Dynamic Duos: Elissa McKee and Thomas Moore

Posted by: Alona Gilpin on February 1, 2023

Couples that work together stay together. We're interviewing couples who own businesses together to learn more about their stories and experiences. First up is Elissa McKee and Thomas Moore of 1823 Bakehouse and Root2Rise Coffee Bar & Juicery.

Q: What is your professional background like?

A (Elissa): I have a Bachelor of Media Arts and science at IUPUI. I went out to Los Angeles and worked in film and television. I then worked in corporate video producing at DIRECTV. I went back into television for one last show in Vancouver, British Columbia. After Canada we moved back here and bought this business.

A (Thomas): Pretty similar with me. I got an Informatics degree and moved to Los Angeles. I worked in corporate IT jobs initially. I then moved to electric utility work and became a consultant. That’s what took us to Vancouver, British Columbia from Los Angeles. We decided to stay here when this went up for sale instead of heading back to Los Angeles.

Q: How did you two meet?

A (Elissa): We were high school sweethearts. We started dating in 1998 right before junior prom.

Q: What’s it like running a business together?

A (Elissa): We’re very busy. We run this one together, but I have another business up in Greenwood called Root2Rise. Before I had that I had a coffee truck with a different business partner called Coffee Grrls. Shortly after starting this business, he also started a bar, The Mint, with different business partners. The only way we've been able to do it is to hire really strong people to help us.

Q: What made you decide to open this particular business?

A (Elissa): When you have an allergy sometimes you go to a place and all you can have is a salad. When we were first opening, we had considered some possibilities of doing some things gluten free and some not gluten free. We met our customers and talked to them about how important it was for them to have a place that was so safe and definitely no cross contamination. We would bend over backwards to make sure people who were loyal to this place were getting what they wanted. You don’t need a sweet everyday necessarily, but you do need lunch every day. All these people who are far more sensitive to gluten than Thomas can not only have a pastry and a coffee, but they can also have lunch here. We wanted to make their lives better.

A (Thomas): We wanted it to be successful, but we were doing it for ourselves and we’re doing it for the clients who come here because at the time there wasn’t anything gluten free. A lot of the people we were pulling in were from out of town, especially on the weekends. We weren’t seeing a lot during the week from locals. It became one of those things where we had to convince people that gluten free isn’t a reason to stay away from here.

Q: Do you run into any obstacles working with your spouse?

A (Elissa): The downside is sometimes it feels like you’re always working. You have to be careful not to just talk about work all the time. We have a rule of no work talk before sleep.

Q: How do you separate responsibilities?

A (Elissa): For the most part, it’s just naturally where are your strengths? It’s great that we both worked in corporate America for so long because project management is such a key part of running businesses.

A (Thomas): Some of it’s just natural. We came from corporate backgrounds. It’s second nature on how you lead and delineate responsibility. I think that’s in both of us, so it makes it easy to work together because we know what we’re supposed to do. But if not, we help each other to understand where that is. If there’s a gap, that’s when we come together and have a discussion.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part about working with your spouse?

A (Elissa): The benefit of it is that we get to be ultra-involved in each other's lives which is great. When you’re married and you work full-time you can tend to be living different lives from each other and now we get to share it all.

Q: Can you tell me the funniest or most interesting thing that’s happened while working with your spouse?

A (Elissa): It’s not specific but sometimes one of us will make a decision and we’ll run with it and be like oh I didn’t tell you about that. Oh yeah, we’re doing this really big thing I made that call and I guess I never told you.

A (Thomas): That’s less of a business thing and more of a long-term couple thing. You have this thought and you’ve discussed it with other people, and you never think to tell the other person because they should just know. They know, right? That happens probably more often than it should. It’s just one of those things where you already know what I know.

Q: What plans do you guys have for your businesses in the future?

A (Elissa): We were wholesaling to a client out of New York, and he was making a chocolate chip cookie liqueur. We were literally making vegan chocolate chip cookie sheets, grinding them down and then taking them to a distillery. You have to be approved to be in different states. It hasn’t made it to Indiana yet. That project is on hold right now. We’re just waiting for production to go back up on that one. The Mint has gone through some evolutions. He with his brothers owns the bar part. I just bought Root 2 Rise three weeks ago. Right now, that business is a juice and coffee shop. We're going to be introducing lunch items and who knows really. One of the big trends in coffee shops is to have coffee in the morning and liquor in the evening. I’m not ready for that because I still like to have some time off. Maybe something like that in the future. It’s also a really huge space so I want to expand the event opportunities.

A (Thomas): With this one we started wholesaling our baked goods. We have six different clients throughout central Indiana at different coffee shops. We want to continue to foster the community and make sure that even though we have our fingers in other things we’re still overseeing operations here. From an expansion standpoint, here it’s going to be more wholesale clientele without missing a beat on customer service.