Originally published in “For the Love of Coffee,” Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living, August 2021
By Kate Vanskike
This year, amid the chaos of ever-changing guidelines for business during COVID-19 restrictions, Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters opened two new locations, bringing the company total to 19. After 28 years as a local independent roaster, its crown jewel, a community coffeehouse, opened on the South Hill.
In bold, black brush strokes on a white wall, lyrics from Kurt Cobain call out: “Come as you are.”
That message was an important distinction for founder Tom Hammer, who wanted to build an actual coffeehouse, harkening to the 1960s metropolitan gathering places that fostered conversation and the exchange of ideas and beliefs. “Especially at this point in our country, we need a place to get together and hear each other,” Tom adds.
He’s always wanted a shop on the South Hill, but the right space was difficult to find. He knew that when he finally got there, he would bring everything he had dreamed. “Like a celebration,” he says.
It would have a variety of good, quality food and a selection of beer and wine. It would have a blend of comfort and elegance. It would offer an elevated coffee experience not available at his other shops. It would be a place where people wanted to stay a while, a place for community.
The Right Place and People
The ideal arrangement came from Washington Trust Bank, which wanted a partnership for property it was developing on Grand Boulevard, and for almost three years, Tom’s team collaborated with others to make it the coffeehouse of his dreams.
For the food inspiration, Tom reached out to Merrilee Lindaman of the longtime favorite South Hill restaurant, Lindaman’s, less than a mile away, for collaboration on his menu. “I wanted to pay homage to them even before we knew they were closing. We were fortunate to have had Merrilee’s touch and her validation.”
He adds, “She’s a passionate, soulful person and if I can carry a portion of that along, I’m doing my job and the community right.”
For the coffee, Tom borrowed from the concept of Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery, calling his line “LTD Reserve coffees,” which he finds a perfect match for the new space.
That space – designed by HGD Architecture – accomplishes what Tom describes as an “elegant Palm Springs” vibe, layering lines and textures with warmth and regality. His favorite elements: the door, a tree bar, and lots of unique pods of seating.
For sure, the door is a statement piece. At 12’ by 6’, the massive wooden entrance sets the tone for customers, says you’ve arrived somewhere special. A live tree grows in the middle of a square-shaped bar with chairs. Customers can choose from cozy spots and small tables, a glass-enclosed coworking space, a counter with an up-close view of the action, or outdoor seating.
Separation & Duplication
The aesthetics are amazing, but the real genius of the design at the Grand Avenue coffeehouse is a completely separate service area for the drive-through.
“Drive-through is just critical today, but I didn’t want people to come through the front door and have the experience clouded by baristas wearing headsets and talking to someone out a window,” says Tom. It was a serious financial additive, as he had to replicate all the equipment and utilities to create that separation, but it was a gamble he was ready to take.
“I like to think that after 35 years, I had one really good concept,” he says. “It’s been a cool project. And there’s a lot more coming down the pike.”
Continuing the Magic
It’s been quite the journey. At age 18, Tom was slinging joe at Nordstrom’s coffee bar, then working at Four Seasons, and driving around with bags of coffee in his car, trying to get businesses to buy wholesale. While an M.B.A. student at Gonzaga, the dean of the business school, Bud Barnes, took interest in his projects. Today, Bud is still a strategic partner, who Tom calls the ultimate mentor in professionalism, business ethnics, being community minded, and having a work-life balance.
“Three decades of tutelage from someone like that is pretty special,” says Tom. “He’s always concerned about the quality of business, not quantity, and that’s led to where we are today. We have more than a dozen crew members who’ve been here more than 12 years because there’s a culture that people like.”
As Tom thinks about the next steps in his business, it’s actually more of the same. “We’re a customer service company that roasts coffee,” he says, clarifying that he tends to avoid the latest trends that highlight the precision technical processes.
“Coffee has traveled so far and been touched by so many people,” says Tom, “including the barista who was up til 2 a.m. studying before coming in to work. So a little artistic expression needs to be expected, with a smile.”
He adds, “At the end of the day, it’s just a cup of joe. That’s the beauty. Just enjoy the drink, and the connection with others.”
Blend: “I love the LTDs (limited releases) because they’re simply different. But I also love the Signature blend because it’s been with me since 1987. It works for espresso and it’s balanced in drip and pour-over. It’s like a Swiss army knife. I’m proud of it and it’s value priced.
Drink: “When I’m not having a cup of black drip, I’m having a double espresso with a micro dot of chocolate, topped with some milk, so small you almost can’t see it. And always an 8-oz. It’s the exact right recipe for the 2 shots of espresso and some milk.
Thomas Hammer Locations
- Spokane: South Hill, Downtown, North, Valley, Fairchild
- Idaho: Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Hayden
- Malls: Northtown and Spokane Valley
- Medical Centers: Sacred Heart, Deaconess, Rockwood, Providence (Valley)
- Colleges: Gonzaga, EWU (Cheney), WSU (Pullman)