Norm’s to change location, return to non-for-profit business

SoShine Foundation, Lakey family take over after Back Alley Pizza success

Michaela Regier

More stories from Michaela Regier

When Robert Palmer opened Norm’s Coffee Bar, he never imagined it would go in the direction it has. Norm’s began as a non-for-profit in 2011, but when the business was not enough to support his family, Palmer decided to drop the non-for-profit aspect and focus on the brick-oven pizza venture.

When the Norm’s board offered to sell Norm’s to the family so they could keep working the coffee bar and have a space for their pizza business, the Palmers were grateful. Back Alley Pizza took off, exceeding its projected business plan three years out and being nominated for ‘Best Pizza in Kansas’ by the magazine Best Things in Kansas.
“I think for us we just want to keep providing quality product, quickly, at a good value. It would be cool to be able to open a new location in other small towns like ours that don’t have the ability to draw in franchises but want that quality pizza. We are in a better pizza movement right now across the country and we want to be able to share that with others,” Palmer said.

After two years of Back Alley being open, Norm’s has slowly given up some of its space and extended its hours to evenings. However, Back Alley is still growing and requires Palmer’s full attention. Because of this, when Chris and Tami Lakey asked if the non-for-profit SoShine Foundation, could take over Norm’s, Palmer was open to it.

“They came to us and they were wanting to do sort of something down town and so we hadn’t considered [selling Norm’s] much until they asked about it. They have been involved, its Chris and Tami Lakey, they have been around for a long time. Their daughter, Ashleigh, she’s worked for us for a number of years, she is very good and will be the manager of the new location. When they came to us we haven’t had the time to put the energy into both brands and so we really feel like we needed to kind of go with what’s taking off here,” Palmer said.

Norm’s will be returning to a non-for-profit under the SoShine Foundation at 613 N. Main where Alexander’s jewelry store used to be. There will be a full kitchen in order to add a breakfast and brunch menu to the coffee shop, but they want the space to mean much more than a local cup of joe.

“I imagine this space to a place for meetings for the community. On a little kid level maybe free dance or yoga classes. I imagine teachers from the high school being able to do SAT or ACT prep classes. Even financial management classes just to help people that are maybe living in chaos just to maybe get a grip and to make a good plan,” Tami said.

Norm’s will have its grand reopening on Aug. 1 in its Main street location.

“Our desire is to make this work well and then to use it as a model. Maybe not a franchise but we want to see it as a good community model and then to be able to replicate it places, nationwide or worldwide. We feel like it could be tweaked for different cultures,” Tami said.

Neither the Lakeys nor Palmers think being up the street from Mojo’s Coffee in North Newton has ever been a problem.

“I think they serve maybe two different kinds of people but I think that Newton is big enough to support two really amazing coffee bars. Mojo’s has been a friend of Norm’s for many years,” Tami said.

Tami thinks the space will be something new and fun for the community. With volunteers of all ages coming forward, she is excited for the adventure.

“I’m kind of a naive optimist. The only worry I have is that people wouldn’t think they could find a way to be here. It’s so much more than coffee. If people only come in and drink a cup of coffee at 9 in the morning, then they are missing the point,” Tami said.