On a 2010 trip to Hawaii’s Big Island with my brother (not a coffee drinker) and our 6- and 9-year-old kids (also not coffee drinkers), I managed to make a stop at a Greenwell Farms, a coffee plantation near Kona. That was my first experience seeing coffee cherries on the branch, watching the bean-washing process, and learning that the peaberries – beans that didn’t split – make some of the finer coffees one could drink. It ignited an interest in the processes behind creating my favorite beverage.
In 2014, during a humanitarian aid excursion in Guatemala, the organizers had the good sense to include a coffee plantation tour in our itinerary. After all, we were near Coban, one of Central America’s coffee production centers. At Coffee Tours Chicoj, a walk through the field was educational, a zipline course over the plantation was entertaining, and the frozen coffee popsicle was a divine encounter on a sweltering day.
But it wasn’t until a trip to the Dominican Republic with a nonprofit called Plant With Purpose that I finally understood the value of getting to know the coffee growers who lived in dire poverty and hand-planted coffee on the mountainsides. One elderly farm owner marched up the steep incline of her property to show us the way her coffee plants were nestled among banana trees and avocados and cacao so they could benefit from shade. That was the first I’d learned of shade-grown coffee and the environmental perk it fosters even though it means less profit for the farmer than if she razed the hillside of its trees and crammed together perfect lines of coffee bushes.
The Kona trip, while my first foray, was just a tourist stop on our way around the island to show my daughter turtles, black sand, and volcano activity. But the second two – those changed the way I buy coffee. Being in the highlands of Guatemala with people who have no running water, and seeing their gratitude for the simple acts that would help the basic health of their community – that sticks with me when I’m choosing my coffee. Visiting communities in the Dominican Republic where farmers support one another by creating their own savings and loans programs from their meager earnings so one family can buy a refrigerator and another can send a daughter to school – that makes an impact on where I buy my coffee.
I am privileged. That isn’t lost on me. Which is why it’s that much more important to me to remember the suntanned faces and calloused hands that worked the field for my joe. And it’s why I choose to buy from coffee roasters who source the beans from fair-trade suppliers, and gladly pay more for it.
Next time you’re ordering your mocha or latte, consider asking the baristas where the shop gets its beans. Their answer – whether it’s “from our downtown warehouse” (which I’ve heard before) or from a specific nation in the coffee belt – will be a good indicator of whether the business places a high value on supporting the people who provide our beloved brew.
Remember those dark days early in the pandemic when all our favorite restaurants and shops were open only for pick-up, and our communities rallied to support them by ordering more take-out food than ever before? I recall driving through a deserted downtown Spokane one dismal day, parking on Riverside Ave., and hitting the button on my phone to alert Indaba staff that I was patiently waiting at the curb. A friendly barista delivered my bag of beans and a latte (okay, and one those delicious pop tarts) to my car, and I returned to my home office feeling grateful there was a way to help keep people employed.
Ordering from my phone was a novelty back then. In short time, the logo of the joe coffee app became a familiar site on countertops and doors of a growing number of local shops. Even once pandemic restrictions lifted, our love affair with convenience made the mobile order a more regular part of life as we returned to work.
I was pleased to learn that the entrepreneurs behind the joe app are Washingtonians who want to stick it to the corporate giants like Starbucks. Brothers Nick and Brenden Martin – former baristas from Tri-Cities – founded the company in 2014 in Seattle, where they set about realizing their mission. “We built joe with the belief that people will choose to support local coffee over corporate giants every time – as long as it’s just as convenient,” the company website attests.
I visited with Nick to learn more.
KV: What provided the inspiration for building the joe coffee business? NM: We grew up in a home where a family-owned business put food on the table until we were in high school when a bigger company came into town and ultimately put us out of business. From that moment on, my brother and I had a burning desire to build something that could give small businesses a way to compete against corporate giants. After years as baristas at a local coffee shop, we realized just how special that category is, and, as a largely convenience-driven purchase (80% of all orders at coffee shops are “to-go”), we saw technology as a way to bring independents together and make it even more convenient, no matter where a person is.
KV: What convinced you this would work? NM: By making it easy and convenient to support locally owned small businesses, people don’t have to settle for corporate. In fact, 70% of people who order ahead daily at Starbucks say they’ll switch to support local coffee once they hear about joe; we just need enough shops on the network to provide exceptional experiences in convenient locations.
Joe grew from 200 partner shops in 2019 to more than 1,000 in 2020. Now there are 1,500.
KV: Besides COVID, what has fostered business growth? NM: When the pandemic first hit, we really stepped up to make sure we could provide small shops a lifeline that offered a safe way to serve customers. That is what drove development outside of Seattle. In markets like Spokane, we owe our growth to amazing partners like Bobby Enslow of Indaba who referred us to other coffee shop owners. When we come together, it makes independent coffee more convenient and allows us to invest more in technology to convert corporate coffee customers into independent coffee lovers.
KV: What’s the best compliment a partner company has given joe coffee? NM: Most of our partners got into the business to cultivate community, share their passion, and create great experiences for their customers and baristas. When we hear how well joe is working for them and enabling them to expand or just have a better quality of life as a business owner, that’s the greatest compliment we could ask for. I’m immensely proud that so many of our partners who switch from white label apps or generic web ordering solutions see a 300% growth in their digital orders. We do a lot to make that happen, including investing our own dollars into deals and discounts to bring their customers back more often, automate their loyalty marketing, and bring them new customers.
KV: What’s most rewarding for you personally? NM: To own a coffee shop is to create space where people feel a sense of belonging. So many meaningful moments happen in coffee shops, and there’s something extra special about helping the entrepreneurs who create those spaces thrive.
KV: What do you envision next for joe? NM: Our mission is to give local coffee an advantage over corporate giants. Starbucks is closing down almost 1,000 traditional shops in favor of mobile-only and drive-thru to appeal to hyper-convenience. We are shifting gears from catching up to the corporate giants to getting ahead in 2022, and are on a path to make local coffee more convenient than corporate coffee anywhere in the U.S. by 2025.
KV: Your standard go-to espresso order for a Monday morning? NM: Americano with a splash of cream. And then … another. The average American coffee drinker (65% of us) consumes about three cups of coffee a day on average, so I have no shame in getting 2-3 drinks in me before noon.
KV: How about something special for our readers? NM: Absolutely! Use the code 3OFF for $3 off any drink.
How to Use
Download “Joe Coffee Order Ahead” from the app store.
Create an account and turn on your location.
Add funds to your account so paying is fast with each order.
Choose any shop that shows up in your map.
Place your order, choose a time for pick-up, and drive to your shop of choice.
Once inside, look for the joe coffee pick-up sign on the counter.
Wave and holler “Thanks!” to the barista who’s trying to keep up with customers in line.
Enjoy collecting “beans” to earn free drinks.
Dining in instead?
By all means, pay for your order with the store’s usual point-of-sale system so they receive the full amount for your purchase. Naturally, ordering through joe means the store shares a bit of profit with the app.
Chat with me on Instagram – @wordsncoffee – and send me questions or ideas for a future story.
What’s a coffee-loving entrepreneur to do when he or she doesn’t want the responsibility (or the investment) of a fully independent java joint? Pop-up coffee shops are one possibility gaining popularity in many cities, offering flexibility in location and duration while an entrepreneur dabbles in the business.
It was the perfect option for Dorian Karahalios and Aimee Clark, artists who met at Spokane Print and Publishing Center where Aimee works with a variety of paper mediums and Dorian teaches bookbinding and digital publication workshops. They shared a dream of opening a place where coffee and creative minds would come together for connection, fueling java junkies and muses alike, at night.
Their artistic energies in motion, the pair searched for a place where people could hang out to write or sketch. Everything in Spokane (except the bars) closed too early, they thought. And longtime Spokanites they asked recalled places like Mercury and Java Junky’s that haven’t been open for years.
“We’re all old millennials who just want a quiet place to go out to at night that doesn’t serve alcohol,” said Dorian. “We felt like the revival of Spokane’s late-night coffee scene was long overdue and thought we’d take a crack at jump starting it ourselves.”
During the pandemic, Dorian had frequented the Twenty-Seventh Heaven Bakeshop on Grand Blvd – an inconspicuous shop in an angular building that also houses a tattoo parlor and barbershop. When he shared his pop-up musings with Lydia Cowles, the bakery’s owner, she offered her space, which she wasn’t using in the evenings anyway.
“Who was I to turn down the stars aligning like that?” Dorian said.
Now presenting … Lunarium.
Not your standard coffee bar
If a simple cup of quality coffee suits your evening vibe, Lunarium will fit the bill nicely. There are no espresso machines or walls lined with syrups. There are two options: French press with a selection from local Roast House, or a 100% peaberry robusta from Nguyen Coffee, which Dorian selected after hearing a podcast about Vietnamese farmers and myths surrounding robusta, the lesser-known sister to Arabica coffee. You can also order tea by the pot or Chinese tea, both in a variety of flavors, or a craft soda like peach cardamom.
The selection of Roast House came naturally as it was one of the first places Dorian visited when he first moved to Spokane. “It was a nice dose of community that I seriously needed after leaving my hometown for the first time.”
As for the tea, Dorian said, “We’re constantly expanding our selection with things I haven’t seen in Spokane yet.”
Savory treats and delectable morsels – edible and audible
With a baker’s kitchen onsite, Lunarium’s opening menu offers a glimpse at what is sure to be a diverse collection of options representing Dorian’s and Aimee’s own journeys. Aimee spent much of her life exploring the sights, sounds, and tastes of France. Arizona native Dorian celebrates his Greek and Chinese heritages and the culinary delights of Tucson.
“My home cooking has always been focused on savory dishes and baked goods are Aimee’s jam (pun intended),” said Dorian. He says her scones have the perfect texture, and they pair beautifully with freshly whipped cream and homemade jam.
They proudly offer vegan and dairy-free options, including a sweetened condensed coconut cream for the Vietnamese coffees.
A few highlights:
kimchi avocado toast with sweet miso on four-seed bread made by Twenty-Seventh Heaven Bakeshop
grilled cheese with tomato-basil paste
frangipane – an almond-filled pastry served with cream
“Plateaux Gourmands” (French for gourmet platters) includes a pot of coffee or tea and a rotating trio of sweets you’ve not seen at any other local bakery
But simply listing menu items doesn’t do justice to the playful, mysterious literary gifts that accompany them on Lunarium’s Instagram posts. Take, for example, this caption of a star-shaped shortbread cookie:
That was crafted by Dorian, who graduated with Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Eastern Washington University. It’s a sampling of the microfiction vignettes he’s creating around a “parallel-ish universe coffee lounge called The Lunarium, which might be dipping into magical realism or fabulism at some point.”
Aimee and Dorian hope to gather any artists who prefer a late-night setting for a variety of expression, including knitters and stitchers. They want you to find their shop “unique and full of surprises, but still cozy, comfortable, and safe.”
“We want customers to be able to leave their cares at the door and be able to breathe a sigh of relief,” Dorian said.
So grab your journal, sketchpad, or yarn, and head to 1220 S. Grand Blvd, 5 p.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday.
Aimee: a good cold brew with a splash of coconut milk, or an Ethiopian coffee for its fruitiness
Dorian: iced Vietnamese coffee, a hemp milk latte or a French press roast with chocolate flavors
Originally published in Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Living, Dec. 2021 By Kate Vanskike
You’ve made your list and checked it twice, and still wondering what to give an aunt, coworker, or neighbor. Grabbing a Starbucks gift card from the grocery check-out line may be more convenient, but you did you that last year, and you want something with a personal touch for the coffee lovers in your life. Here are some ideas:
For the latte-obsessed
A battery-operated frother. Trying to make a little latte art at home is fun, and a small frother will fit nicely in a stocking. $10-15
For the environmentally conscious
Say goodbye to paper cone filters and hello to the reusable stainless steel pour over filter. $10-$12
For the at-home espresso tinkerer
Bialetti Moka Pot. This traditional Italian stove-top espresso maker is easy to use, and produces more quantity than a standard espresso shot machine. $30-40
For the outdoor adventurer
GSI Outdoors is a home-grown Spokane manufacturer of a full line of coffee products for the hiker/backpacker/camper in your life. The Javapress (French press for the outdoors), and the pourover system are both are lightweight and easy to use. GSI products are available at a number of regional outfitters. $25-50
For the coffee smeller
Oxo burr coffee grinder. Opening a bag of coffee and taking deep breaths to inhale the aroma is a sure sign that this person wants freshly ground beans every day. A good grinder is essential. $60 and up
For the mail carrier, dog groomer, babysitter, and teacher
Gift cards are great – especially when they support a local business that’s fueling our community. For your consider one of these regional shops:
Sandpoint/Coeur d’Alene: Evans Bros. Coffee
Cheney: West Plains Coffee Roasters
Spokane Valley & Northside: Ladder Coffee & Toast
Downtown: 1st Avenue Coffee
Kendall Yards: Indaba Coffee
Logan Neighborhood: Arctos Coffee
Want a stocking stuffer instead?
Many local coffee roasters now sell single-serve instant coffee for an easy way to enjoy a favorite blend on the go.
If you’re able to pick up your purchases in person rather than buying online and worrying about shipping delays, you can find all of the above gifts at stores in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
May your holiday celebrations bring you joy, and may your coffee cupboard overflow with possibilities.
In short time, Spokane’s coffee scene has grown from a small number of sit-inside coffee shops, to a couple hundred drive-through java joints, and back to the development of more community-based coffee house environments. The newest trend? Mobile coffee services catering to special gatherings.
You’ve likely seen the white Have Beans Will Travel trailer, often at city parks, luring soccer parents at cold Saturday matches, or serving up warmth at a local pumpkin patch. But as more celebrations like weddings and reunions commence after a long pandemic-inspired hiatus, new mobile units are upping the creativity factor for catering coffee.
Two newer-to-Spokane options are The Coffee Cart and Surge Coffee.
Valentina Kozak and Evelina Goyko are sisters from Sacramento who have loved Spokane since moving here in 2007. Both are surgical assistants, but they hope someday to enjoy serving coffee as a fulltime gig.
“We love serving people and we love, love coffee,” said Valentina.
She says the pair attended a couple of weddings that featured mobile espresso bars and since they hadn’t seen such a service in Spokane, decided to create one. One of their earliest set-ups at a small wedding near a tiny chapel-esque facility on Green Bluff matched the venue with niche perfection. But they aren’t limiting themselves to nuptials.
“We love seeing people gather together to celebrate special occasions, whether weddings, birthday parties, baby showers, or other events,” said Evelina.
Another recent addition to the Inland Northwest scene is a bright royal blue vintage van named Genevieve – a ’69 HY Citroën van with a ’99 VW Passat turbo engine and a friendly full menu of espresso drinks.
Genevieve and her owners, Bruce and Keri Munholand, make up Surge Coffee. The Munholands, who are newcomers to Spokane from St. Louis, put action behind their slogan, “Good Coffee Doing Good.”
“It’s our reason for being,” said Keri.
The couple gives a portion of its sales and 100% of tips to charity. They have supported causes such as human trafficking awareness, childhood cancer treatment, disaster relief, youth arts, and refugee support.
That’s how Genevieve got her name: She’s the patron saint of Paris, known for her charity, bravery, and impact.
In its first few months in the Inland Empire, Surge Coffee has been at Spokane Valley Farmers Market, and at various schools. Look for them in Riverfront Park’s north bank on most Fridays through November.
Keri says they chose to serve Indaba Coffee Roasters “because it has a flavorful yet mellow roast with all the nuances of the beans, but more importantly, because they have a similar mission to us – giving to the community.”
Originally published in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine’s, “For the Love of Coffee” – Oct. 2021
By Kate Vanskike
Ladder Coffee Roasters won my heart as soon as it opened a Spokane Valley location. I’ve lived in valley communities for 16 of my 23 years in the Inland Northwest, and while I understand “the valley” may lack the charm of some other neighborhoods, more businesses and residents would do well to embrace opportunity in the oft-avoided easterly side of our city. (Free and easy parking, anyone?)
But that isn’t what this column is for, so let’s get down to coffee.
Aaron Rivkin opened his first Ladder location downtown on the edge of Browne’s Addition, in a 1904 apartment building begging for new life. Its chic, modern space fits the bill for what Aaron says he wanted to be a “living room” atmosphere. With bright walls, ample windows, and plants draped across shelves, it does possess an inviting vibe. The smell of bread in the bakery across the hall helps to add a feeling of home.
Barely after opening the first shop, a second and unique opportunity arose. As Spokane Federal Credit Union began its rebranding as Canopy, it sought to reach a younger population of banking customers. Inspired by the example of Capital One Cafes, Canopy and Ladder created a mutually beneficial relationship in a shared facility. The East Sprague location in the Valley opened at the unfortunate timing of pandemic restrictions, but eastside residents (at least my husband and I) vowed to keep them going. This fall, Canopy and Ladder opened another location, this time on the Northside.
One might think that the atmosphere of a coffee shop connected to a financial institution could be rather cold or corporate. While the comfy couches and bright colors of the downtown Ladder shop give way to more formal black and white designs in the Canopy business setting, the friendly environment on any given day could include a gathering of moms with young children, or a mild-mannered service animal resting by a student typing away on a laptop. In other words: A pretty standard coffee shop ambiance.
Ladder’s new headquarters and primary roasting and training facility fall somewhere in the middle of those spots, taking over the former Vessel Coffee shop on North Monroe.
As for the coffee itself, Aaron partners with Onyx Coffee, which specifically supports economic development in Guatemala, and Red Fox Coffee Merchants, known for its quality sourcing from throughout the coffee belt in Central and South America and Africa. Aaron says Ladder shops offer two types of roasts – the “approachable” 509 seasonals and the Expo 74 blend, and what he calls the “wild” options for those with more adventurous palates.
Aaron intends for Ladder to keep climbing, expanding beyond Spokane and into the larger markets of Seattle, L.A., and his hometown of Phoenix. The brand is already experiencing wide exposure through nationwide distribution of its canned cold brew – available in original, single origin, and nitro. In Spokane, pick it up at My Fresh Basket.
Let’s Talk Food
Every coffee joint has the standard bakery fare, but at Ladder, you can also indulge in some pretty amazing breakfast options. The classic avocado toast option is a strong contender, but if you want something different, try the waffles, available in sweet or savory selections.
While my heart’s still in the valley, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a visit to the Browne’s Addition location may score you extra points with your partner or friends. The bakery across the hall – Rind and Wheat – will have something special to take home. Grab a baguette or focaccia, and ask the turophile (cheese connoisseur) for details on the many European cheeses available.
Great coffee, fresh bread, and amazing cheese in one place? Trifecta.
Downtown/Browne’s Addition – 1516 W. Riverside
Valley – 13105 E. Sprague (with Canopy)
Northside – 1212 W. Francis (with Canopy)
Monroe – 2823 N. Monroe
Suggest a Story
Have a favorite Inland Northwest coffee company or topic you’d like to see in this column? I’m all ears. Drop me a line.
A company whose name includes “brothers” is obviously about family. But for Rick and Randy of Evans Brothers Coffee – Sandpoint’s most popular coffee joint – that bond extends beyond themselves and all the way to the fields of El Salvador and Colombia.
When the two “military brats” discussed building a coffee company together, they knew they wanted to do things differently than other small roasters. Rather than relying entirely on partnerships with coffee buyers, Rick and Randy sought to know the families running the farms from which they buy their favorite beans.
“From the beginning, we were traveling to countries of origin more than most,” says Rick. “We really wanted to know the story of the coffee – the farms, the producers – because they’re doing 90% of the work.”
They’ve enjoyed their longest direct-trade relationship (about 10 years) with the Menendez family in El Salvador, which has seven small farms. Rick and Randy spend time with the family, learning every step of their process, and cupping samples from 40 to 50 lots of beans that represent variations in shade, elevation, soil, varietal, processing and other factors.
“We’ve always wanted to have full transparency with our coffee,” says Randy. “It’s important for us to know the producers and for them to know the roasters, to have continued dialogue – it keeps the motivation and the passion going.”
For the last seven years, they’ve also bought coffee from Maria Escobar in Colombia, where the brothers discovered her coffee after it placed in the top 15 in Colombia’s Best Cup auction. They participated as judges and buyers, along with 15-20 other coffee buyers from around the world, sampling hundreds of quality submissions from farmers in Colombia. Over a 5 day period, the judges tasted and graded Colombia’s best lots of coffee, narrowing down the field to the top 15 highest scoring, which were then put on live auction – an event that turns into a community-wide celebration. Here, coffee buyers like Rick and Randy are willing to pay more, knowing that the extra proceeds directly benefit the producers so they can re-invest in their farms. For the brothers, it’s an investment to ensure quality.
“The families are so overjoyed – it’s life changing for them,” shares Rick. “We have meals at their home. It’s such a sweet experience and really just an invaluable part of our business. We feel honored to share those moments with our producers”
Even the coffees that don’t make it to top 15 sold at the live auction still yield a greater profit to the producers than they’d otherwise see. Plus, the farmers receive input from agronomists on how to improve their outcomes.
For Maria, a relationship with the Evans brothers is like free insurance. They purchase her entire crop of approximately 30, 60 kilo bags every year at a price premium, whether or not her beans make it back to the top 15 in the annual auction. For them it’s about long term relationships and commitments to the producers they work with.
The brothers have also traveled to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil and Ethiopia to source coffee, and they’ve treated a number of their most interested baristas to the experience as well. For Randy, who does most of the traveling now, Ethiopia (the origin of coffee) is a favorite destination.
Bringing it Home
Once those selected beans arrive in the panhandle, it’s up to Randy and his roasting team to develop the roast profiles that showcase the highlights naturally present.
“Roasting is a craft, for sure,” he says. “There’s a lot of chemistry going on and much to understand about time and temperature, and how that relates to developing flavors in the coffee bean. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I’m still always learning.”
There’s chemistry between the flagship Evans Brothers Coffee shop and its Sandpoint community, too, as residents consistently name “EB” a favorite destination for both coffee and environment. The old grainery on Church Street has a rustic presence and a funky vibe where young artists display their work and old men play chess. Now over a decade old, the original Evans Brothers shop is a staple in Sandpoint.
In 2017, the brothers expanded to Coeur d’Alene, ultimately partnering with Bean & Pie on the buildout of an in-house bakery, which matches quality hand-pies and other baked goods to the coffee. More polished and urban than the northern sister, the CdA location also features live music and is a popular spot for people to work away from home.
The third location is in Spokane, inside the newly remodeled Wonder Building on the north side of the river. Life is just now hopping in the rebranded Wonder Market, which faced plenty of fits and starts during the COVID-19 pandemic. With other new restaurants and a family-friendly game center in the building, Evans Brothers Coffee in Spokane is finally gaining some traction.
They were brothers first and best friends next. How would life as business partners be?
Rick, the elder sibling, had been in resort real estate and marketing for luxury properties in Maui, where Randy got his start in specialty coffee, before each headed separate directions to continue honing their career skills. Eventually, both began thinking about wanting to raise their kids together, and looking for an ideal location, which they found in Sandpoint with its skiing, lake and small community.
The brothers were settling into their new hometown as the 2008 economic crash unfolded, providing ample fodder for conversations about what to do with their lives.
“We were riding Chair 6 at Schweitzer and I asked Randy what he wanted to do with his life, and he said, ‘I just want to work in coffee and I want to do it here,’” says Rick.
And so Evans Brothers Coffee was born, with Rick handling business development, wholesale relationships, sales and marketing, and Randy as green coffee buyer and roaster.
“We found our groove,” says Rick. “It was harder than I thought it would be. We learned things about each other that we didn’t know. Being business partners was very different than being best friends, going to concerts and skiing together. It’s nice to have come through, and to be in a place where we each respect what the other one brings to the table.”
Randy shares the sentiment. “I’ve grown to respect my brother even more through this business. I truly couldn’t do it without him.”
Rick and Randy both favor the fruity, bright, floral flavors of Ethiopian coffees. Randy’s current choice is Dame Dabaye and Rick’s is Kayon Mountain.
If those delicate tea-like qualities of an African roast aren’t your style, and you prefer deeper flavors and richer bodies, you’re still in luck.
“That’s the beautiful thing about coffee,” Randy says. “With more than 700 flavor compounds identified in coffee, there’s something for everyone.”
Don’t be afraid to ask the barista what beans are in the grinder for making your espresso-based drinks. At Evans Brothers, there are usually two options – one house blend and one seasonal single origin option. I enjoy “testing” the flavors with a traditional macchiato (not to be confused with the contemporary macchiatos full of milk and sugar), and found that my palate preferred the Kayon Mountain Ethiopian over the house blend. You never know unless you ask!
Also, try something new. I followed my stout espressos with a vanilla-mint cold brew – delish!
Sandpoint – 524 Church St.
Coeur d’Alene – 504 E. Sherman Ave.
Spokane – 835 N. Post St.
What I learned about @evansbrothers #coffee: relationships and quality go together like cream and sugar. Via @wordsncoffee.
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)