Coffee shop on Water Street celebrates anniversary, co-owner reflects on business

Owners of The Goat Coffee House owe success to their loyal customer base


Photo by Katy Macek

Owners Ryan and Laura Bembnister pose behind the counter of The Goat Coffee House, ready and excited to help the next customer who walks through the door.

Story by Katy Macek, Currents Editor

Step inside The Goat Coffee House on any day the owners happen to be around and expect to be greeted as an old friend no matter if it’s the first or 50th visit.

Ryan Bembnister, who co-owns the coffee shop at 336 Water St. with his wife Laura, said it’s been a happy ten years; he feels he hasn’t worked a day since they opened.

“At 37 I’m retired and have been for 10 years because all I do is talk to people and make coffee,” he said.

Last Saturday, The Goat celebrated its 10th anniversary since it opened on Water Street. About two years ago it moved from its old location, 408 Water St, to the current one, which Bembnister said is much busier, though he doesn’t exactly know why.

“It’s been progressively busy over the year and three months that we’ve been at this location, but just in the last six it’s been even more,” Bembnister said. “I don’t know if it was the 200 feet move or what, but it’s super awesome.”

To celebrate the anniversary, the husband and wife made a few treats and sent out invitations as well as put a sign outside advertising a party they were having Saturday night to thank their customers for their continued loyalty.

McKayla Kratowicz, Eau Claire resident, has been working at The Goat for about a year and said she really likes the local atmosphere of the coffee shop and interacting with the customers.

She also said she thinks the Bembnisters are a big reason the coffee shop is as successful as it is.

“They really value the local atmosphere and the regular customers,” she said. “They’re willing to stay open for parties and that kind of thing. They’re here right now making things for the anniversary party, which they don’t have to do.”

One of his favorite things about owning a coffee shop is getting the chance to know all the customers that come in, especially the regulars, Bembnister said.

Since they opened, Bembnister said he’s tried to form relationships with as many customers as he can. His favorite part about their location is meeting people of all ages and personalities.

“We’ve been called the ‘cheers of Water Street’ because we know everybody’s name and what they drink and when they come in,” he said. “We make them feel comfortable and at home in a college coffee house.”

It’s typical to see the same customers on a given morning at the same time, often seated in the same spot, and he also said customers who move away occasionally stop in and visit when they come back.

As he joked about this, he paused to wish a guest happy birthday, mentioning that he used to be a professor at UW-Eau Claire but moved to Green Bay about a year ago. Still, he stopped in to visit.

The gentleman thanked him and the two spent a couple minutes chatting about volleyball before Bembnister returned to the interview.

“People come back to see us, and that’s especially cool,” he said. “We got people that graduate that come back to see us, people that take jobs and move away come back to see us, we’ve got employees that stay connected with us on social media.”

Bembnister said the most memorable things are often simple interactions with the guests, whether it’s something new happening with a regular guest, or a new guest becoming acquainted to the coffee shop.

Except for one or two minor incidents of people passing out, he said they haven’t had to deal with difficult customers.

“We did have a gentleman pulled out of our store that was arrested by five police officers,” he said. “But he came back and we gave him a cup of coffee because that’s what we do.”