Kent State University Graduates Make Kent Home
These days, it is hard to tell where Kent State University ends and the City of Kent begins — mostly by design. The integration of “town and gown” and the mutually beneficial results of this special partnership are personified in the lives of two Kent State alumni who are also part of several businesses in town – Evan Bailey and Mike Beder.
Bailey, ’03, M.A. ’09, is an assistant professor in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, as well as operations manager of The Tannery, a student-run, full-service marketing and communications firm located downtown. With alumnus Beder, ’00, Bailey co-owns Tree City Coffee & Pastry, one of the new storefronts bringing new vitality to bustling Acorn Alley. Beder owns the Water Street Tavern, and in addition to co-owning Tree City Coffee, is a partner in Cajun Dave’s and Taproot Catering. Together, Bailey and Beder employ many Kent State students, and both feel a special tie to the university.
While most graduates leave town to pursue careers in other parts of the state, country or world, Bailey and Beder chose to stay in Kent, where they and their businesses are thriving. They are putting down roots in a town that is at once familiar and in the process of transforming into a modern, eclectic college community. Timing and instinct played a big part.
“I was looking for a job after graduation,” says Beder. “When I was informed that a bar/restaurant in Kent was up for sale. It was really a happy coincidence.”
“I always wanted to work at the university,” Bailey says. “It’s a place that’s a constant flux of new people and new ideas. The town’s always changing. There’s a charm about it. My family is from New York City, and life there can be a little taxing sometimes. Kent still has its small town characteristics but with more modern developments.”
Beder’s first business venture was the Water Street Tavern. It is no coincidence that the floors are checkered blue-and-gold and Kent State jerseys hang on the walls.
“I partnered with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics right when they started to grow,” Beder says, “First with basketball, then baseball and now football. We’ve grown right along with them. The Tavern is the official ‘Postgame Party Headquarters’ and ‘Away-Game Watch Party Location,’ we host the coaches’ weekly radio shows, and even the selection shows when the teams make the NCAA Tournaments. The business grew so much that we expanded into catering.”
Tree City Coffee & Pastry, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, was kismet for the pair. Beder had worked with Bailey for years on marketing design and branding projects, and when Bailey heard about the coffee shop idea, he wanted in on the project.
“Tree City fills a niche between the corporate brands and the tiny independent shops,” Bailey says. “We realized there was a need for a true community coffee house experience positioned somewhere in the middle. That’s when it clicked for me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
“We’d been talking about the project for three or four years, looking at different spaces -- then the location in Acorn Alley II came up,” Beder says. “It gave us the time to really plan out what we wanted to do. We went to New York and visited 20 coffee shops and breakfast places just to look at ideas. Over the course of a day at Tree City, you’ll see students studying, people getting together, construction guys who drop in and grab coffee. It’s fun to see a cross-section of Kent all finding something of value here. It’s also a great time to be in the middle of downtown with all the growth.”
Kent State students are employed at many of Bailey and Beder’s businesses (all of Beder’s managers are Kent State graduates), and both feel a special tie to the students and the university.
“We support scholarships through business sponsorships and fundraising events,” says Beder. “We were both heavily involved in student government, so we help out whenever the Center for Student Involvement has an event. And I support the fraternity I was in while in school.” Beder feels more connected to students who aren’t necessarily scholars with high GPAs, and works with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation as a mentor and entrepreneur-in-residence. “I wish it would’ve existed when I was in school because I would’ve definitely been a part of it. It’s unique and gives students real-life experience,” he says.
Bailey sums up their feelings well. “Nearly half of Kent State students are first-generation students, which means their parents paved our roads, grew our food and built our homes. It’s a personal and financial tragedy if a student doesn’t make it through school. To receive any amount of support can truly be life changing for a student or family.”
At Kent State, generous alumni, faculty and staff have created hundreds of funds that provide much-needed financial support to students who struggle daily to afford the cost of a college education. Please consider making a gift to support the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication or one of literally thousands of other giving options, such as The Campaign for Change or The Last Dollar Fund on your campus. For more information or to make a gift, go to www.GiveToKent.org.
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