We had the chance to chat with Kellie Phelan in her bright new space in First Hill earlier this month for this month’s edition of Seattleite Spotlight. Kellie is the owner of The Works, a DIY school for adults. Classes range from knitting, gardening, kitchen & pantry (preserving food), to crafty stuff. Basically, a little bit of everything.
Seattleite: Tell us about your journey of coming to own The Works.
Kellie Phelan: The Works started as Seattle Farm School, founded by Katie Stemp in 2014. I was on the board of Sustainable West Seattle when I heard about Seattle Farm School. I got involved as a volunteer early on and ended up being one of the first instructors. I taught some of the things I was already doing in my free time—seeds, gardening, and knitting.
I have a background in environmental consulting and while I loved the work and the people, it was a huge grind. I was working 80 hour weeks and traveling a lot. On the personal side, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005, which changed the way I think about food. When I moved to Seattle in 2012, I planted my first garden and I’ve been passionate about edible crops ever since.
In 2017, I was reinventing my career and joined Katie as a co-owner and eventually took over ownership in June 2018. I rebranded as The Works to reflect our diversity in topics and meant to reflect the the work of makers and chefs all over the city. We now have five part-time staff.
Seattleite: Last year, we took your Salsa Garden class where we learned about growing (and went home with) tomato, cilantro, and shishito pepper plants. I know you were utilizing spaces throughout the city for your classes, but now you have your own space. How did that come about?
Kellie: We moved into this space in September 2018. It was Seattle Seed Company’s retail and office space. As they moved into wholesale, they didn’t need the retail space anymore. We saw this as a great opportunity for a partnership: Seattle Seed needed the space during the day and The Works hosts classes in the evenings and weekends.
It’s been really great to have our own space and build a community here, but we still love partnering with local businesses to bring unique events to their locations. In March, we’re teaching a Cocktail Garden class at Redhook’s Brewlab in conjunction with Seattle Cocktail week.
Seattleite: What’s your vision for The Works?
Kellie: I see The Works as a chance to share essential skills that in many cases have skipped a generation. Everyone has someone in the family, maybe a grandparent, who pickles, gardens, knits, or paints.
As we’ve been scaling up in the past six months, I recognize that this is a business about community: getting as many people together to make cool stuff, whatever the “stuff” is. It’s an opening to learn something new that’s fun and leave feeling empowered and connected.
We want to continue to offer innovative programming and continue to build a community around this space. I have launched a “The Free Spot Program” where every class will have a free spot on the honor system. I really mean it when I say that everyone is welcome here and I realize that not everyone can find it within their budget to pay for a class.
In the future, I’d like to get to having classes 7 days a week where we’re doing all the things and potentially expanding to other cities in the country. But when it’s all said and done, if we’re just in Seattle, I’m still thrilled about what we’re doing.
Seattleite: What can we look forward to in your spring schedule?
Kellie: Gardening season is just around the corner. Come learn how to start seeds or plant an awesome garden in a small space, even if you just have a patio! Join us for a hot pot brunch where you’ll eat AND learn, or fight the stress of the city with herbal remedies for stress and anxiety, including making your own tincture to take home. We’re also bringing back some sold out favorites from the winter line-up, so hop on your tickets for bubble tea, modern calligraphy, and framed pressed ferns.
Find the February and March class schedule here.
Seattleite: I love that you’re hosting these $5 community events. So many of the young professionals in the city are transplants and while they might want to do a clothing swap or a craft night, they might not have a network established here yet. Tell us more about that.
Kellie: We offer at least one $5 community event every month. This includes everything from clothing swaps, to plant swaps, to craft nights. These events used to be free, but we found the attendance rate was really low, which was a bummer for the community and our team who works hard to prep for these events. We recently switched to charging $5 so attendees make a small commitment in signing up, but we don’t want this to be a deterrent for anyone. Everyone is welcome, so if you can’t swing the $5 bucks, don’t hesitate to reach out!
In March, we actually have three community events: there’s a Pi (day) Contest where you can come with a pie ($5) or as a taster ($15) on March 14. We’re also hosting a bread swap ($5) on March 10 and a craft night ($5) on March 27.
Seattleite: Ok, something fun: what’s your favorite coffee shop and favorite place to eat in Seattle?
Kellie: For coffee, Empire Espresso in Columbia City. They have this housemade cashew milk that’s delightful. Sound & Fog in West Seattle is also great for tea or coffee. My favorite place to eat is Ciudad in Georgetown. It’s casual, they have delicious grilled meats and really good vegetable dishes.