by Shannon Bond
There is an energy in Paradise, Mo., that you won’t find anywhere else. First, you’re met with laid-back lake life vibes as you cruise through the tiny town. It’s a peaceful feeling brought on by sweeping views of Sailboat Cove, miles of paved and off-road trails, a sandy spot to swim with the kids, and plenty of campsites. But walk into Captain’s Corner, the only general store and restaurant in town, and you’re met with a boost of upbeat energy. Those fun-loving feels are a product of Katherine Wald’s entrepreneurship and her family-run business.
She took the helm of Captain’s Corner about five years ago, and since then, it’s been full steam ahead. The restaurant is known for quirky specials, personal service, and amazing burgers. At the same time, the store offers fishing and camping gear alongside the usual convenience store fare. Her marketing style is grassroots and authentic on Facebook, and she never pays for advertising. Followers love to see her daily special posts, which she comes up with spontaneously each morning. Open the fridge and look around, she explained, just like she would at home, and the idea strikes.
“The giant taco is definitely the most popular special. We used to have it every other Tuesday, but the demand is so high we have to do it every week now,” Wald said. She’s even posted a tutorial about how to eat that head-sized taco. It’s a demanding job, though, and she’s on the clock every day from open to close. For her, it’s more than serving food and making sure campers, local residents, and lake-goers are well stocked and fed. She has a vision for Paradise. “I want to bring more than just a restaurant or a place where you can come and get a candy bar. I want to turn Paradise into a destination where you come and bring your family and make memories.”
That dream is well underway with the Captain’s Corner selfie park, complete with a giant mural depicting a colorful heart and a sailboat drifting off the shoreline that says, “Welcome to Paradise.” Behind the shop, facing the two-lane highway, visitors and passersby see a humongous chair for adventurous spirits to climb up and pose on, a sign pointing visitors to locations around the world, complete with distance notations, and even a Bigfoot statue.
“I made that directional sign with a lot of places that are near and dear to my heart. And, oh, my Bigfoot. That is very exciting to me. I got it about three weeks ago, and it’s part of my Bigfoot challenge that’s coming,” Wald said. Her eyes shine with anticipation, and her words pour out quickly as she describes her plans. “He’s out there to take pictures with and be silly now, but I’m rolling out my new Bigfoot burger challenge. I’m just waiting for my shirts to come. It’s going to be six patties high. It’s two pounds of beef and one pound of tots. So, if you eat it in a certain amount of time, you win a t-shirt that says ‘I conquered the Bigfoot challenge in Paradise.’ It’s just going to be a lot of fun.” She’s also planning a Bigfoot scavenger hunt for kids.
But wait, there’s more. Wald’s bounding energy is spilling out of Captain’s Corner because the family has purchased the only other building in town, which happens to be right across the street. They have designed a 50s style ice cream shop in it, a dream of hers since she was little. It’s decked out with bright colors, vintage memorabilia, retro booths, and authentic period newspaper clippings embedded in the tables, which she did herself.
“I’ve always wanted to own an ice cream shop. That’s my dream coming true across the street. I have so many things in the works, but it’s just going to take time.”
A few of those other things are already in motion. The new building happens to have three storefronts, so naturally, Wald is making sure they are filled and offering Paradise residents and visitors a fun experience. On one side of the ice cream shop, she’s opening another store herself. It has a friendly down-home feel and will offer Paradise visitors merchandise sourced from local artisans. On the other side, she has leased space to a rental outfit. They provide kayaks for those who want to paddle and bikes for the peddlers who want to roll down the vast paved and off-road trail system. The rental store operator explained that e-bikes are on the way soon.
As for advice to budding business owners, she says, “I think you just can’t be afraid to fail. It’s not a straight line. It goes up, it goes down. Everyone sees the success at the top, but they don’t see what’s underneath, the getting there. It takes more than a bunch of success. You have failures that get you there along the way. You can’t be afraid to go for it. And when you do, go all the way. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If risk wasn’t involved, everyone would try.” And energy, it takes a lot of energy, something she has in abundance.
When asked about her biggest challenges, she says it’s balancing work life and home life. She’s lucky, she explains, because her two sets of twins work with her. Her husband handles many behind-the-scenes issues, leaving her free to run the operation. He also runs an ATM business, and as a former banking VP, that suits him just fine. They both love adventure, though. Sitting across the booth, staring into the distance, she explains how they once sold everything: house, cars, possessions, all of it, and bought a truck and a fifth-wheel camper. It was a year of coast-to-coast adventure. Their children were younger then, so she could home school, and he could work remotely for the bank. Her kids still talk about it ten years later. But running a business, she says, focusing once again on the store in front of her, delivers that same sense of adventure.
“It is definitely personal to me. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be here every day. I want people to come up here and just have a really good time.”
As the pandemic unfolded, it added another challenge that no one in modern history had ever faced.
“You heard about small businesses closing down, and I was like, how am I going to survive this? I really needed to take the bull by the horns, get people talking, or I was going to be one of the businesses going under. That’s when I started thinking outside the box. It was a conscious effort. I could either lay down and die or go above and beyond. I really had to fight for my business, and that’s when all the crazy specials came. I loved embracing my true self and showing people my more crazy fun side, and people liked it.”
As far as business planning, she does that mostly in her head. She knows business plans serve some entrepreneurs well, but it’s all about heart and passion for Wald. If she had a mantra, it would probably be, “how can I make people happy?” As people stroll through the Paradise she’s creating, right next to Smithville Lake, with great food, ice cream, and a landscape full of outdoor joy, who wouldn’t be happy?