With a little over a year under her belt as owner of Zuma Natural Foods, Kate Wall is now able to reflect on the twists, turns and people that led her to Mancos – and her new life.
“There are a lot of parts and pieces that went into everything, that has made those shifts happen,” Wall said at a recent presentation she gave at Mancos Public Library, as part of the library’s “Businesses in our Backyard” series. “But just the fact that it all continues to come together and have synergy.”
Her reflections revolve around the empowerment of change, of taking chances and searching for community. And, of course, on the importance of earthy, natural foods in her life.
Wall grew up in Minnesota, the daughter of a pastor and a social worker and the granddaughter of farmers – all of whom influenced her future proclivities. She spent a lot of time working with the disabled community growing up, which has been a constant thread throughout her life.
But it was a trip to Guatemala after high school that led her to the natural foods world.
“One of the things I was really aware of in Guatemala is how horrible our food system is to people living in poverty. ... I got a huge education just from being immersed in a country where food is grown,” said.
When she returned to Minnesota, she turned to farming, which she did for 16 years, along with working at a food cooperative. Her roots were deeply entrenched there – her ancestors had immigrated to the area before Minnesota was even a state.
All of which made it more monumental when parts of her life unraveled a few years ago, she said. She made the decision to leave a long-term relationship, and after struggling with the politics of the food cooperative, severed ties with that organization as well.
She spent a few months “in hiding,” she said, until, with a little help from some friends, she packed up her Toyota Camry and left Northfield, Minnesota, not quite sure of her direction, beyond a general desire to reach the ocean.
“There were two things I was clear about,” Wall said. “One, I was not going to be a farmer again, and two, I was not going to work in natural retail foods.”
But she never made it to the ocean. And Mancos residents know how that food retail commitment worked out.
She stopped by Mancos in the summer of 2017 to visit her friend Sarah Allen, owner of the Painted Turtle Studio, and slowly became more involved in the community, especially in the “Rosa Belongs Here” campaign in support of Rosa Sabido, an undocumented immigrant who has been living in sanctuary at Mancos United Methodist Church since June 2017.
“I remember being at the press conference and just being floored by the number of people there,” Wall said. “And how people really were like, ‘Listen, a member of our community is about to be deported, and instead we’re going to take her here and keep her here because she’s a member of our community, and she deserves sanctuary.’”
She also met someone else seeking change: Dustin Partridge. Partridge, who had been Zuma’s owner since 2014, was looking to transition to the adventure sports industry, and pretty early on in their budding friendship, he offered to sell her the shop. Wall’s answer was a firm “no” – she was still adamant about leaving food retail behind her, and this was only a temporary stop, after all. But she did want to help him, she said.
However, when his threat to leave the business became concrete, and he announced that he would close down shop in November, she realized that her time in Mancos was no longer temporary and she shouldn’t fight this next step anymore.
So in November 2017, she took a “leap of faith” and became Zuma’s new owner. Much has stayed the same, although there have been some menu changes – she credits her friend Gina, who joined her from Minnesota, with the panini additions.
Shari Dunn, development and programming manager at the library, added that Wall’s new venture brought in new energy to the foods shop.
“It was obvious from the get-go,” Dunn said.
Wall said that they did try to reinvigorate the shop, emphasizing with a new paint job that she is here to stay.
“The reason that Zuma works is because of the community of Mancos. ... It’s a community that’s invested in people and relationships,” Wall said.
“Now we get to start looking to the future,” she added. “And looking down the road beyond just making it through the first year.”