20 Under 40: Caitlin Bambenek
Caitlin Bambenek greets everyone who enters Ohana in downtown Steamboat Springs joyfully. If you come in again, she’ll probably remember your name. It’s just how she is.
“There’s that cheesy quote about how people won’t remember what you did but will remember how you made them feel — I try to portray that,” Bambenek said. “Hopefully, it comes across as genuine because I really do care about how people are doing. When people walk into the shop, I want them to feel welcomed.”
Friend Natalie Teer loves this about Bambenek.
“Cait is one of the most thoughtful friends I have ever had, which helps her succeed in her professional life,” Teer wrote in Bambenek’s nomination. “She remembers everyone and knows just what to say and do to make people feel special.”
See all of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s 2021 20 Under 40 winners here.
Bambenek, 31, didn’t come to Steamboat or even go to school to get into retail. She initially worked in social work, counseling at a school in Phoenix before moving to the Yampa Valley three years ago with her fiance. She started working at Mountain Tap Brewery before beginning with Partners in Routt County as the school-based mentoring program manager.
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Meanwhile, she kept one shift a week at the brewery. That’s where she got to know Luke and Emily Dudley, owners of Ohana. They approached her about working at the store. After Bambenek was there for about a year, the owners created a managing position just for Bambenek.
“She’s got an infectious personality that’s really great in the retail setting,” Emily said. “She’s a born leader and we knew that she’d be great managing our staff. She has a keen eye for merchandising and really understands the Ohana brand. We felt like she would succeed in the role.”
Transitioning from social work to retail management was tough for Bambenek.
“It was definitely an internal struggle for me,” Bambenek said. “I felt like I was leaving this field I had invested time and energy and money in. I thought I was pretty good at it, but I was excited about the opportunity to be involved in a creative environment.”
Bambenek had dreamed of having her own retail space, so she dove into the Ohana role and is excelling at it.
“She’s one of the greatest people I know,” Emily said. “I’m so honored to have her in my life. She’s an incredibly warm person. She’s truly one of a kind. She’s just such a special gal. Anybody that meets her immediately acknowledges that and can see she’s a person you want to be around.”
She still is involved with Partners, mentoring a young girl named Celeste. The pair watch movies, go swimming and spend time outside.
The Dudleys were the masterminds behind their shop’s move to Lincoln Avenue and expansion to Breckenridge, but Bambenek made the changes smoother. She spends some time in Summit County each week, managing the shop and ordering inventory. She loves exercising her creativity and calling on her good taste while choosing items for the store. Bambenek stumbled upon hair clips while at a market, loved them and ordered them for the shop. She now has trouble keeping them in stock.
That natural skill will certainly help when she eventually opens her own retail store. She’s also taking classes at Colorado Mountain College to expand her resume and know-how. She checked off entrepreneurial operations and a leadership class and hopes to keep taking business-related credits.
In the future, she’s hoping to merge her two passions.
“I would love to have an internship program that brought kids on as employees to gain credit and some money,” Bambenek said. “The thought is when they graduate, depending on how long they’ve worked for us, they could earn some scholarship money. That’s my long-term vision.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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