Big change, big business

The Goat changes location


Story by Steve Fruehauf, Freelancer

The co-owners of The Goat Coffee House understand the value in opportunity. Even after nine years serving in one location, Ryan and Laura Bembnister made the joint decision to pack up and move just a block closer to campus last year. Along with that, they opened a second location in the Marshfield Clinic in July. Now heading into the end of the year, The Goat Coffee House much to celebrate, including its highest sales ever.

Ryan Bembnister said each month from January to mid-September this year has been up 25 percent compared to 2013 results. The summer months specifically, usually dipping due to students moving, are up 39 percent. One month was even near a 50 percent increase.

“When you’re making $10,000 $12,000, $14,000 a month and then you tack on another $7,000 to that almost, its a pretty big deal, especially in a small business,” Ryan Bembnister said.

They decided to make the move from their 408 Water St. location last year, citing the former building’s old age and limited restoration possibility as two main factors. According to Eau Claire County property tax records, the building was  constructed in 1876, making it nearly 140 years old.

The Goat coffee House moved into its current 336 Water St. location last June. Photo by Steve Fruehauf.

The Goat Coffee House moved into its new location after completing a deal with the building’s former owner, Ralph’s Shoe and Boot. Photo by Steve Fruehauf

But mostly, Ryan Bembnister said the 336 Water St. location, constructed in 1963, was too good of an opportunity for their small business to pass up. The building’s former owners, Ralph’s Shoe and Boot approached the co-owners, and they struck a deal in June last year.

They then started remodeling themselves by mid-July, but ultimately had to stall their opening until Dec. 6  due to city regulation issues. County tax records show they purchased the space for $0, but Ryan Bembnister said there was a personal deal made.

“The gentleman that owned the building we are in now just wanted to be out of business, and I had a relationship with him. So it was an under-the-table kind of deal, which is nice,” he said. “It was good timing, and the price was right, but the space was a little bit scary at first . If you go in the store now, the only thing that exists from the original shoe shop and insurance agency are the front door. Everything else in there is new.”

Five months after opening that store, the co-owners were approached about another available space. Laura Bembnister said a regular customer approached them and said her husband was in charge of finding a business to rent out an open Marshfield Clinic space.

Above is a look at the inside of The Goat Coffee House's Marshfield Clinic location. Ryan and Laura Bembnister, co-owners, opened that shop last July. Photo by Steve Fruehauf.

The Goat Coffee House opened a new branch at Marshfield Clinic in July. Photo by Steve Fruehauf

Since the last business to occupy the 2116 Craig Rd. location was an established café, Ryan Bembnister said the clientele was already present. With this in mind, he said the space was a good opportunity for expansion and agreed on a deal in May. Then, they set up the store themselves and started operating two months later.

Laura Bemnister said new customers will experience the friendly, “Cheers”-like atmosphere regulars have become accustomed to receive. This personal approach is what separates The Goat Coffee House from other local cafés and allows them to know about 90 percent of all their customers, she said.

“We are very service-oriented,” Laura Bembnister said. “We really want everybody to have a good experience that comes in.”

Allison Sontag

Allison Sontag

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire junior Allison Sontag said it was the small-café-in-a-big-city atmosphere that kept her coming back to the 408 Water St. location. Her first visit, in 2011 as a junior in high school, was with her mother. Sontag said some smaller shops reminded her of her visits while she was in the Twin Cities.

Specifically, she said she enjoys the signature sandwich selection The Goat Coffee House offers. Since learning about their new Marshfield Clinic location, she also said she hopes to get there soon and check out the business’ newest location.

“Every time I went in there, it was pretty busy,” she said. “I don’t think (their expansion) is too surprising because they are always at the Taste of the Valley thing. So they are trying to promote anyways, too.”

The Goat Coffee House offers an extensive coffee line, along with specialty drinks, like smoothies and ice tea. It features 12 different  signature sandwiches and a number of original pastries, as well.

In addition, the co-owners feature an “Artist of the Month” show where one local artist gets the opportunity to showcase their work on one of The Goat Coffee House’s walls for an entire month. The artists can choose to sell or just display their work, and will receive 100 percent of the profits. Ryan Bembnister said, it’s just one way their business tries to help the community.

“There’s no reason for us to make money off of someone else’s hard work when all they are doing is decorating our shop for free,” he said. “It’s something we pride ourselves on, to give back to the community since we know what a small business is like.”