***Correction*** Nov. 6, 2019 — An earlier version of this article misspelled Kathryn Gordon's name, and also stated that she was the economic development coordinator for Snow Hill. Gordon is the Director of Worcester County Economic Development. We apologize for this error.
(Oct. 25, 2019) Nominees for the eighth annual Maryland Capital Enterprises’ Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur Award include two Worcester County residents, one of whom has been selected as a finalist.
The goal of the award has been to raise awareness about entrepreneurship and recognize the risk takers.
Finalist Lori McAllister, owner of the Daily Brew Coffeehouse in Snow Hill, took that risk three years ago, right after she graduated from Salisbury University.
“I always thought it was strange, a little odd, that, being the county seat, having the court house [and] having the government offices [in Snow Hill], there was no coffee shop,” she said. “It seemed like a prime place for one.”
McAllister, who majored in conflict analysis and dispute resolution, interned with a mediator, who happened to know Michael Day, Snow Hill’s former economic development coordinator.
“He showed me around Snow Hill...and I found the building that I liked and all of a sudden I was trying to find funding,” she said. “It was a long process. It took six months to a year to put the business plan together, to get the approval on the financing, to find a location, but well worth it.”
McAllister graduated from Salisbury University in May of 2016, and then opened her cafe less than three months later on July 9.
“We’ve been open for three years now. July was three years,” McAllister. “We’re just looking at the next thing, how we are going to grow.”
When she was younger, McAllister had never imagined she would be a business owner.
“Growing up I wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “I guess that’s how I transitioned into conflict analysis and dispute resolution. That’s still very much a part of me. I like to find the middle ground and resolve conflicts, whether they’re in my community, or between people I know.”
However, she said deep down, whether she had realized it or not, she knew the coffee shop would eventually be there—McAllister just didn’t know it would be she who spearheaded it.
“When the opportunity came, I jumped on it and tried not to look back,” she said.
Although she never envisioned herself as a business owner, she said entrepreneurship runs in the family.
“My grandparents owned a restaurant/bar in Baltimore,” McAllister said. “I grew up watching them. My grandmother ran the kitchen, and I guess she inspired my love for cooking and baking.
“So that was definitely very impactful to see them from such a young age,” she continued. “It made it seem like [owning a business] could be done.”
One of the proudest moments of her career occurred after the Associated Press ran a story about her cafe, shortly after it had opened.
“We had a couple that drove all the way from Frederick, Maryland, just to come to Snow Hill to my little coffee shop,” she said. “No connection. [I] didn’t know them. They just came, had lunch, they drank their coffee, enjoyed it, complimented me on the shop, and then they turned right around and drove back to Frederick. So that’s something that will always stick out in my mind.”
Director of Worcester County Economic Development and frequent Daily Brew patron Kathryn Gordon nominated McAllister for the award.
“I couldn’t thank her enough,” McAllister said. “Just to be nominated, I feel so honored. So then to become a finalist, I was blown away. I never expected that.”
Despite her early success, McAllister struggled with personal obstacles.
“There’s a learning curve, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I’ve definitely have made my share of mistakes.”
McAllister not only handles operations of her business, but she also does all of the baking, cooking and prep work. She said the greatest lesson she had to learn was how to balance all of her obligations, in order to not overwhelm herself.
“Luckily my fiancé is pretty darn good about keeping up everything else in our personal lives,” she said. “That support system is absolutely everything. I probably wouldn’t be here without him.”
Award nominee Ryan Murphy, owner of RG Murphy Marine Construction in Bishopville, expressed a similar sense of gratitude toward his family.
“I told my wife and my youngest daughter about it and I said, ‘Guys, I’m not really the type to be in the paper,’ but I felt like it would make my daughters proud,” he said. “Or maybe not, maybe I’ll embarrass them.”
Murphy had not told his family about the nomination until one day a radio broadcast mentioned his name as a nominee.
“I was in the truck on the ride home and heard the commercial and I said, ‘You know I got nominated for that,’ and one of my daughters, she was like ‘that’s really cool,’” he said.
When he told his daughter that he did not know who nominated him, she asked, “Can you be nominated more than once?” Murphy said.
Murphy, who is originally from Annapolis, moved to Salisbury in the early 1990s.
He said he had always been interested in working in the water and wanted to stay in Maryland, near his family.
He started in the business 15 years ago, and eventually bought out the company he worked for from his former employer.
“[My boss] has been nothing but a positive figure, giving me the opportunity to move forward, and finance the company even...Not a lot of bosses do that, not any,” he said. “I always knew if I worked hard enough it would provide some opportunities, and this is the opportunity that I saw that I wanted to track down, and hopefully excel at.”
For both McAllister and Murphy, the true key to success are the people who have supported them from the very beginning.
“We have a customer, a regular, and...she said, ‘I know you’re talking about growing, but really the heart of your shop, and what makes us really happy to come here, is that every person that walks in, you know them,’” McAllister said. “My goal is, yes to grow and to flourish, but also to keep that relationship with my customers. I always want my customers to feel like they’re not only welcome, but that they’re wanted.”
The winner will be revealed at the Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur of the Year Award Banquet on Nov. 7 at Salisbury University.
To purchase a ticket for the event, contact Lisa Twilley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-546-1900 x108.
The award is named after Palmer Gillis, founder of the local general contracting firm, Gillis Gilkerson, which has been developing properties on the Lower Shore for over 30 years.
To be eligible for the award, nominees must own a business in good standing in one of Upper, Central or Lower Shore counties, have 100 or less employees, run a for-profit business and have been in business for at least two years.
Nominees were judged on a series of criteria which include: business formation, business growth, leadership skills, job creation, business philosophy and community involvement.