“Don’t hold yourself back.”
Karen’s leadership is grounded in her self-confidence, “I’ve always had confidence to think I can do this.” She was born in Detroit and grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. She went to a technical school and got a degree in math and data processing, then found she couldn’t “really get a job around there.” The only offer she received was to be a key punch operator.
She ended up in the Michiana area working at Whirlpool as a mainframe computer operator. She started as a trainee because “this was 1977, and women started as trainees while men started at the associate level.” This disparate treatment occurred even though on the qualifying test to work in the computer department, eight out of the ten top scores were achieved by women. Throughout her tenure at Whirlpool, she worked her way up to being a computer operator and eventually a database administrator. She left Whirlpool to work at Allied Signal as a database administrator where she worked for a few years before leaving to start her family. She returned to work at Allied Signal Automotive, which was housed in the former Bendix building. She continued to work in these same buildings for over 20 years when Allied Signal Automotive became Bosch. During this time, she met and worked with Jill DeLucia, a friend who would later become a collaborator. When Bosch closed its local operations Karen realized she didn’t want to look for another corporate job but wasn’t sure what would be her next venture.
Inspiration hit while she was on a bike ride in Bisbee, Arizona with her friend Jill DeLucia. They met a local coffee roaster and spoke with him about his business and processes. After touring his facility and listening to his story, together they decided to start a coffee roasting business because “people want good coffee.” In 2013, they opened Bendix Coffee in one of the buildings on the former Allied Signal/Bosch campus, thereby bringing Karen back to her former stomping grounds. Though Jill left the business in 2016 to pursue other opportunities, Karen continues to run all phases of the business: roasting, distribution, sales, marketing. Karen observed that “there’s always something to do.”
Karen continues to expand the roasting profiles offered by Bendix. One of her goals with Bendix is to be local, “The stores we shopped at were our first customers.” She continues to expand the ways Bendix can help the local community. She recently partnered with Start-Up Moxie where she helped two young girls roast coffee to raise funds for their charitable initiative, “Cause for Paws.” She also roasts for the Feed the Hungry organization. At times you might see Karen delivering coffee to local vendors on her bicycle because she is also an avid cyclist.
Karen was one of the original founding members of the Urban Farmer’s Market and helps organize West Side Wednesdays to bring awareness and business to West Side businesses. She is also involved with animal rescue and sits on the South Bend Animal Care and Control Commission. Karen also helps spread the joy of cycling through her work with the Bike Michiana Association.
In the future, Karen hopes to find ways to mentor more young girls and women, and for now, “I’m ok with what I’m doing.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by Michiana Women Leaders, Inc.
Karen was a 2019 Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders honoree.