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Life & Work with Kate Smith

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Smith.

Hi Kate, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up on the Central Coast and graduated from Atascadero High School in San Luis Obispo County. Straight out of high school, I followed a short trade school career path thought best by my parents. It wasn’t my ideal path and thankfully, my story took a turn down another road.

In February 2012, I tagged along with a girlfriend to Anaheim Stadium for a friend’s Supercross race. I had no idea really what the sport was or any interest other than to root on a friend and get out of town. That’s where I met Corey. He went to support his longtime pal and racing competitor from back in their amateur days. We ended up crashing back at Corey’s pad in North Hollywood and the rest is history. He was just picking piano back up, which to me seemed impossible as he was so good for “taking a 10-year break.” He was living with a few roommates, all Libras with sequential birthdays (not years but close enough). There was Varp the artist, Brad the PR guru, Rambo his assistant PR guru and a few other rotating couch surfers. Varp painted and Corey worked on his latest compilations for an EDM competition or project for LARS. There was a night early on when Corey invited me down, “not for a date, a lot of friends were going” to a show at ExchangeLA in DTLA. I made the trip and only one friend showed up to join our “not date” That was my first trip on the Metro and into DTLA. I was in love with the city from that moment on. We danced until 3 in the morning and couldn’t get back to NoHo because the Metro wasn’t running, and Uber wasn’t actually around then.

Luckily Corey’s one friend that joined us, his uncle had just opened for Big Sean at Staples Center and was just barely on the freeway so turned around and took us back to Corey’s place in Noho. A month or so later, Corey and I decided to get a place together in DTLA (This is when we officially started dating) and found an apartment in SB Grand up on the 11th floor. As a hobby have always been a painter. Nothing crazy but I would do commissioned pieces and sell some of my work. We transformed in that apartment and started the journey up. It was 500sqft of studio, art studio for me and music studio for him. He would immerse himself in online courses and composition competitions to continue building his archive. The odd similarity between LA and our hometown is that everyone is somehow connected. Corey had his connections from LARS and other roommates in the industry and we came up with an idea to throw a Trance music festival in our hometown, Paso Robles. We thought for sure we had the right components and connections to bring that we loved from LA to Paso and it would be a hit. Well, it was and wasn’t. We had highs and lows trying to pull off this 12-hour Music Festival “Electric Vine.” We brought in a duo on the DJ Mag top 100 at that time from Germany, DJs that performed at Coachella, art installments, best sound system in the world you name it. We had the best of the best! 

But things happen, not enough people turned out as anticipated, we didn’t break even, and event day were quickly in the red. The day after the event went back to LA and packed up our beloved apartment and used our last $40 on the gas back to Paso, tail between our legs. We were so sure we could make this happen, but sometimes things are before their time. Starting from the highest high and within a 24hr moment, we were at our lowest low. It was a crazy first few years together, but we stuck together and came to experience some amazing things since then. That day in 2012, we lost our life savings up to that point, but the experience made us stronger to take on bigger endeavors soon after. I got into the wine industry once we moved back to Paso and quickly promoted. Corey and I really developed a passion for winemaking and the wine industry. We immersed ourselves into the industry even to the point we both went for our Level 1 Sommeliers exam (in DTLA) and passed. At the time, and still to this day, there really isn’t any opportunity for a Sommeliers in the area so for us, it was more of a personal achievement. After being at that local winery for two or so years, I was poached by a customer and offered a job working for her Telecom Consulting company. I had no idea what that meant however it paid more, I worked from home, and it was M-Fri. So, I decided to take the opportunity. I figured the wine industry would always be there if I didn’t like it. I learned a whole new skill set and industry quickly. I was able to travel to places I probably wouldn’t have thought to otherwise, such as I was able to see the start of the Iditarod in Anchorage, Alaska. 

During this time, Corey and I moved into a beautiful downtown loft apartment in Paso Robles, which started our rooting in the true downtown Paso Robles community. We loved hosting and entertaining at our place. We have Corey’s Grand 1914 Steinway Piano in the bay window that overlooks a main intersection of downtown. In the summer evenings, we pop the windows open. While he plays, we’ve witnessed people dancing in the street and heard applause from below. It’s the most beautiful thing. I have an art/painting studio on one side of the loft and Corey has his piano and music station in the other side. He’ll play, I’ll paint. It’s a dream. With the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection and Corey furthering in the music industry we yearned to be back in LA. We started having events and more reasons to be down in LA and started looking for a second place. Seeing as we had already lived in SB Grand, we didn’t want to go back to the same building unless we were to move into something better than what we had. We found this amazing Penthouse Loft in a building over on 8th and Spring. Which in 2016 was so much nicer than when we had lived in DTLA back in 2012. The spot really fits our vibe. Being on the Penthouse level and on a clear day, you could see clear to Long Beach. Eye-level from bed with planes coming in for landing at LAX. The biggest unit on the floor opened up and our building manager at the time had really bonded with us so we got to move over into that PH… Game changer. Once in a lifetime opportunity and hey, we were in a position financially where we could make this work.

We would make trips back and forth from our place in Paso to DTLA about two times a week. It’s crazy to think how much ground we covered, but it was incredible. We would leave Paso at 8pm on a Saturday just when it’s quieting down (people get lit here in wine country) we’d roll into DTLA around 11pm and it would just start popping off. It was so invigorating and inspiring to get back into the city. It truly made you feel alive. Our building manager was as cool as they come, and she really pushed for the arts. When she found out I was a painter she commissioned five paintings, set up a rooftop art show, and displayed them in the building. When she found out Corey was releasing his first EP, she put together a Penthouse Level Piano Pop Up event in which all the Penthouses opened up and partied. It was wild, even a couple of players from the Lakers showed up. We were living a fast life and one day, my employer and I had a disagreement which led to a very quick sever of ties. Not on my regard, but I was without work within 48 hours. Which meant we had to choose between LA and Paso really quickly. We chose Paso. Corey was signed to a record label out of LA but coincidently introduced from a mutual friend and winemaker in Paso of all places. We dipped our toes back into LA to be closer to that industry but in reality, it was in Paso that the deal was created and executed. Wild. We both found ourselves back into the Paso Robles wine industry. I promoted up to tasting room manager and eventually operations manager. That was from the end of 2017 through August 2020. A change of course took place on my 31st birthday weekend, May 30th, 2020. After walking home from a work hosted birthday gathering in the park, a block from our house, Corey was walking home with me and said he had run into the owner of our building we live.

Our loft/apartment sits above a coffee shop and clothing shop. We’re on the top floor. That coffee shop had gone through some ownership changes throughout the course of living there. The coffee shop shut down during the first shelter in place order and decided not to renew their lease that was up at the end of May. Corey tells me that he was approached by the building owner about the vacant space, asked if we’d be interested in it say to open a piano bar. Enticing as we had already looked at another retail space of his back in November 2019, lease even drawn up, but we decided to not take it due to a small but mighty list of red flags. This new space was different though. The coffee shop has been a coffee shop since 2009 and the location is always going to be known as a coffee shop. In that regard I thought, well if we could keep operating as a coffee shop by day and then do Piano at night, we may be onto something. Corey and I talked about it and with the right lease enticements within 48 hours signed a lease in the middle of a pandemic. For the concept of a business, we kind of knew what we were doing. We knew we have the hospitality side down. We had been hosting private piano concerts in our loft for a couple of years already. Corey would pair a piece of music with a bite of food, then paired with a wine and the winemaker present. We had the evening piano lounge part dialed. The coffee shop part, only as being a daily patron and at that location. We started from the ground up. First the name and branding. It was then that AMSTRDM Coffee House | Piano Lounge was born. We now had this lease and this idea, but we had to now start bringing it to life. This involved a lot of cleaning… like a ton. Then we had to find an espresso machine, we had to figure out coffee, find kitchen equipment, tables, refrigerators.

Fortunately, and unfortunately with so many businesses going under due to the shelter in place we were able to get almost everything at a fraction of the cost while putting cash in the hands of people that were hurting. It was truly bittersweet. We were both still working at the wineries while starting this endeavor. I had intended to do both but quickly realized that wasn’t possible. Here I am, six months into opening a business with my partner of 9 years. We’ve maybe had two days off total from the day we opened averaging about 80 hours a week alone. It’s the hardest I can say I’ve ever worked in my life. Something I thought I was close to already doing but was quickly reminded that I still have a lot to learn ahead of me. It’s been the most rewarding, emotionally draining, yet fulfilling feeling all at the same time. Talk about highest highs and lowest lows. It’s crazy to sit here and think back through this last decade and how much growth has happened. I sure as hell thought I knew it all back when I was 16, then 18, then 21, then I hit 30 and I got brought back to reality. Humbled if you will. One thing that I find is so important and something I try to work at is to always work on being better. Corey is a true inspiration when it comes to that. He reminds me and pushes me to be my very best.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I would say that there are always struggles along the road. If it was a smooth road, more people would take chances and opportunities. A moment that sticks out for me is when I lost my job and we then had to choose between our apartments. It really took a lot of wind out of my sails because I had poured myself into that job, doing everything I could for someone else and within a second, it was stripped away. The hardest pill to swallow was how it affected my partner who had also worked hard to get us to that point. Being that it wasn’t a first struggle or failure, I think it was so important experiencing that together years prior. It helped me prepare to where I am today by allowing me to address the fear of failure and embrace it. You can’t truly appreciate some things if you don’t understand or experience failure.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I began painting when I was 12. My grandmother gave me a bunch of her old art supplies, paints, brushes, etc. and I remember asking my mom to take me to the craft store to get some canvas to paint on. My dad still has most of my early paintings. Some are super cheesy “abstract” and some really dark from early high school emo days. I don’t think I have a definitive style more; I just paint what I like whether that’s an image, a chaos of splatter and squares, some neutral colors as a background. I do enjoy commissioned pieces for the reason that it gives me a complete idea that then I can build off as well as an endpoint. I often leave a lot of pieces unfinished if there no home for them, so I have about 20 unfinished or “working pieces” I guess we can call them…

Although this isn’t necessarily my career, it’s something that I’ve done for 20 years that I truly love to do. It led me to the unforgettable experience of having my own rooftop art show in DTLA inspired by the architecture and history of downtown and Broadway. Downtown LA is always an inspiration to me as an artist. The beauty in each building façades, carved sculptures, grand interiors, glitter of the marquees, neon lights, skyscrapers, so much texture to pull from. Back in Paso Robles, I’ve had a different opportunity with painting and much larger than I ever had done. A friend opening a new sushi restaurant across the way had an idea for a mural spanning over 20 feet on a wall in their dining area, a “simple” 3 Japanese symbol reading the restaurant’s name. He even thought it would be a great idea if I were to work on it while guests were dining. It was however the combination of my fear of heights and having to use that top step of the ladder that reads “do not stand” definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and boundaries in the best way. So naturally, when we opened the coffee shop I found a statement wall (not as high) to add my touch to.

Contact Info:

  • Instagram: @kate_roses

Image Credits
Corey Jordan, Raleigh Nejame, Arlene Robinson

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