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Eastward & Upward: Ladder Coffee

Originally published in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine’s, “For the Love of Coffee” – Oct. 2021

Downtown, 1516 W. Riverside

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.

The valley location with Canopy Credit Union, 13105 E. Sprague; my Okie sister visiting to celebrate our mom’s birthday.

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.

Extending Further

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.

Spokane Locations

  • 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.

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White Coffee and Wise Community

Published in the July 2021 issue of Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Living magazine

A few blocks north of Gonzaga University on Hamilton Avenue sits a small coffee shop with two garage doors indicative of a previous automotive life. Permanently parked in front is a classic 60’s VW Beetle, black, with the Arctos Coffee logo (a bear in the woods) painted on the door. Given its proximity to the college campus, Arctos is a hot spot for students, furiously studying or simply hanging out.

But there’s another kind of customer who’s usually first in line any day of the week: a septuagenarian named Kent Ross, who orders a mocha every time. Several times a week, friends meet him for conversation; other days, he passes the time in a bit of small talk with students and other regular customers.

“I like getting to know the owners, and Jason here is a good guy,” Kent said.

Having worked for and then owned his father’s trucking business, Kent knows the value and challenges of a small business in Spokane, where he’s lived his whole life. Once an adventure runner who trekked the mountains of the Northwest and completed 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, life following a major stroke isn’t as active as he might like. He traveled to Europe, enjoyed hearing authors at Auntie’s Books, and volunteered for the food bank. But things are slower now and showing up at Arctos when the doors open is what keeps him going.

“When they had to change things during the pandemic restrictions, I asked if they could open at 6:30 instead of 7:00, and they did,” Kent said. “That’s why I feel like I should be here every morning.”

Owner Jason Everman created Arctos in 2018, with the help of his dad, Jim. His business focus would be on a small selection of beans for a standard blend that can be roasted to consistent perfection. The Arctos staple comes from two South American beans roasted separately then blended. He also has made white coffee a standard, which offers an extra boost of caffeine with a unique flavor.

“White coffee is a very beautiful alternative to your traditional espresso-based drinks. It tastes completely different,” Jason said. Roasted for half the time of a regular medium roast coffee, these beans are dropped into the cooling bin soon after they lose their green hues, producing results he describes as “beautiful golden beans that smell and taste nutty, and are less acidic.”

Visitors to the flagship café see the tiny roastery upon entering the building, often with Jason seated at the console. In the service area, the ceiling is lined with the burlap bags from around the globe that once held beans, and flags from Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Washington State, and Whitworth universities add a bit of a campus vibe.  

But it’s the community atmosphere created by customers themselves that Jason appreciates most.

“Kent sitting in Arctos every morning sipping his 12-ounce mocha and chatting it up with the baristas and customers is a perfect example why coffee is so amazing.” Jason said. “It helps us get out of bed every morning. It brings us together. It’s comforting. It’s community.”


>> Author’s Choice: The Logan Latte – caramel, brown sugar cinnamon, and Irish cream

>> Drive-up service: Arctos partners with the Joe Coffee app to provide online ordering for a quick pick-up from the counter. Or, you can stay in your car and visit Grind Central, a drive-through coffee stand located near Millwood, 8015 E. Trent Ave.  

>> Credit where credit is due: It’s my husband, Jeff Bunch, who learns the stories of every business he visits, from the owners to the customers. He’s forever a connector; I’m just the one who whittles down the stories into pieces you can savor with a cup of coffee.

Featured

A Coffee Roaster’s Lifegiving Motto

Story by Kate Vanskike | Portraits by Luke Kenneally

(Image courtesy of Indaba)

With coffee start-up company Indaba, Bobby Enslow had the dream of creating community in the economically challenged West Central neighborhood despite neither experience roasting coffee nor running a business. And yet, he succeeded—achieving awards, receiving recognition, and continuously adding to his list of retail locations. An inspiring tale, but one that’s been told. Indaba’s story runs deeper than that.

The people—and their stories—are what set Bobby apart from other aspiring business leaders.

Meet Mary Kay McCollum, a Navy veteran; Phil Hocking, a computer technician; and Hannah Hicks, a rising business leader. Seemingly on disparate paths, yet sharing the same testimony: Indaba’s slogan—Love people, love coffee—is more than pretty words. Bobby lives by it.

A Path to Healing

“I get really emotional when I talk about it,” says Mary Kay McCollum.

She’s speaking of her experience of sexual assault by a fellow Naval officer, whose abuse back in the ’80s left her terrified and isolated for years. But the statement is also true of recalling the first time she walked into the Broadway Indaba location in 2015.

This was the year McCollum attended a retreat for veterans to tackle their trauma, where she thankfully met a journalist who helped her secure payment for the suffering caused by a member of the military. After more than three decades of silence, the pain of processing was unbelievably hard, compounded by telling her story to secure disability pay for the years she was unable to work. McCollum was suicidal, and when she entered the coffee shop, she told the owner just that.

“When I first talked about PTSD, I was terrified. But Bobby was just so encouraging and supportive,” McCollum says. “His compassion really affected me. He got me on the path to healing. I started writing and talking about it.”

Bobby was instrumental in her progress, she says. Every time she returned to Indaba, he remembered her name and asked how she was doing.

Six years later, McCollum continues her healing through photography, her relationship with Jesus, and encouraging other women to find their voice.

She still finds comfort in good coffee from Spokane roasters, including Indaba. Her favorite is a whole milk latte with no added flavor, so she can savor the coffee.

“’Love people, love coffee’,” she quotes the Indaba motto. “That isn’t just something to hang on the wall. [Bobby] really does it.”

Mary Kay McCollum. Photo by Luke Kennealley

Dignity Restored

As a child, Phillip Hocking had symptoms indicative of autism spectrum disorders that weren’t widely understood at the time, and, without treatment, he suffered from a lack of social skills and friends. After his parents acquired a PC and internet service in 1994, he found a placed he belonged through computer technology networks.

Phillip dropped out of school and pursued tech success, and when he scored, he began whittling away his earnings on drugs and alcohol. He was good at what he did, but as addiction took control; he began smoking meth in the bathroom at work. No longer employable, he became homeless.

For five years, Hocking lived on the streets. A church near the Broadway Indaba coffee shop had been operating a shelter and when it closed in the mornings, Hocking made his way across the street where Bobby was still learning to run his first business and not yet making a profit.

“I basically lived there,” Phillip says. “I was bipolar and having public freak-outs in the shop, and Bobby never asked me to leave.”

Bobby gave him day-old cookies and let him wash dishes to earn his coffee. He even played chess with Phillip, establishing a weekly tradition they maintained until pandemic restrictions.

“Once, I walked in and was crying, and said, ‘Bobby, could you just pray for me, man?’ And he did. And it was really impactful,” Phillip says, “despite my mental health issues and living in active addiction.”

Between that prayer and reading Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability,” Phillip found an ability to recognize his self-worth. He began helping others, caring for a friend’s family while a member was incarcerated, delivering food and toilet paper to addicts on the street.

In 2015, Phillip stopped his drug use, secured a job, and began paying for his coffee. Today, he oversees tech services at Excelsior Wellness Center.

“Things that once led to HR involvement or loss of employment now aren’t issues. I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have autism or social issues. My behavioral health is no longer a barrier to my success,” Phillip says. “I’m a homeowner, I’m married, I have a kid. And I have a future.”

Phillip is a coffee snob by admission, and proud to say he spends quite a bit of money on coffee. His favorite Indaba drink is the Natatorium—a vanilla caramel latte with cinnamon.

“He’s serious about ‘love people, love coffee,’” Phillip says of Bobby. “He was amid his start-up, and dealing with the pressures of someone like me there was a risk. But he put his Christian principles above a business principle. It’s pretty indicative of who the man is.”

Indaba owner Bobby Enslow (left) with Phillip Hocking. Photo by Luke Kennealley

Creating a Future

Hannah Hicks and her siblings grew up in West Central before the Kendall Yards development was a reality. They were bored highschoolers when Indaba opened in 2009; they hung out at the intriguing new Broadway shop. All the time.

“We would trick Bobby into giving us free lattes,” says Hannah.

But it was no trick. Bobby turned that “free” coffee into a dishwashing job.

One day, Hannah was talking about what to do after school. Bobby had been considering an internship program to teach technical coffee skills to support the growth of specialty roasters in Spokane, and approached Hicks with the opportunity.

“I became Bobby’s first intern, spending twenty hours a week learning from him,” Hannah says. After she gained work experience at another business, Enslow asked her to manage the Broadway location, and then another Indaba shop.

“Bobby was so intentional about giving me opportunity and really trusting me with it. He sent me to barista camp for certifications; he was constantly investing in me,” she says.

Hannah felt she was an active part of Enslow’s dream to create community. She and everyone else on his team were inspired to be family to their regular customers.

Just over three years ago, Hicks moved to New York City, where she had multiple job offers and selected one with a local coffee company where she started off as the manager of its busiest location in Manhattan.

“I don’t think anything could have prepared me like having worked for Bobby,” she says. “He inspired me to lead people in a way that’s focused on them.”

An ambitious young woman in a major metropolitan area, Hannah dreamed big. She applied to Columbia University and was accepted, in part, she says, to Enslow’s impact and recommendation. She became an operations manager, then a senior manager for quality overseeing a business in six cities.

“At every stage, Bobby has supported me,” Hannah says. “Yes, he taught me technical skill, but also about business and leadership. And to think it started with washing dishes.”

Today, residing in the Big Apple and studying sociology at Columbia, Hannah says she lives off simple drip coffee. She’s still enjoying her favorite blends from Indaba, shipped to her regularly from Spokane, where the people-first motto is alive and well.

“It simply blows my mind,” is all Bobby can say. “My little shop in West Central is making a difference.”