The Goat Coffee House: ‘Made with love’

Local shop provides means for students as both customers and employees


Photo by Colette St. John

Students work as baristas behind the counter making an assortment of drinks and food at The Goat Coffee House located on 336 Water St.

Some people find it easy to get their coffee shop fix without thinking about who operates the register, but when Eau Claire locals and visitors open The Goat Coffee House doors, there’s likely a student on the other side of the counter.

And for some of those students, working at the Water Street shop is more than just a job.

For Chance Boley, who grew up in Eau Claire, it is far more than employment. Boley visited The Goat for over ten years before being hired as a barista.
The senior psychology student has worked there for two years and usually works middle shifts. To offset the amount of coffee he drinks on the job, Boley said he mixes in the occasional glass of water throughout a shift. He said he looks forward to going to work every day.

“I don’t view it as work half the time,” Boley said. “I really enjoy making coffee and trying to perfect it in just about every way possible, which is hard to do.”

Boley said there is a lot to the job, but views it less as service and more about doing what he enjoys. Latte art is one way Boley said he gives a special experience to his customers and tries to make them feel like it’s a good day. He said he tries to treat those who walk into The Goat as more than just customers.

Like in the TV show “Cheers,” Boley said an elderly group comes in each Monday and Friday. The group creates an environment where everyone knows each other by name, including the baristas, he said.

With an assortment of people visiting the coffee shop, Boley said they get a lot of students as well as older adults, which creates a “nice little blend” of customers.

Boley said he has learned a lot from being a barista, making many connections along the way he wouldn’t have made if he didn’t work there.

“It’s taught me how to be patient and multitask, how to always put a smile on … for you and for the customer,” Boley said.

Co-worker Austin Caldie is a junior piano performance student who has worked at the coffee shop for more than a year. Caldie started as a ‘regular’ and soon became a barista by the end of his freshman year, because the shop had “good energy and feels like home.”

Caldie said he connects strongly to Polish culture and enjoys the way The Goat reflects that.

He said he enjoys the job because he can serve people and watch them enjoy what he made for them, which he said is a great feeling.

While the Eau Claire area has many coffee shop options, Caldie said the comfortable atmosphere and personal customer connections set The Goat apart from the rest.

“We do a really good job of representing the positive qualities the Midwest has to offer,” Caldie said. “We are never going to judge anybody that walks in the door, we’re going to give you equally good service no matter what your background is.”

Caldie views the work as an all-encompassing job: He is in charge of making drinks, preparing and serving food, maintaining customer service, cleaning and behind-the-scenes barista work.

Working there also provides personal benefits, Caldie said, because it pushes him out of his comfort zone and teaches him about himself while serving fellow students and customers.

One of the greater satisfactions of the job for Caldie is serving drinks and beverages to students, but especially to those customers he’s made a connection with, he said.

“I guess you could take the phrase ‘made with love’ to a whole new level,
Caldie said, “because when you are making something for someone you have a personal connection with, you take the time to make it extra perfect.”

Caldie said the shop represents Eau Claire well because it provides experiences to help baristas and customers grow and understand all walks of life.

“No matter what’s going on in my life, I have to be strong and be a good person,” Caldie said. “(The work) does a really good job of representing the side of learning about yourself that school can’t.”

Co-owners of The Goat, Ryan Bembnister and his wife, have run the business for 11 years.

Ryan Bembnister said their location is convenient for college students, giving them a good place to study. While students are crucial as customers, Bembnister said, they are also important behind the counter as baristas.

“They’re very pleasant, they’re so good with every single customer … accommodating to everyone who comes in,” Bembnister said.

Bembnister said he enjoys hiring college students to work at his shop because of their accessibility, flexible schedules and proximity to The Goat, and admitted this is the best staff he’s had yet.

“The fact that (baristas) are so relatable to their peers at the university goes a long way, too,” Bembnister said. “It helps the way they work and speak with customers as well as who they bring into the shop.”