By Jill Nagy
A combination of hard work, ambition, and a creative menu have helped Kari Cook, owner of MochaLisa’s Caffe in Clifton Park, to succeed, despite a Starbucks drive-through almost next door and another independent coffee shop across the street.
“We’ve had to really capitalize on some of the things that we have,” said Cook, the owner of the restaurant at 22 Clifton Country Road in Clifton Park.
The restaurant has evolved from mostly a spot for morning coffee to more of a lunch and evening venue, offering paninis and wraps. Flat breads and soups are coming to the menu with onset of cooler weather.
MochaLisa’s was founded 11 years ago by Michael Seriani. Cook bought into the business three years ago and has been the sole owner since last July. The first three years were “a trial for me,” she said, because she had never owned a bricks and mortar restaurant before. Her most recent career was as an independent insurance representative. Before that, she worked as a florist, a nanny, and a child care worker. She is a graduate of Hudson Valley Community College and Russell Sage College.
Like many college students, Cook worked restaurant jobs but was, pretty much, a novice going into the MochaLisa Caffe business. She and a friend were eying vacant space next door for a possible wine bar and tapas restaurant. They took some business courses and made some plans but were unable to raise the necessary capital. Their potential landlord suggested talking to Seriani, who wanted to phase out of the MochaLisa business.
“We developed a rapport,” she recalled, and, pretty soon, they had a contract.
Cook was well into plans for remodeling the building and developing a new menu when she became pregnant with her third child, who is now 20 months old.
Her husband, Chad Tourtellot, was her “master construction worker, and fixer,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without him.” He fixed ovens, tightened loose chair legs and fastened chandeliers. “The scope of what he has done is awesome.”
She credits a “great crew of staff,” comprising 10 employees, most of them part time, with giving her the flexibility to manage the cafe and her family responsibilities.
MochaLisa’s Caffe has live music several times a week and they serve beer and wine. In addition, the cafe has space for meetings and also offers catering.
Cook said that her greatest obstacle in developing the business was “getting to know how to run a business,” but she expected that.
MochaLisa’s Caffe is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The telephone number is 518-383-5373.