The perfect blend: Eau Claire’s coffee shops each give customers something different

Story by Amelia Kimball, Freelancer

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Goats, caribou, music and a late night lounge. All of these have one thing in common: coffee.

Each of these different coffee places, The Goat Coffee House, Caribou Coffee, Acoustic Café and Racy D’Lenes Coffee Lounge, have features which make them unique. The environment, workers and other costumers all play a big part in the overall feel of each place.

The perfect blend is important, but it is often these other factors which give life to a building and coffee itself.

Ryan Bembnister, co-owner of The Goat Coffee House, fills cups of hot brew while welcoming his customers.

“Everyplace has coffee…I know everybody that comes in, and you’re treated like friends and or family when you come in no matter what,” Bembnister said.

Bembnister said personality is what makes their shop unique. He said they try to make everyone feel welcome and relaxed. It’s ok to ask questions, he said. That way, customers can get something they will like.

Elina Lane, a non-traditional student at UW-Eau Claire, said Bembnister is her favorite thing about the coffee house.

Lane said Bembnister has helped her through many situations, and he and his wife Laura provide good support for the local community. She said she feels she can do anything at The Goat, from studying to going on Facebook.

Not far from the The Goat, Courtney Bolte, an employee at Racy D’Lenes Coffee Lounge, enjoys visiting with customers late into the evening. She said she always has people to talk with while she’s working.

“The crowd is broader than any other I’ve seen in coffee shops. We still see new faces all the time,” Bolte said.

Bolte said it is unusual for coffee shops to be open until midnight, but because Racy’s is open so late cab drivers and other late night workers are able to come in to the lounge. She said the atmosphere and wide range of clientele are things that make Racy’s different.

During morning hours on the weekend, dogs can sometimes be found in the lounge, and Bolte said that is a unique aspect of Racy’s.

She said some of the dogs are big, and others are small. Racy’s is an experience, and they try to give people that experience. Everything they do and have from the music to the décor is all about that experience, Bolte said.

A place of ice cream, coffee, sandwiches and more is the Acoustic Café. Acoustic has a relaxed environment with a fun crew, shift leader Sarah Hammes-Murray said. People can enjoy a basic 12 ounce coffee for $1.89 after tax while in the privacy of a booth.

“People will sit at a dirty booth before a clean table,” Hammes-Murray said. “Some people will sit for a while … some people are literally here all day.”

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Hammes-Murray said the café has live music in the evening. They also have interesting events such as Ask a Scientist where professors talk about interesting topics like dark matter, Hammes-Murray said.

A company founded in 1991, Caribou Coffee stands on its own for reputation, store manager of the Golf Road Caribou Teresa Fischer said.

Fischer said each Caribou tends to have its own theme, but the founders came up with the name and idea for the atmosphere based on a trip they took to Alaska where they were able to observe grazing caribou.

The turtle and campfire mochas are one of the most popular items at Caribou, Fischer said. The turtle mocha has flavors of caramel and chocolate with crushed Snickers on top, and the campfire has a s’mores-like taste. Caribou Coffee also offers a lighter version of the turtle mocha, with 40 percent less calories than the original.

Fischer said she feels the great-tasting coffee brings customers back, but she said a big part of it is the warmth and atmosphere Caribou provides.

Kelly Michel, a supervisor at Caribou, said people matter there.

“It’s like your second home…It’s the place I feel most comfortable,” Michel said.

Fischer said they want to know people by name because it makes those people feel good.

Anna Mateffy, sophomore at Eau Claire, said when a coffee shop knows someone by name, they feel at home.

Mateffy said coffee is comforting and it reminds her of home. She said Racy D’Lenes has really good coffee, but the specific environment of a coffee shop gives it a special feel, and she senses that at Racy’s.

“The environment is like a living room. I sit down and do homework and just exist for a while,” she said.

Mateffy said there is a culture around coffee drinkers. She thinks of people reading, writing and drinking coffee; people can be a part of something, but still read a book and not be disturbed, Mateffy said.

Choosing a coffee shop to call home is a big deal, because it eventually becomes a part of your identity in a way, Mateffy said. She said she agrees with the idea and theme found in almost every coffee environment; there is a distinct love for not only coffee but people.