For Roasters & Retailers

A labor of love: Karma Coffee Cafe shares caffeine, community in Hiawatha

Diane Peterson fell in love with the social aspects of coffee in Germany.

She and her husband lived there while he served as a physician in the U.S. Army. She remembers people inviting them into their homes to share a cup of coffee and companionship.

“It was the very early ’80s. Starbucks hadn’t hit yet,” she said. “It was more person to person, people inviting you into the home. They enjoyed very strong, robust coffee.”

She also vividly remembers another coffee experience, before she was a regular drinker of the caffeinated brew.

“I first became enamored with coffee when I was working a night shift in a lab, and it was a cold, snowy night,” she said.

A co-worker took her to a nearby diner for a cup of coffee, where they warmed up from the winter chill outside.

“It was homey. It reminded me of waking up to my parent’s kitchen table,” she said.

She’s loved coffee ever since, and when she was looking for a new challenge, she decided to embrace that love.

With the army, she and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., Germany and San Francisco. Her background is in medicine, biochemistry and healthy aging. After her husband left the army and they moved to Cedar Rapids in 1991, she started Daily Dimensions, a computer support business. When she was ready to close that business, however, she knew she didn’t just want to sit at home.

“What I had learned in my healthy aging research is, ‘Always challenge yourself,'” she said. “I thought, ‘What could be more outside my comfort zone than opening this type of business?”

She opened Karma Coffee Cafe just over a year ago, in January 2017, in a space that has been one coffee shop or another for a long time, including Kaffein, Tatyana’s Coffee Shop and Cafe and Coffee Emporium.

It seemed like the perfect place, Peterson said, because there are not a lot of other restaurants or coffee shops in that part of Hiawatha, there is a drive through window on the back of the building, and there was a pre-established customer base.

“People want a coffee shop here,” she said. “Whether it’s a business meeting or book group or prayer group or students studying, I want them to come in and feel comfortable, and feel part of a community.”

Along with espresso and coffee drinks — she uses espresso from Iowa Coffee Roasters in Marion — the cafe serves up a full menu of breakfast, sandwiches and pastries, all baked in-house. She also caters for private events.

She emphasizes many gluten free and vegan options on her menu, including in the pastry case. She has family members on vegan and gluten-free diets and knows what a challenge that can be.

“Nothing goes into the case until it’s perfect. The gluten-free cookies are something I’m really proud of, and all the muffins are vegan,” she said. “It was really a labor of love.”


By Alison Gowans


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