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The Art of Going With the Flow

From selling coffee to divorce coaching, Katie VandenBerg says curiosity is key to a successful business 
by Laurie Pillman | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Katie VandenBerg

Life has rarely taken Katie VandenBerg exactly where she expected to go. Given that, she has mastered the art of seeing where her curiosity takes her.

Today she’s a coach, mother, property manager and artist, but it started with a coffee shop.

“I always wanted to own a coffee shop. I worked for one in high school and I loved it,” she said. “When it wasn’t busy, I’d sit there and think about how it could be improved. I thought, ‘Someday, when I’m retired, I will own a coffee shop,’ thinking I would be 65 years old.”

Katie VandenBerg
Morton businesswoman Katie VandenBerg is also a certified divorce coach.

But it was at the age of 24 that she founded Eli’s Coffee Shop. The right opportunity came along while she was working as a loan processor. Both businesses were fulfilling, but the double role took a tremendous amount of time. This took a toll on her relationships, especially her marriage to her high school sweetheart. As the two found themselves growing apart, they decided an amicable divorce was the best way to proceed. 

Eight months later, Chicago teacher Ben VandenBerg walked through the doors of Eli’s. It has been 16 years and the two are still partners, in life and business. 

While they sold Eli’s in 2015, the couple have moved on to other business ventures. When they became interested in housing opportunities, the two opened VanHaus LLC, a property business with more than 26 commercial and residential holdings. In July of this year, they opened MUSE, a combination art gallery, meeting space and creator workspace.

Located at 71 East Queenwood Road in Morton, the gallery is a bright, inviting space. In the lobby, a small sitting area is surrounded by vivid paintings. To the right, the art gallery holds a wide variety of art, from Ben’s metal sculptures and Katie’s ceramics to photography and drawings. In the back, MUSE has a warehouse-like creator’s studio. Through another door is a photo studio, complete with professional lighting. These areas are available to rent, for families hosting small gatherings or artists needing workspace. 

Around the lobby, MUSE has offices for its in-house creators. This includes four photographers, a massage therapist, an oil painter, a metal worker and musician, and an artist and author with major brand credits. It’s an odd mix, but it’s also the place for one more business: Katie VandenBerg’s own Focus Forward Divorce Coaching.

VandenBerg said the business sprung from an interest in how she could make divorce proceedings less messy for friends during a difficult time.

We have wedding
planners … Why not have
divorce planners?

“I had always been helping people kind of through their divorce because I had been through one. I would have friends say, ‘I’m going through divorce. What should I do? Who do I call?’ Because you don’t know when you go through a divorce what the heck to do. Even people who have been through three divorces don’t know what to do because every single divorce is different. I finally had a friend who needed a lot of help, so much that I was going with her to her attorney meetings. And I’m sitting there thinking: We have wedding planners. Why do we not have divorce planners? Divorce has so many more potential negative impacts on your future than a wedding day ever will.”

VandenBerg followed her curiosity once more and learned about divorce coaching. Neither attorney nor therapist, divorce coaches offer unemotional guidance. This could be information on how to select an attorney — VandenBerg suggests interviewing at least two — create a checklist of next steps, or find financial information.

Having helped several friends through divorces, VandenBerg knew she could assist others, but she also felt it was important to approach potential clients with the proper amount of training and understanding. She enrolled in a program to become a certified divorce coach and studied the different resources people need during a split.

“It’s been amazing. I love it,” VandenBerg said. “It feels so good because I know what to do and I can help them through this. It’s not going to be an easy process, but I’m going to make an icky process go smoothly for them so they can have clarity as they’re going through it and hopefully not spend a fortune, too.”

Beyond the organizational aspects, divorce coaching can save money – on attorney fees, for example. Attorneys generally work well with coaches, who can help clients with non-legal information and what to ask of their lawyers. Precise, structured communication makes it easier for an attorney to get accurate information from the client, which in turn means fewer billable hours.

One of VandenBerg’s main goals is helping her clients feel empowered in making their own decisions.

“When people go through divorce, everyone wants to tell them what they should do,” VandenBerg said. “Those intentions are good, but not always the right direction for the person. Just because something worked for me and my divorce doesn’t mean it would work for you in your divorce, or my other friend in her divorce, or my brother in his divorce. Coaching is helping somebody get through the divorce the way they want to and not interjecting my opinion of what they should be doing.”

Overall, people who hire her are less interested in paperwork and money than in feeling better about this life event, said VandenBerg.

“Overwhelmingly, people say they want peace,” she said. “Whether they’re men, they’re women, they’re parents, they’re younger with no kids or older … that’s their number one thing. “

With so much on her plate, how does VandenBerg maintain her own peace? She says it’s all about spending time with her family and continuing to follow her curiosity.

‘Overwhelmingly, People say they want peace… That’s their number
one thing’

To learn more about MUSE, visit musemorton.com. To learn more about Focused Forward Divorce Coaching, visit katievandenberg.com

Laurie Pillman

Laurie Pillman

is an author and freelance writer/editor, based in Peoria.
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