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My first inspiration was, of course, my family. I was very fortunate to have grandparents who had been born and raised in Europe a beautiful region of Italy named Abruzzo. I was perhaps a little naive in thinking that everyone else had also experienced the amazing food and sensibilities of Europe. Although my grandparents were not well off financially, they were rich in land and culture. Making pasta, working the garden, and spending time on the family farm with my grandmother is one of my most treasured childhood memories.

My earliest recollection of an event that spurred my creative spirit was a short trip that I took across our back yard to a friend's house when I was 5 years old. Playing in her basement, I discovered a passion for, of all things, stocking shelves! My friend had an amazing “play kitchen” in her basement filled with all kinds of miniatures -- child-sized appliances, rows of tidy shelves, beautiful glass jars and small colorful boxes of play food -- I was totally captivated. I remember feeling devastated when she moved away, but my love of shelves stocked with pretty things remained.

When I was 10 years old, My Auntie Dahlia took me to visit the hospital where she worked and it was there that I decided on my first career...a Medical Technologist. The hospital was run by women, an order of Swiss nuns called the Holy Cross Sisters. We visited Aunt Dahlia's friend, Sister Mary Francis, who ran the laboratory and I was completely fascinated by the beautiful shapes of glass, colorful liquids bubbling on burners, even the cages of rabbits (obviously, quite a time ago). Once again I was entranced by the colors, textures and glass design.

(I never really gave these experiences much thought until recently, when I started putting things down on paper. Now I can see the threads and consistencies -- how the influences all fit together.)

For 14 years, I enjoyed my years in the medical laboratory. I learned what hard work was all about, how to be very particular and diligent. As it turns my lab expertise turned out to be a great asset in roasting coffee to just the right color and texture.

I welcomed getting into the swing of a career. One of the great benefits was having a paid vacation. I took a trip with my brother to see my childhood friend Sally in San Francisco. While there, I experienced one of my favorite experiences: sitting in an outdoor cafe, sipping espresso for the first time with friends. I was never the same. Where in Wisconsin was I every going to experience this! The Bay Area was so European, so colorful, and tiny china cups with the most wonderful coffee I have ever experienced! Although I had never been to Europe at this point, I knew it was close. Another side trip up to the Napa Valley to experience more scents and smells of Europe including learning about “good wine”. Developing a tasting palate for the first time, totally and utterly inspired.

My parents are my biggest inspiration on work and work ethic. My father was an entrepreneur who started a millwork business that grew to be a great success. My mother played a huge roll in doing the accounting and supporting the daily flow of the office and the family.I had the opportunity in my early years to work in the office and be a part of the business where I learned a debit from a credit.

After working in the laboratory for 14 years, I felt an urge to do something new. I talked with my brother Bill about my passion to start a business of my own. He simply said, “Just do it.” That little nudge was all I needed. I took a class in small business management and started down an exciting new path in fine coffees, teas and gifts. In August 1989, I opened the doors of Ann Marie's and welcomed my first customer.

Every day was a new adventure. As my fledgling business grew, I learned so much about growing, buying, roasting, brewing and tasting coffee. I experimented with new products such as home-baked scones and specialty foods. I loved picking wild blackberries on my way to work and baking them into our fresh morning scones. Customers became friends, introduced us to their friends, and all became members of our expanding “Ann Marie family”. In the 1990's, we shifted the emphasis of Ann Marie's from a coffee house to focus on coffee roasting and importing pottery and European-inspired gifts. My web business began and what grew to be today's annmarie.com.

Growing our business has come through conversations with our dear customers. What do they love best about Europe? Which colors recall their best memories? Which coffees and teas bring them the greatest pleasure? Our wonderful staff provides the warm and welcoming atmoshere that we hope makes visiting Ann Marie's a special experience. Customers are friends, and friends are family…they're what life enjoyment is all about. Together, we have traveled, tasted, laughed and learned. They inspire and give me so much more than I can possibly return.

Saving the best for last…I met my wonderful husband in 1992. He is from Switzerland, and through him, I have learned so much about business, world travel and how Europeans enjoy life. Stephan has given me the courage to take chances and the support to make Ann Marie's a success. He is a big part of who we are today and has been my ultimate inspiration. We are so happy that our beautiful family is now involved in the business. We hope our Ann Marie's story continues to grow, like it began...with family.

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