Ice cream, coffee and clean laundry
Some of the best things in Bobbie Keso-Mode’s life come in twos. She has two children. She is a twin. And with her husband Lonnie, owns two Laundromats.
Keso-Mode didn’t set out to buy a pair of Laundromats, just wanted to buy a business when Lonnie lost his job as an auto mechanic when the Bembenek dealership closed. She had run a small business in the mid 1990s, and had a taste of being her own boss.
“I was self employed as a certified Bob Ross paint instructor. I taught classes for seven years,” Bobbie explained. “I became aware of Bob Ross when I signed up to take a class at the Ben Franklin store downtown.” There were certified instructors from Green Bay who taught the iconic painting class. Ross was known for his big permed hair, his public television show, and teaching painting by using a quick to learn technique that incorporated a limited paint palette and broke down the process into simple steps. It was a big class.
“I have kind of a teacher personality anyway, so I was helping the people next to me hold the brushes correctly,” she said with a laugh. “After class the instructor suggested I consider becoming a teacher. So when my daughter started school, I did.”
Now it’s the early 2000s, Keso-Mode was working in retail management, and for the first time in 27 years, her husband was without a job. They considered buying a resort on Lake George where Bobbie grew up. But this was during the early years of the Great Recession.
“The economy was bad, families were taking ‘staycations,’” Bobbie recalled. “Lonnie is good at fixing things, and we knew we wanted something recession-proof.” She then proceeds to tell her serendipitous story.
“It was spring, 2011. I was on my way out the door to help paint the new homeless shelter (Frederick Place) and a little voice in my head said, ‘why don’t you call Fred Hoerchler and see if the Laundromat is still for sale.’ So I did,” Bobbie said. That afternoon Lonnie and Bobbie were looking at Hoerchler’s facility near Lincoln Street Liquors, and learned that he had an offer to purchase on his kitchen table for this and the Laundromat near Shopko, and something told him not to sign it. Call it serendipity, or a leap of faith. The couple now owns the only two Laundromats in Rhinelander, Wash Smart and the Laundry Lobbie (a play on Bobbie and Lonnie’s names) and coffee and ice cream shop, A’la Mode (another clever use of their name).
“We changed the names of all the businesses, which was important, and we advertised to let people know the coffee shop was here,” she said. “And we’re doing well.” A lot of elbow grease went into sprucing the places up, and the first year, a lot of sleepless nights, to get to this point. The Modes are now reinvesting in the business, installing thirteen new machines in the Laundry Lobbie.
After running A’la Mode by herself for several years to make ends meet, Bobbie has hired her twin sister, Barb Robinson, to manage the shop. In addition to coffee drinks, A’la Mode features Chocolate Shoppe brand super-premium ice cream made in Madison. There is more cream and less air whipped in than other brands.
The first winter the coffee shop was closed from December first to April first. “The next winter, my sister, Tracy suggested I make soup to add to the shop’s menu,” Bobbie said. “I thought about it and decided I would. My friend lets me use his restaurant-licensed kitchen to make my soup. And I make it completely from scratch – no mixes.” She now offers thirteen varieties of soup, frozen individual servings. “People pick some up on the way to work, for lunch or on the way home for supper,” according to Barb.
As an added service for people who really don’t want to take the time to launder their own clothes, SmartWash will do it for you. Simple drop off and pickup, Keso-Mode says they can cut your laundry time down to four minutes a week.
This is a career that lets Bobbie stay connected and involved with the community, something she says is very important. Plus, selling ice cream and coffee brings a happy clientele through the door and up to the drive-up window. Bobbie and Lonnie wanted less stress in this chapter of their lives, and they have that, thanks to a lot of hard work, and a little help from serendipity.
A’la Mode is located inside WashSmart, 2100 Lincoln Street in Rhinelander. Telephone number is 715-362-3994.