Grinding Out a Living with a Coffee Cart It's an oft-told tale: the exodus from California to the Pacific Northwest. Terry Rusinow followed this well-trod path and moved to Portland. But despite her varied work experience -- in retail, restaurants, galleries and even a long stint with a coffee company -- she could not find a job.
NPR logo

Grinding Out a Living with a Coffee Cart

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Grinding Out a Living with a Coffee Cart

Grinding Out a Living with a Coffee Cart

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


On Wednesdays, the business report focuses on your workplace. In our series Take Two, we've been meeting people who reinvent themselves through their work. This morning, NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine visits a gallery owner from Northern California who's now making coffee in Portland, Oregon.

(Soundbite of ducks in water)

KETZEL LEVINE reporting:

It's an oft-told tale, this exodus from California to the Northwest. Sell your house, and, in this case, your business, take your equity and buy a less expensive house in Oregon. You then get to start over with little or no mortgage and, so the fantasy goes, less stress. But Portland's changed. It ain't cheap here anymore. And despite her varied experiences in retail, restaurants, galleries, even a long stint with a coffee company, Terry Rusinow could not find a job.

Ms. TERRY RUSINOW: There are just so many people looking for work here. It's very competitive, and being an older person with no college degree but these strange jobs that I've had don't qualify me for a real standard-type job.

LEVINE: Well, you say older. How old are you?

Ms. RUSINOW: Fifty-eight.


Ms. RUSINOW: Compared in Portland, it's old.

LEVINE: For the last 11 years, she was the proprietor of Options, a gallery of ethnic and American crafts in Healdsburg, California. She loved working with artists and designing displays. The problem was Healdsburg, once a cozy rural community that had become increasingly expensive and, for Terry Rusinow, uncomfortably elite.

Ms. RUSINOW: The town got a little too rich and a little too wine country. And I just felt I needed a change, and wanted to try a city, and had relatives here, and thought it was time for moving.

LEVINE: After months of looking for a job in Portland, necessity and despair fueled her creativity. Terry Rusinow observed her new city's culture and saw a niche.

Ms. RUSINOW: What happened was I went around to the dog parks and realized everybody's standing around socializing, some with cups of coffee in their hands, nowhere near a place to get coffee. And this cockamamy idea of a mobile espresso cart kind of popped up, and two months later, here it is.

LEVINE: The name of her business: Duck Duck Brew.

Ms. RUSINOW: I have Cafe Americano.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Ms. RUSINOW: Do you want to do that? So it's an espresso with hot water? OK.

LEVINE: Today, Terry Rusinow stands beneath a magnificent old oak, her back to a lazy duck pond, emerald lawns sprawl out in front of her, crisscrossed by high-speed dogs. She is the lucky owner of a rare vendor's permit to set up shop in Laurelhurst Park, this Olmsted-inspired landscape. Would Terry Rusinow's first day at work be as tranquil as it seems?

Ms. RUSINOW: It's been kind of a trial by fire. I had prepared for everything and noticed that I had left the milk home so I had no way to make espressos. I closed up shop, went home, got the milk and now I'm up and running.

LEVINE: And your anxiety level--one being as calm as a cucumber and 10 being ready to quit after two hours on the job?

Ms. RUSINOW: At nine and a half.

LEVINE: That's not good.

Ms. RUSINOW: No, but that's the way I start everything.

LEVINE: For a woman who has thrived on taking risks, she is not fond of beginnings. So I returned a week later for a cup of coffee and to see how she was getting on.

Ms. RUSINOW: This is where it gets to be a two-person job.

LEVINE: The biggest change is that Terry Rusinow has had to hire help to both staff the cart and share the unexpectedly daunting labor.

Ms. RUSINOW: You could just unload the car and I'll put up...

LEVINE: She's certainly more relaxed today and more forthcoming about her finances. She's invested about $20,000 into this new venture. With neither children nor aging parents to care for, she can afford the risk. In addition to the money from cashing out of California, she has an IRA from a previous job and has put money away from stocks and other assets.

Ms. RUSINOW: I just need to find a way I can earn enough money to be happy and it doesn't have to be a lot.

LEVINE: How much does it need to be?

Ms. RUSINOW: About $1,500 a month.

LEVINE: It seemed a reasonable projection, an average of 50 four-dollar clients a day. But what she neglected to do before going into this venture was to observe the ebb and flow of people through the park. Business turns out to be slow, expenses higher than expected and if any park users take exception to her presence, the city could cancel her probationary license. Nevertheless, for a woman who's always seen herself as fairly cynical, the duck pond, the dog park, the sprawling emerald landscape are all part of a different view.

Ms. RUSINOW: Life is short suddenly, you know, it didn't--that wasn't an issue for me for a long time. Now suddenly, it really is. And every day is a day to really enjoy where I am. And all my friends, if they hear this, are saying `Terry said that?' But this week is easier than last. It's only the second week.

And I have to get going. I have to go buy stuff.

LEVINE: Goodbye.

Ms. RUSINOW: I'll see you later. Enjoy your latte.

LEVINE: With that, she rushes off towards that delicious momentum between beginnings and endings. Ketzel Levine, NPR News.

Unidentified Woman: ...(Unintelligible), get your ball!

INSKEEP: If you're in the process of reinventing yourself, drop us a line at

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.