Interview with Catherine and Kristin, Founders of The Hive

INTERVIEW SERIES | Catherine + Kristin, Founders of The Hive

Liz and Lizzy sit down with Catherine Willhoit and Kristin Karotkin, Co-Founders of beloved coffee shop (and more!) in Hoboken, NJ to discuss their viral cinnamon buns, balancing their business partnership and friendship, and their often sold-out after-hours events like Drag Bingo.

Your coffee shop, The Hive, has had an incredible response to your cinnamon buns–they’ve gone viral on social, and you have a line around the corner every weekend before you even open!–but it’s more than a coffee and bakeshop. It feels different. Tell us how this special place came about. 

Kristin: It all came about when we met as new, first-time moms when we didn’t feel like there was a place for us: adults who wanted a drink and something for ourselves, but a space that was also accommodating to our children. The more we talked about a shop that felt inclusive to everyone, the more we were driven to open something ourselves in Hoboken, where we both lived. It took about two years of talking and dreaming before we got serious and decided to open. We drafted a business plan, pooled our savings together, took out a loan, found an amazing shop, we each had another baby, and then in November 2020, we opened the doors to our flagship store. 

Catherine: And even before we even signed a lease, we knew how we wanted our shop to make people feel: like walking into your best friend’s mom’s kitchen. It’s welcoming, it’s familiar, and it always has something yummy baking in the oven. 

Love that! It’s exactly this sense of belonging + gathering that makes your shop so different. You encourage this through hosting fun nighttime events like Drag Bingo (sells out in minutes!), expert panels and cookie decorating parties (which I'm attending next week!). Tell us a bit more about these events and what community means to you.

Catherine: Our events came about organically as COVID-19 restrictions loosened. We have so much fun working at the shop that it felt so natural for us to keep the party going, so to speak, so we started with Drag Bingo (which is still our most in-demand Hive After Five event), then extended to book club once a month with Girls Who Read, panel events, and so much more. 

Kristin: Community is so much more than just a space for people to gather. It's in how we greet people; it's how we talk them through our menu and make them feel comfortable with trying new drinks; it's through our manifesto, as seen on our door; it's how we treat each other; it's our involvement in community events, like school auctions and donations to local charities; and it's in our treatment of the people who choose to visit our shop, whether they’re first-timers or a regular. 

Well, as people who have frequented The Hive, we feel this! 

Okay, we have to talk about your cinnamon buns! They are out of this world! And with good reason. Drooling now just thinking about them!

Kristin: Thank you! We always knew we’d launch the very best, fluffiest rolls we could create, but it took us well over a year to find bandwidth to do so. At the start of our business, Cat and I were everything to it: the bakers, the baristas, the managers, the cleaners, accountants, customer service, plumbers, and everything in between. It was only once we had a large enough team that we could take on cinnamon roll creation and since launching them in January 2021, it’s been a wild ride and one that’s taken our rolls to bellies across the tri-state area (and far beyond!)

You both have two young children each. Are they interested in baking too? As a fellow small business owner, I’m sure you can relate to your kids being a part of your work. How do they get involved in it? or not!

Kristin: My kids are five and three-years-old, so their interests lie firmly in eating our baked goods. They do love to help out in the kitchen at home and I love getting them involved! We make pancakes together most weekend mornings, and they’ve become some of our best croissant taste testers. As for the business, they love coming into the shop, and I love that they can see their mom in action following her passion.

Running a coffee shop and bakery is a pretty physically demanding job on top of parenting two small kids. How do you refuel or relax or take time for yourself? How do you stay inspired and energized? 

Catherine: We try our best to squeeze (and it really is a squeeze) in something a couple of times a week, whether it’s a gym class (our favorite studios are in Hoboken: Elevate Pilates and Impact are incredible!), a walk to and from the waterfront in town, or, when we’ve got the time, a trip to a wellness center (which happens maybe twice a year, if that.) Feeling inspired and energized are critical to the success of our business and the livelihood of our 15+ employees, so we’re quick to change course when we’re starting to feel burned out, which happens when you run a seven-day-a-week shop.

We also work with a business coach once a week to help us navigate challenges and growth; her office is in New York, so we take advantage of our meetings together and spend time visiting coffee shops and bakeries, walking around the city, and stopping by cool new retail concepts. That’s a guaranteed way for us to come back to our business feeling jazzed up.

You two are business partners and good friends. When we were starting Lewis, we often got the feedback that friends shouldn’t go into business together. What do you think of that? And what has been key to you working together as friends? What have you learned about yourselves or your working relationship through working with each other? 

Catherine: I fully understand why people say that, but it’s like anything else: the rule doesn’t always apply. I think if we were to have matching skill sets, the partnership wouldn’t flow as easily. Kristin’s attention to detail and absorption of numbers is the best there is, while my strengths lie in storytelling. We both have a lot of overlapping skills, too, which is important, given our common goal of running a creative, innovative business.

Kris and I definitely have tough conversations at times, but they’re always rooted in one common goal: what’s best for The Hive. We have tremendous respect for one another, we have each other’s back, and at the end of it all, we’re friends first, business partners second. We make sure to find time to enjoy one another’s company and support each other outside of work, whether it’s having the other’s kids over for a playdate, scheduling the occasional dinners out with our husbands, or take time away from the shop to come up with some fresh ideas.

Thank you so much, Catherine and Kristin!! Make sure to check out The Hive if you’re ever in the Hoboken, NJ area! And order a cinnamon bun for us! :)