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Lancaster homeschool mom blends past skills into running Keystone Coffee House

Lancaster homeschool mom blends past skills into running Keystone Coffee House

  • Donna Shenk says the skills she honed while homeschooling her four kids apply to operating her shop inside the Lancaster Amtrak station.
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For 24 years, Donna Shenk spent school days immersed in alphabets and algebra as she homeschooled her four children.

As her youngest graduated from high school last year, Donna began thinking about what would be next for her. In the summer of 2021, she received a phone call that would provide the answer.

A friend told her she was closing her coffee shop at the Lancaster Amtrak station. She wondered if Donna was interested in picking up where she left off.

Donna submitted a proposal for a new coffee shop to Amtrak and was selected to take over the space. In November 2021, she opened Keystone Coffee House.

‘Gifts of hospitality’

“I loved my years at home,” Donna says. “I’m a homebody. I love being in the kitchen. I love just putzing around doing stuff, and so it was like the perfect thing because it’s small, the size is manageable, one person can run it themselves. I honestly feel like it’s just my second kitchen.”

Travelers passing through the Lancaster station will find Donna upstairs, just off the concourse, making sandwiches or brewing coffee, and greeting many of her customers by name.

“I’ve just enjoyed getting to know so many different people from all around the world,” she says.

One of her biggest surprises was how many of the skills she honed through homeschooling apply to running a coffee shop.

Operating the shop alone many days, her well-oiled experience as a multitasker helps her manage the venue while overseeing inventory, marketing, and bookkeeping, and still find time to chat with customers.

“I feel like it uses my gifts of hospitality,” says Donna, whose faith plays a large role in her motivation. “I love nothing more than people sitting up to my counter and I’m feeding them and talking with them and all that.”

Sharing stories and sipping coffee

With no plans to expand beyond the station, Donna would love to see her customer base grow as Amtrak returns to a full train schedule and people resume their daily commutes.

Eventually, she hopes her husband, Roger, will join her in the business when he retires from operating Shenk’s Poultry at Lancaster Central Market. Then they both can enjoy a good cup of coffee while meeting customers from around the world and hearing their stories.

“This has definitely built my confidence in what I’m capable of doing,” Donna says. “The skills I learned in my 30 years at home, they actually really do apply to running this little business really well.”

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