Let’s Talk: Rodaina Nasreldin and Karla Cornelius, entrepreneurship

Karla Cornelius, owner of the coffee shop El Kolibri in Cape Girardeau, first met Rodaina Nasreldin when Rodaina came into El Kolibri for a cup of coffee. They started talking and realized they had a lot in common: As Karla had been an exchange student from Mexico City at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) 25 years ago, Rodaina is an exchange student from Cairo studying graphic design at SEMO. As Karla has opened a coffee shop as a hobby because of her love for coffee and connection, it’s Rodaina’s dream to open a coffee shop as a hobby in the future. And they both love to travel.

“The more that we talk, we realize that we have more in common,” Rodaina says. “I want to travel, I want to own my own coffee shop, and she has already done those things, so it’s like my ideas, but in the future, is Karla.” 

Karla says because the Cape community welcomed her when she first lived here, she wants students to feel welcome and be able to connect at El Kolibri, too. She’s glad she is able to meet people like Rodaina through the coffee shop.

“She is from Egypt originally, and I’m from Mexico, so it’s kind of crazy that two people from two different parts of the world can just run into each other and have those things in common,” says Karla, who is also a Spanish teacher, as well as a cross country and track coach. 

Here, Rodaina and Karla let us eavesdrop on their conversation about moving to Cape Girardeau from other countries and pursuing dreams. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Rodaina Nasreldin, left, sits on a staircase next to Karla Cornelius. The two met through El Kolibri, the coffee shop Cornelius owns. (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Rodaina Nasreldin: [Coming to a smaller place from Cairo,] it’s a good change, at least for me. We were always in crowded places, cities, busy all the time, so I feel like Cape was a good change for me, at least.

Karla Cornelius: Yeah. I feel the same way. I was born in Mexico City, so it’s one of the biggest cities in the world. So, just Cape Girardeau with its rhythm —

It’s very home-y, and everyone seems to know everyone. 

Yeah, that can be a good thing and a bad thing, but yes.

So far, it’s a good thing. I haven’t had any bad encounters with it yet. But also, I like how everyone is willing to help — we were talking about my major, [and] you were like, I can see if I can get you an internship. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s crazy.” Growing up, did you ever think you would have the coffee business you have today?

No, never.



Is it something you thought about before, or it just came by time?

Growing up in a third world country, it’s not something you think that you’re ever going to accomplish.

Right. Yeah.

It’s just, you hope to be able to grow up, you hope to be able to get a family, you hope to have a home, but anything above that is hard to picture.

I was thinking that.

It’s hard to —

Think that it’s possible?

Think that it’s possible.

Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

Yeah, that’s why I was thinking I need to get a career to fund my hobby [of owning a coffee shop,] ‘cause I love making drinks for everyone. When I used to live with my parents, everyone that comes over, I make their coffee, I make their smoothies, everything, so I was like, “It would be nice if I had my own coffee shop when I grow up.” And then when I met you, I was like, “Oh my God, I can accomplish that, since you accomplished it.”

I didn’t have time to think about, “What can I do when I get older and I have the means?” Because I was just too busy going through the motions. I really think my idea for the coffee shop didn’t come to mind until [an Italian foreign exchange student] Sarah came to live with me.

I’ve been thinking about the coffee shop I guess since high school, and my mom’s like, “OK, you’ll have to fund this on your own.” I was like, “OK. I’ll fund it on my own in the future.” But yeah, I think if I ever open a coffee shop, it will be in Egypt, because here’s too expensive.

But you make good money. So, my mom was in the restaurant business, and I think that’s why it wasn’t too scary for me to do it, ‘cause my mom had a restaurant when I was growing up, and that’s a lot more work than a coffee shop. But one advantage of the coffee business is you have a pretty decent margin of profit. In Mexico, things are a little bit more accessible, to where here, in the U.S., things are more expensive. But coffee, like drinks, are a good profit margin. So, that’s something you can keep in mind.

Since everyone wants their morning coffee.

Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

And you never know. You may meet a guy and, you know, stay in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. That’s what happened to me. That was never in the plan.

Crazy. Maybe. But yeah, we’ll see after I graduate what happens. I think your coffee’s always made specially for the person in front of you and with care.

I was an accountant for 20-some years. And I did have a lot of [friendships], and I would get out, being a teacher and a coach, that helped me kind of get out in the community and do other stuff, but an office job, it’s still an office job. So, now when I look back, I can’t believe that I wasn’t doing this all of my life. I have customers that I’ve known since the moment that I opened the shop, and it’s really amazing when they come at Christmastime and they bring you cookies or they bring you Christmas card. 

It’s like a family.

Because you get to know them. You have your regulars, and you get to know them, and you get to care for people, and you create relationships. And I think at the end of the day, that’s all we have, relationships. I mean, you can make a lot of money in this life, you can’t take it with you, but those relationships and the memories you have with other people [are what last].