The Glass Half Full Quest: An Interview with Denise Machinia, Owner of Arts & Carafes

by Ilona Kimberly Nagy

My Women on a Quest series is about the inherent creativity and drive of women who carve out their own paths. My quest is to tell stories about individuals, business models and creative avenues that inspire me–and uphold the women brave enough to live their quests with guts, grit and caring radiance–radiance that lights the way for others.  

What you should know about the Arts & Carafes business model:  “When I feel passionate about a cause, I want to help,” says Denise Machinia who regularly builds fundraisers into her schedule for her favorite causes.  Just a few of the organizations that Arts & Carafes supports each month? American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Alzheimer’s Association, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, ALS Association and many more.

Denise Machinia at Arts & Carafes

Denise Machinia in her paint & sip, Arts & Carafes

Denise Machinia on why hope matters: “Depression is prevalent in just about every family. Everyone deals with it differently. I’d love to get my message out there that things will get better and there is always someone who will listen. Don’t let the situation that is weighing heavy on you today be the defining moment for the decision you make. I would like to be the ear that listens, offers support and helps someone that is feeling desperate to see that there is hope. I want this building to be so much more than just another paint and sip.”

Kids Parties

“Arts & Carafes has become the place for kids parties. We customize the art piece to fit the child. I find out what they love, what their passionate about! “

DENISE MACHINIA’S STORY: Pablo Picasso once said that “every child is an artist.”  But there is, of course, the reverse connection. That creativity in its highest form means letting our guard down–and our playful child out, whether freely sketching, painting, coloring, writing a poem or belting out an Etta James song, all of which can make us feel younger and more alive.

Denise Machinia, the owner of the newly launched paint and sip, Arts & Carafes is on a quest to invite everyone into the happiest spots of their childhoods, thereby changing their outlook and perspective at least for the time they are in her store. Children and teenagers included!

“Nothing would bring me more joy than to know that people have discovered Arts & Carafes as a place to come to anytime to relax, de-stress, be creative or just come in for a cup of coffee and conversation,” says Denise, with a bright and welcoming smile.

Nestled in a shopping mall in Southhampton, PA (right next to Saladworks), Arts & Carafes is a haven that comes with friendly hands-on guidance. The light-filled space equipped with paintbrushes, sharpies, aprons hanging on the wall and a foot-tapping playlist (and sometimes live music) is equally welcoming to those who feel excited or terrified by blank canvasses.   It’s a BYOB, which means you can enjoy a bottle of wine or beer–or sip on a cup of Denise’s complimentary coffee or tea. Prepare to stay for the duration.

“Art has always been my outlet to be happy,” says Denise Machinia, who was born in Abington, PA. A foster child by the age of six-months, Denise’s father left her, her sister and mother in the middle of winter, the heat turned off in their trailer. Denise remembers her foster parents,  named Martha and Ray Stewart, who took both her and her sister to live in Doylestown very fondly. Right before she turned five years old, Denise moved back into Elmwood Park Apartments with her grandparents, who wanted to “keep the family together”, but provided a volatile existence rather than a nurturing family unit. “Art was my way to escape the sadness,” reflects Denise. “I did not have a happy childhood. When I was a kid every day seemed a challenge. In my late teens and early 20’s, I would still turn to art as my shelter.”

But by the time Denise was in her twenties, she found it hard to make time for art.  After turning down a full college scholarship in order to pay the rent, Denise began juggling multiple jobs.

Many years and retail positions later, Denise opened the doors to Arts & Carafe in December of 2017. “When I first started thinking about opening my own “paint and sip” business, it seemed like a dream that was just that…a dream. At first, I looked into a franchise set up but I soon found that I would not be able to do the things that I wanted in that environment.”

Independent in her outlook–and bolstered by an impressive resume of management positions in retail that date back to the early 1980’s, including Pomeroy’s, Boscov’s and most recently, PetSmart–Denise took a brave jump away from competitive franchises with the launch of her business dream. She wanted the freedom to meet her customers’ explicit needs outside the constraints and rules of a larger company. She also wanted to allow her staff to make their mark.  For instance, if one of her customers wants a specific painting, no problem, Denise and her staff will help them recreate it. That pet photo? Family portrait? Anniversary party for your parents?

“My favorite part of working with Denise is that we get to explore our own creativity,” says Bonnie Judd Kolber, who regularly leads classes and workshops at Arts & Carafes. “Denise lets us come up with ideas and projects. She also gives us the chance to give her input on events and makes every event feel like fun.”

Arts & Carafe Family Gatherings

“I get the opportunity to meet new people all the time that come in as people wanting to just have some fun for the evening and by the time they have to go, it feels like I’ve had the chance to get a glimpse into the bonds and connections each group has and I’ve gained new friends while they’ve painted. In the short time we have been open I have truly met some wonderful people.”

PAST: “You have a knack for making things happen. When did you notice that inclination toward leadership in yourself? Who helped light your way?”

Denise: When I first started in retail, my Direct Manager, Gina took me under her wing while I was working at Pomeroy’s in 1980. I was hired as a part timer to work in the candy department. Gina had a ton of confidence in me. I’d never had that before. She said she saw something in me.

I was hired as a part timer to work in Pomeroy’s candy department. I was already working full time at a daycare and nights and weekends at Pomeroy’s. Gina was the manager over Candy, Stationary, Domestics and Drapes and she would leave me projects to complete every night. I would always complete them. When Gina started talking to me about managing the Drapery department full time,  I was nervous about having to tell woman two times my age what they had to do!  Gina continued to work with me. She helped build my confidence by giving me projects that would require me to give direction to other associates.  By 1982, I seriously considered her offer. I became the Drapery Manager until Boscov’s bought out Pomeroy’s in 1987.  I remained friends with Gina until she passed away 8 years ago.  She was very proud to see me grow and move through many levels of management.

When I was with Boscov’s, I saw several people set great examples of strong leadership. I saw what worked and what didn’t. I took the best of what I saw in those individuals to create my own style of leadership.

Family Gatherings, Arts & Carafes

“We have had parties from 6 years old up to 85 years old. The parties for the adults don’t feel like work; I feel like I am a part of celebration of family and friends.”

PRESENT: What most impacts your mission and outlook as a small business owner right now?

Denise: I have seen so many people close to me that have had their lives changed in an instant because of circumstances beyond their control either through illness or accident. If I can make a small contribution and bring awareness that may help even in the smallest way, that is the most important thing to me.

I want to help, to give what I can.. I want to do what I can…all the while keeping myself in check, staying mindful that this is my business and a fine balance to contribute but have enough at the end of the day to cover expenses.

It has always been and still is important for me to make anyone that worked with me feel appreciated. I want everyone I work with to know they can make a difference no matter what their background or level of education.

In terms of the business itself, I’m learning a lot from taking the road less traveled, since I started from the ground up in building Arts & Carafes. There were times that it felt to hard to continue, but I managed to regroup, refresh and restart after every obstacle that got in my way.  You know the old saying; “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s how it is every day from when I first started out till now.  You need to find a location, contractors, permits, licenses, lawyers, government forms, state forms, additional forms if you are opening a business in a state other than the one you live in. It gets complicated and confusing.

I”m not sure I would have taken the “road less traveled” if I had known all of the pitfalls back in 2016, but maybe it’s best that I had to discover all of this along the way.  It makes me appreciate what I have accomplished so far and makes me excited about what’s to come.  It is a very different life than the past 30 years have been.  I still have stress, but in another way. It’s manageable stress that I can impact rather then dealing with the stress of working for a big box retailer with unattainable goals and expectations.

Denise with her granddaughter Liliana

Denise, with her granddaughter, Liliana. “Family is so important!”

FUTURE: If you had a crystal ball, what would you like to see in it? Name a few events that demonstrate exactly how you would like to see the future unfold at Arts & Carafes?  

Denise: I’d want to see people relishing in the freedom and warm environment we provide at Arts & Carafes. I want people to realize how different and unique we are from other paint & sip establishments. We customize the art to fit your event and comfort level.  Arts & Carafes can do just a small intimate affair with 3-4 guests or big and bold for birthdays, family reunions or fundraisers. Our artists love the challenge of creating new art that fits your passion for your party.  We want our customers to enjoy freedom of choice and don’t believe you should be limited.

Theme Song for Arts & Carafes:  “What a Wonderful World” – “Such a simple song that says so much. It represents how I view the world around me.”

About Arts & Carafes: Arts & Carafes is located in Southampton, PA and is a go-to destination for memorable events, Friday nights with friends,  private parties, corporate retreats and large fundraisers (among other occasions). The solution to anything and everything that might have taken a toll on your day, put your devices down and pick up a paintbrush. Consider Arts & Carafes an artistic spa treatment for your soul.   Not only does Arts & Carafes want you to relax and have fun, the paint and sip will make sure you take home a masterpiece created by you. Follow Arts & Carafes on Facebook: Arts & Carafes page

About Ilona Kimberly Nagy: I am a professional writer and publisher who reveres the interview and profile format.  I truly believe that everyone has a story to tell and that curiosity combined with research leads to magic doorway interviews that invite readers to relax and discover their connectedness to every imaginable subject. I’ve interviewed Academy-Award-winning film director Pamela Tanner Boll and Pulitzer-Prize winning historian James McPherson along with many other film directors, educators, translators, musicians, scientists, artists, and so many more.  With twenty years experience in the publishing world, I help clients shape and promote their writing, and work with a stable of wonderful clients, all of whom have inspired me with their noble quests.