Field & Fire bets on North Monroe vision
Julie and Shelby Kibler open second location after launching café in 2013 inside Downtown Market.
Julie Kibler and Shelby Kibler, owners of Field & Fire, are playing the long game with their newest venture, a café that opened in October at 820 Monroe Ave. NW in one of 616’s recently completed development projects.
“I would say part of the reason we signed on wasn’t for what this area is now, but what we feel like it will become in the next five years,” Julie Kibler said.
This is the second venture for the husband-and-wife team, who launched Field & Fire in 2013 inside the Downtown Market.
Kibler said the Downtown Market location has been a success thus far, though there have been challenges to overcome.
She said initially the expectation was Downtown Market sales would be made up of 90 percent retail sales and 10 percent wholesale sales. The reality was much different, with only 60 to 70 percent coming from retail sales instead.
And, this past year, that percentage dropped to a 50-50 split.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the public perception of the Downtown Market, which they are working on,” Kibler said.
The Downtown Market has had its share of critics as well as champions since opening, and Kibler said negative press has hurt the market.
“It affects all of us,” Kibler said, noting there are 20 small businesses operating out of the Downtown Market.
“We are real people with families trying to make a living,” she said.
There also have been complaints over parking costs, and two new restaurant tenants that were supposed to drive traffic to the market vendors seem to be having the opposite effect.
Field & Fire’s ability to adapt its Downtown Market location to focus on wholesale production has helped the business thrive despite the challenges.
And, Kibler said Field & Fire recently signed a second three-year lease with the Downtown Market and looks forward to continuing to build its business there.
“Even with the trials and tribulations, we love being there,” she said. “It’s such a great, supportive community to be in.”
Kibler said in the coming year, she will be focused on making sure the café takes off, as well.
She said a second location always was in the cards, but the plan was to wait about five years before opening a second venture.
The timeline was moved up after 616 made Field & Fire an offer it couldn’t refuse.
“We got an offer for this location,” she explained. “An agent contacted us through 616, saying we have this spot available and are looking for a café.”
Kibler said the building’s 85 one- and two-bedroom apartment units, which are mostly full, are bringing some residential traffic to the café, and it’s seeing residents from the nearby Boardwalk condos, as well.
There also is a trickle-in effect happening from neighboring ventures Fido & Stitch and CKO Kickboxing.
Kibler thinks the café’s success will hinge on increasing the residential component of the neighborhood and attracting additional retail businesses to the corridor. She said right now, there isn’t a lot of the necessary foot traffic the café needs.
“Residents are coming here, but not as much as we would like,” she said.
Kibler said in the short term, success for the café includes becoming known as a go-to breakfast location and pastry spot, and in the long term, the goal is to achieve profitability, which she hopes will occur within the first three years of operation.
She said the Downtown Market location currently is profitable, but not enough to offer benefits to employees, which also is a goal.
Field & Fire employs 13 people at its café and 16 people at the Downtown Market.
Kibler also is setting her sights on a third venture.
“Our seven-year goal is to start an organic farm to supply a lot of the needs for this business,” she said. “If we can start another project, then that will be a sign of success for us.”