondie brownie ,it is pure bliss! Shoot, all this writing about Yaks got me hungry………….