Winchester café advances to quarterfinals for $50,000 grand prize

Hideaway Cafe co-owner Victoria Kidd stands behind the counter in the store's location beneath the old Post Office in Winchester. The cafe is currently making a move to the south end of the pedestrian walking mall. Lewis Millholland/Daily

WINCHESTER – Hideaway Café has advanced to the quarterfinals in Independent We Stand’s Small Business of the Year Award, which carries a grand prize of $50,000.

One of the three owners, Victoria Kidd, sees three advantages that set Hideaway apart from the pack: good product, charitable contributions and an ingrained ethos of openness to all identities.

“The ‘Hideaway’ is really a play back to the concept of having a hidden away, safe space for LGBT people, marginalized people, people of color — we’re a come-as-you-are business, and we embrace that,” Kidd said. “We know for a lot of people that feels unapologetically progressive, and we are unapologetically progressive.

“Which is part of why I think we were nominated for this particular award. Because it’s more than just a coffeehouse, we serve as an outlet and an outreach into communities that feel they have been underserved.”

Hideaway Café has served as venue for Spanish-speakers, members of the LGBT community, celebrating Muslims and others that Kidd said could not find another location where they were “comfortable” and could “feel like others are not staring at them.”

The café has even seen kids running away from home, those who just lost their job, and people with self-harming or suicidal ideations.

“There are at least five people I know of, who live today, in the world, because this café was open in this location,” Kidd said.

Kidd appeared in national headlines in 2013 when she and Christy Berghoff challenged Virginia’s ban on gay marriage in federal court. Although their case was not the one that ultimately settled the issue in Virginia, it was part of a larger, extensive legal process that decided its constitutionality.

Of the 25 quarterfinalists in the Small Business of the Year competition, also branded as “The Indie,” 18 explicitly mention their local community in their company bio, and seven discuss their charitable donations.

Hideaway Café, however, is the only candidate to explicitly mention the welcoming environment to clientele regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or other identity.

“Now is the time for people of conscious to step forward and to say, ‘We need to start being more aware of how we, as businesses, treat people of color, people of different religions, different races, different nationalities,'” Kidd said. “We need to be aware of how we are open to them, and not just have this marketing approach that is just a giant cannonball out to the masses that doesn’t really understand that there’s a lot of people that are getting left behind.”

Winners are selected based on the number of votes the company receives on the Indie website, independentwestand.org/indies. Visitors can cast one vote every 24 hours. From there, the top 10 semifinalists will be announced Dec. 10, and the company that received the most votes will be announced as the final award winner on Dec. 13.

The grand prize, valued at $50,000, is broken down into a $5,000 cash prize; a branding, advertising and public relations makeover by the Meridian Group; a three-day/two-night stay at a beach resort hotel in Virginia Beach; and various connections to small business groups, among other prizes.

Hideaway Café advanced to the quarterfinals out of a pool of 249 nominees. Kidd doesn’t know who nominated the coffee shop, but “whoever that person is, we thank them very heartily.”

If Hideaway wins the competition, Kidd said the prize will help the business “get over the hump” in its transition from the basement of the Old Post Office on Braddock Street to the south end of the walking mall, at 141 S. Loudoun St.

While the shop — in its new, prominent location — will still be called Hideaway Café, Kidd recognized the thematic significance of moving from a tucked-away basement to the heart of Winchester.

She called it an act of “vulnerability,” and possibly opening the store to more criticism.

“Deciding to move to the walking mall, on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in town, is inviting people to really embrace the concept of not needing to be hidden anymore, and to feeling more comfortable, being able to come to a spot that is designed and built and operates for them,” Kidd said.

This move accompanies a national debate about retiring the term “safe spaces,” physical areas designated to not tolerate hate speech or other forms of harassment, in favor of “brave spaces,” which promotes frank conversation to better foster cultural understanding.

This is not Hideaway Café’s first foray into the public eye.

After the Orlando nightclub shooting, once the deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil, grieving people found their way to Hideaway Café. In response to the overwhelming volume of shocked and crying mourners, the café owners hosted a vigil that Kidd said drew in several hundred people.

“When there’s any kind of national tragedy or national impact, people want to participate in something to feel that public grieving. And when we realized that there wasn’t going to be one, we just decided to rent our parking lot and have it here,” Kidd said. “There (were) no other entities — churches, or schools, or otherwise, or anywhere — that were really stepping up to do it.”

In less than two years of operation, Hideaway Café has donated $8,000 to the local community through various charities. Which, on a margin of 35 cents to the dollar on coffee sales, Kidd said is a “big deal.”

“The other businesses (in the competition) are amazing … It is a little scary to go up against them. Cause we’re babies. We’re just a fledgling little business by comparison,” Kidd said. “There was like 249 nominations and 20,000 votes or something like that — so we get to the top 25 there. It’s really astounding for a little year-and-half open-open, two-years-in-operation business.”

This year marks the seventh annual nationwide Small Business of the Year Award competition. Independent We Stand, based in Virginia Beach, devotes its energies to encouraging people to shop small and shop local.

“We are very proud of the businesses that have made it into the top 25,” said Katherine Seibt, Independent We Stand spokesperson. “It’s a strong group of businesses who have really worked on building their reputations in their communities, and growing their business and becoming really a fan-favorite within their communities. And that’s what we want to support.”