The Grit Series with Katie VandenBerg, Diverse Entrepreneur and Divorce Coach

The Grit Series with Katie VandenBerg, Diverse Entrepreneur and Divorce Coach

The Grit Series with Katie VandenBerg, Diverse Entrepreneur and Divorce Coach


About The Grit Series

The Grit Series is a series of collaborations focused on small business owners putting in the grit to build something great. Each interview spotlights a business savvy member of The Initiative Mastermind and there's a ton to learn from each one about running a small business! 



The Initiative Mastermind is a community of small business owners who rally around getting better at business together. Daily, we share insight on what works, what doesn't work, and strategy for adapting and pivoting in the ever-changing business ecosystem. Click to join The Initiative Mastermind.


Watch the live interview 


Katie's Bio + Street Cred

I grew up the daughter/grand daughter/great-grand daughter of business owners (Foster Jacob Electric) and artists. I spent my childhood on 65 wooded acres with my imaginary friends, collecting rocks and playing in the creek. My mom was an artist, realtor and property developer. Work/life blended together seamlessly for my parents. They built our home by hand themselves. My dad cut down trees to heat our home in the wood burning furnace. Work is life and life is work for me but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it!

I invested early in myself with time and a small amount of borrowed money. When I started Eli's I worked 50 hours/week at the bank as a loan officer and then 50 hours at the coffee shop. It was exhausting but the investment in myself has paid dividends.

When I sold Eli's I used the proceeds to buy rental property and have been slowly growing that facet of our lives. I also coach people who are navigating the divorce process, helping them preserve their sanity and finances.

I am a big believer in the power of community and relationships. I believe in old school work ethics. I believe anyone can be an entrepreneur if they're willing to work hard and be nice. I believe in 'what could I do if I knew I wouldn't fail' and I use that phrase to light my fire.


Divorce Coach Central Illinois


Quick Q&A with Katie VandenBerg, Diverse Entrepreneur and Divorce Coach


In 2 minutes, tell us how you became an entrepreneur.

In high school I worked for a coffee shop. I LOVED my job but the owner wasn't the best business person. Our paychecks would often bounce and have holds put on them by the bank. It wasn't very busy so I would think about what I would change to make it better for our town if I could. And I kept working there for a few years despite the bounced paychecks.
I ended up going to college and pursued a career in banking, all the while, planning my 'retirement dream' of owning a coffee shop. That dream came early when the perfect location for my shop was available. At the age of 24 I decided to open Eli's Coffee Shop in a 150 year old home in downtown Morton.
I kept my good job at the bank to help fund my 'hobby' but when my hobby turned into a very busy shop I couldn't keep up with both. I was working 80-100 hours per week and not doing either job very well. I took the plunge and quit my steady paycheck and amazing benefits to run the shop full time. It grew exponentially and at the time of selling out to a longtime employee we had three locations and had sparked the Central Illinois coffee scene to life.

What do you do and who do you do it for?

I invest in multi-family real estate, own Morton pottery, coach clients navigating their divorces and raise my kids. I love to spend time in my gardens and on my pottery wheel.

Have you found work that sets your soul on fire? 

Yes. Too much! I like to do a lot of things. I have entrepreneurial ADD. I enjoy it all though for different reasons.

I like to invest in real estate because it makes so much financial sense to me for our future. I love Morton Pottery for the art, community and carrying on this heritage in Morton. I enjoy coaching divorce clients because it is such an overwhelming process and I know I can help alleviate the stress they will feel if they try to go at it alone.

I can empower my clients to be their best selves at a time when they feel like the worst version of themselves.

What's the best business advice you've received?

Don't try to be everything to everybody. At Eli's people would always tell me what I 'should' do. It was exhausting trying to meet those requests out of our tiny space in a growing new business. Once I stopped trying to make everyone happy and fulfill all of their needs my business grew.

What has been your hardest entrepreneurial lesson learned?

Knowing when to quit. Selling Eli's was one of the hardest choices I've had to make. It was my first 'child'. Everything that it is existed because of me. Losing that name became synonymous with Eli's....was hard.
It took so much of my time and emotional energy though and selling opened up a whole world of possibilities for me. Being a mom, taking pottery lessons (which led us to Morton Pottery) and the money to invest in real estate and now the time to become a divorce coach. I would have never had the time to do any of that had I kept it.

Ever gotten any bad business advice?

"A coffee shop will never make it in Morton" and "being a landlord is the worst"

What's your scariest/wildest/most exhilarating moment in your journey so far?

Definitely the first three year of Eli's. The first year and a half were hard but so exciting to be doing something that most people just dream about. Then, quitting my day job to run the shop full time. It was what I had imagined it would be.
I can still take my mind back to that place. The warmth of the brewing coffee and sweet scent of the granola and scones baking. The thud of the door when a customer would come, bleary eyed as they started their day with us. I got to stay at the shop while most of them would head to their 9-5's. It was then I realized just how 'on' to something I was.
That there was a better way to live our lives (in my opinion.) I also had just met my husband AND I lived above the coffee shop. He was the cute new teacher in town and would stop by on his motorcycle on his lunch break. I had just been through a divorce a year earlier and finally my life felt right. Like how I knew it always should feel. Morton was so excited to have a vibrant coffee shop that was open late and (gasp) even on Sundays with home made baked goods. It felt so good to make so many people so happy!

When it comes to getting work done, early riser or night owl?

Always early riser!


What responsibility do you like the least in running your business? 

Hiring employees and getting new tenants. People can look great on paper and in initial meetings but until you work with them for a few months you just don't know and it's exhausting to make a bad pick.

What's the secret to your success? 

Be nice, joyful and generous. Work hard. Don't overspend. This is huge! So many businesses fail b/c they think they need the newest and best of everything. My first espresso machine was bought off Craig's list for $2000 and it got me through the growing pains of a new business when money is sooooo tight.


What advice would you give to entrepreneurs just getting started?

Watch your spending. It's hard to be creative and joyful and nice when you're stressed about money. If you can keep your finances under control you can spend your energy on growing.
I believe in growing like a tree. Put down your roots. You will be vulnerable but flexible at first. Allow yourself to be those things. It opens you up to learning and shifting to what works.
As you become stronger your roots will grow deeper. Soon you will be a strong tree that can withstand the storms, maybe a little bedraggled but still there, standing gracefully providing protection for others who need it.

Where can people connect with you? 




Phone: 309-840-0881



Hi and welcome! I'm Francie. I started my business, Simply Integrated, in 2015 and have fallen madly in love with teaching small business owners how to start, grow, and market the successful and profitable business they dream about.

My knowledge and experience comes from earning an MBA and from coaching small business entrepreneurs while managing and marketing their projects.

I focus solely on business strategy and marketing and created this blog to help others run more successful businesses. If you’re interested, you can read more about me on the About page of Simply Integrated’s website.



If it turns out we’re a good fit to work together, I’d love to help drive customers to your business and positively impact your bottom line. Get in touch for a free consultation. To get in touch, use this contact form, email us at, or call/text us at 309-431-2266.

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