Ithaca Times

Karina Murphy makes time for leisure at Blue Frog Café

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Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2011 4:26 pm | Updated: 5:13 pm, Fri Feb 10, 2012.

"If I can't make a good living and live by my own personal morals then I won't do it," said Karina Murphy, "I believe in what I'm doing. I wouldn't be doing it otherwise."

Murphy founded the Blue Frog Coffee House on Main Street in Cortland in 2002. She opened a second location for her business at the Shops at Ithaca Mall in May 2011, rebranding both locations as the Blue Frog Café. The inspiration for the name of the business comes from Murphy's love of frogs, and her vision for the original location was to give Main Street some color and "whimsy." After flirting with the "Dancing Frog," she decided on something a little calmer - The Blue Frog.

"I haven't had a year where the business hasn't grown," said Murphy.

With the founding of her original coffee house in Cortland, the menu began to grow as customers started asking for more options. Now both locations, in addition serving the traditional coffee and pastries, offer simple but appetizing breakfast and lunch options that include quiche, soup, wraps, and paninis. The Cortland location also offers beer and wine.

Murphy has a master's degree in recreation and leisure studies and also studied music as an undergrad. Both interests served as important foundations for vision of what she wanted the Blue Frog to be for her customers.

"There's a whole body of thought that leisure is intricately connected to the democratic process," said Murphy, "it's a time when people can get themselves involved outside of work and home. That's a space that I want to create - that's a space that I relate to.

"I have this thing about making people feel comfortable," she added, "and I think that has really made my venues attractive. It was really important to me that someone walks in - anyone walks in from wherever - and feels a sense comfort and calmness. In a way it's part of my business plan."

This business plan applies to both cafés though they are in very different locations. Music events are hosted at both cafés, and a sense of community exists even at the burgeoning mall location where Radio Shack lends a sound system for the weekly open mic night.

Murphy used to work 40-60 hours a week in the Cortland store, but when she opened her second location, she said, she tried to pull away as much as possible, trusting her managers to take care of things in her physical absence. She still works several shifts a week at the Ithaca location, usually over the weekends, and checks in daily at the Cortland location. Despite all the time and energy that the business require of her, on top of being a single mother, Murphy sees owning her own business as giving her a sense of freedom and fulfillment that was previously lacking in other work environments.

"I think the reason I decided to go into business in the first place is that when I was working for other places I always felt like I wasn't really putting my who self into it," said Murphy. "I kind of felt like I was putting things half-way because it wasn't mine. It was someone else's. And so then I'd come home and I'd be tired. So I'd be home, kind of putting half of myself in my life too because I had just worked all day long. I had this feeling of just not really sinking my teeth into anything. Owning my own business, I do not feel that way at all."

Having been in business for nine years now, Murphy explained that the most difficult part of the process for her has been the number crunching- balancing and developing the skills that are needed to run a business and coupling them with her love of leisure, music, and coffee.

During the last nine years there have been high and low points, Murphy said, and it was during one of her low periods that fellow business owner Al Saracene, the owner of Nordic Sports who frequented her Cortland store, gave her a tidbit of advice that she recalls as an important point to remember as a business owner.

"I remember feeling pretty low about five years ago," explained Murphy, "going ‘oh my god, what do I do? Do I keep doing this?' And he said, ‘You know Karina, sometimes the only thing that keeps you in business is the desire to stay in business.'"

Obviously for Murphy the desire to stay in business persevered as her business has continued to grow. She currently has no plans for the future, waiting to see how the new mall location develops. But with some of the time that she has cleared, she has started teaching a class on recreation and leisure twice a week at TC3.

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