Write an essay, win a café

Downtown Sparta business owner hopes to give away her store in contest

The Meraki in downtown Sparta is a café, bakery, coffee shop and gift shop. It’s relaxed atmosphere and comfortable seating makes it great  hang out for friends to meet.
The Meraki in downtown Sparta is a café, bakery, coffee shop and gift shop. It’s relaxed atmosphere and comfortable seating makes it great  hang out for friends to meet.
 Herald photos by Pat Mulvaney

When Tammy Haldeman bought a building on Water Street in downtown Sparta last November and turned it into a café, she had every intention of pouring her heart and soul into it.

In fact, she called it Meraki, a Greek word meaning “the soul, creativity of love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into your work.”

Haldeman said she indeed did just that and built a successful business with a familiar brand and established many great relationships along the way.

But as Haldeman put her heart and soul into the business, she neglected her other passions, including a podcast she hosts and her writing. She has written two books and wants to continue in that pursuit.

“I think I’ve created a place that’s a great place to hang out but I don’t have the time to hang out,” she said. “I love what I’m doing and the people I am doing it with, but I don’t have time to enjoy my other passions.” 

So, Haldeman has come up with a plan to give the café to someone with their own sense of meraki.

She is holding an essay contest, called “Write an Essay, Win a Café,” in hopes of turning the business over lock, stock and barrel to the person who pens the best 500-word thesis on “Why I want to win a café in Sparta, Wis.”

Haldeman got the idea from a similar contest she entered a few years ago where the owners of an inn in Maine gave away their business in an essay contest.

“Obviously I didn’t win it but I entered it.”

She points out there are plenty of reasons to want the Meraki, which itself is many things, including a bakery, café, coffee shop, gift shop and a place with a relaxed atmosphere for just hanging out.

“We have an amazing location,” said Haldeman. “Right next to the Love Lock Bridge and across the street from the Kriskindlmarkt and Farmers Market.”

It will cost $200 to enter the contest and Haldeman said she needs to get a minimum of 2,500 entries for it to go forward. Contestants are asked to include two self-addresses, stamped envelopes in their submissions in case there isn’t enough interest and the cashier’s checks or money orders have to be returned. Haldeman plans to advertise the contest nationwide.

She said an impartial person will be picking up the entries from the post office and marking them so neither Haldeman, who will read the essays but not be a judge, nor the panel of judges she has picked to judge the essays will know anything about the authors.

Meraki employees are not eligible to enter the contest, which begins Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 30. Haldeman reserves the right to extend the deadline if needed. The rules and entry forms can be accessed at the websites www.merakisparta.com or www.upliftuniverse.com.

Entries should be sent to: Write an Essay, Win a Café, P.O. Box 8, Sparta, WI 54656.

Haldeman said the contest also offers her chance to pay it forward, giving a business to someone with a great location, no mortgage hanging of their head and a lot of potential. “There’s so much you can do with it,” she said.

Haldeman also will hand over her recipes and stay on to consult the owner if that’s their desire. Some of her staff said they also would like to stay on.

So, what does Haldeman have planned after she turns the Meraki over to a new owner? “I’ll come here and hang out,” she quipped.

She also wants to focus on her podcast, write more and travel.

She just got married over the summer to Jody Harr, a plumber for Maxwell White in La Crosse, and plans to spend a little more time with him. She said currently she has two spouses, Jody and the Meraki. “And I see this one a lot more,” she said, referring the café.


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