NO MATTER HOW YOU SLICE IT, Michael and Kama Rannells, two of Paducah’s newest entrepreneurs, can honestly say they searched far and wide for the best place to change their point of view.
Both long-time urbanites from the Chicago area, the young couple grew up in the big city, went to college in Chicago and most recently lived in a 770 square foot home in Evanston, an up-scale neighborhood north of the city limits. Kama, who studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Chicago, was working for a local boutique which offered interior design consulting and furnishings. Michael was working for Oprah Winfrey. Yeah, THAT Oprah. You know that large video screen on the set that frequently flashes the likes of big time celebrities as well as selected small time folks, whose lives are often dramatized on the nation’s number one talk show? He built it.
Michael actually studied sound engineering at Columbia College in Chicago, but later in life met with an employer who encouraged him to add video technology to his resume, which ultimately led him to a place on Oprah’s technical production team.
But as glamorous as the duo’s cosmopolitan life might seem to us western Kentuckians, the truth was, both were hungry for a slower pace and a more intimate relationship with the community in which they wanted to settle. And so the search began.
“We actually looked for almost five years for just the right place to make the change,” Michael Rannells told us. And when he says looked, he MEANS looked. “We went to Colorado, Utah, Florida, California, Vegas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Arizona,” he added. “Some were just too small, some didn’t have the feel we were looking for, some were too extreme in climate, some didn’t have what we were looking for architecturally. But then we saw the article about Paducah in the Tribune and we came for a visit.”
Former artist relocation overlord, Mark Barone, sported the Rannells around town and eventually led them to a parking space just outside the back side of the old St. Mary’s Academy. “When we pulled up next to the building, I looked at Kama and she looked at me and we knew immediately that we’d found something unique,” Michael commented. What they’ve done with it is also something unique.
Actually, just making the move was sort of unique. How many people do you know who set out to stake their claim on new territory without truly knowing what they’ll do when they get there? “We honestly didn’t know what we’d physically do when we found just the right place,” Kama recalled. “But as we talked to Mark and some of the new Lower Town residents, we learned that many were looking for a deli or small grocery in this neighborhood. At that point, Michael said to me, ‘That’s what we’re going to do.’ And I said, ‘We are?’” The LOAF was thusly born.
Although both newcomers admit they had no predestina- tion for proprietorship and food service definitely wasn’t on their personal menu, both did have a few morsels of past history to draw on. “My mother is practically a gourmet cook,” Kama mentioned, “and I had learned a lot about buying, stocking, and selling in my retail experience.” Michael added with a chuckle, “And like most college students, I’ve done some time in some pizza kitchens.”
So the daring duo undertook some small business classes in Chicago, got some valuable help from the SCORE program there and wrote a business plan. The next step? The internet.
“I can honestly say that we could never have made this happen as smoothly without the availability of the internet,” said Michael. “It’s not only critical for finding and ordering specialty items, we have learned so much about operations from informational and helpful websites.” However, the transplants also say that nothing can really prepare you for the day when you open the doors and make your first batch of chicken salad.
“We ran out of some items by 1:30 the day we opened,” Kama remembers. “I just had no idea what to expect.” Michael laughs. “I think she was thinking of volume in terms of a family picnic!” To their pleasant surprise, the lines are still forming and the locals continue to come in for succulent sandwiches like toasted ham and cheddar apple butter or roast turkey with balsamic cranberry relish.
But as former “pickers” for a Japanese export company, Michael and Kama feel very good about this latest pick of places. “We feel really comfortable here,” they both say. “Paducah is very livable. We love the pace. We love the people. We love the weather. We wanted to be a part of a community and we feel as if we can physically do that here. It’s hard to be a part of a community of 9 million people.”
And they haven’t let any Kentucky bluegrass grow under their feet before actually getting involved. The LOAF owners are already working with Paducah Main Street and the Lower Town Association, among other civic and business entities, to further develop the best this life has to offer in this place they’ve picked to be their home.
The Rannells live above LOAF in a loft-type living space that far out-stretches the confines of their Chicago suburban abode. They now have a spacious two-bedroom, two bath home/headquarters that’s replete with scores of personal picks from their days of working for the Japanese export company. “We were allowed to keep anything that was too large to ship economically or that wasn’t suitable for exporting,” Kama explains. Consequently, you’ll find such intriguing home accents as
a mannequin with a radio for a head in the dining room and a pair of glamorous gams sitting atop a hutch. In LOAF you’ll see pieces of old snare drums mounted on the wall and a vintage pinball machine above a colorful counter. But there’s more—MUCH more. “We filled two 24-foot trucks on our first trip down. Then we filled a 26-foot truck on the second haul and I don’t think that was all of it at the time,” Michael recalls. So not only have the Rannells found a pick city, their copious collections have found room to grow.