Entering the District

new downtown café The District Co. aims for something different

Thom Fountain, photos by Andrea Paulseth

SCRIBBLING ON GLASS TABLES IS FUN!  Arturo Schwencke, one of three co-founders of The District Co., sits on furniture designed and built by UW-Stout students. (Inset) Gourmet sodas stocked on-site are just some of the eclectic offerings.
Arturo Schwencke, one of three co-founders of The District Co., shows off furniture
and decor designed and built by UW-Stout students.

Don’t be fooled: The District Co. is not simply a coffee shop or café. Sure, they have coffee, sandwiches, salads, Wi-Fi, pastries, and the like, but The District Co. is more than that.

The District Co. is a start-up for start-ups.         

With a grand opening on June 12 at 224 N. Dewey St. in Eau Claire (the former Brent Douglas Floral space, just up the hill from Volume One & The Local Store), The District Co. will serve as a place for entrepreneurial innovation to happen and for that innovation to manifest itself. Arturo Schwencke said he hopes the space will gather together entrepreneurs, investors, creatives, and more to help kick-start a community of start-ups in the area.

Schwencke, who founded the business with partners Timothy Sexton and Benny Kusuma, was excitedly talking a mile-a-minute as he showed me around The District Co. He pointed to the counter with built-in iPads for customers to freely use and told me about a start-up company that makes universal chargers that’ll sit at every workstation. The bar has stools to encourage open conversation with the barista (who can also serve as a sounding board for brainstorming sessions).

Gourmet sodas stocked on-site are just some of the eclectic offerings.
Gourmet sodas stocked on-site are just some of the eclectic offerings.

“I’m always in the business of interaction,” Schwencke told me. And he’s being literal: Schwencke’s other business is Ekanova, which builds interactive iPad apps and enclosures that are used around the country. But they’ve also put interaction with other local business and organizations front and center in the business plan.

For food they’ve partnered with local caterers Simply Cakes to create a variety of custom, ready-to-go sandwiches, wraps, and salads, as well as scones, cookies, and an array of eclectic beverage options. You can eat inside, take it to go, or even enjoy a handful of outdoor tables with a view down Wisconsin Street to the Farmers’ Market.

The interior of The District Co. is colorfully modern, but inviting. Schwencke worked with a group of UW-Stout students, who designed and built much of the furniture, chose the color schemes and contributed installation art to the space. Schwencke said he hopes to change the look of the shop often with new student involvement.

And constant change is a theme throughout The District Co. Many of the products stocked – including craft sodas, granola bars and other odds and ends – are from various start-up companies from around the United States, and many of them are making their local (or even national) debut at The District Co. Schwencke said he’ll always be on the lookout for products, so there’s always something new.

“We aim to be a showroom for the weird and different,” Schwencke said. “The only constant is change.”

The first slew of products includes 36 different old-style sodas from mom-and-pop shops around the country, as well as a variety of different nutritious snacks and energy drinks, like “That’s It” bars, which feature only the ingredients in their name: Apple Cherry or Apple Apricot for example. But there's more than food – they've also got a few well-selected gifts and novelties.

Schwencke sees Eau Claire as a city ripe for start-up companies to bloom, but said the one thing that’s missing is a meeting place for the different innovators, investors, lawyers, and more who need to collaborate to get things brewing. He hopes The District Co. can be that and will be holding events for entrepreneurs to brainstorm and pitch ideas together. If nothing is scheduled, The District Co. will allow anyone to take the stage to teach, perform or talk on whatever topic they’d like.

So while it’s easy to call The District Co. a coffee shop – and that’s probably what it’d be if you had to choose a category – really it’s a brainstorming lounge. And a store with unique products. And an art gallery. And a workspace. And, well, The District Co. is an idea.

The District Co. is located at 224 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire (just up the street from Volume One & The Local Store). The grand opening is June 12. Contact the District Co. at www.JoinTheDistrict.com or 715-864-4320.

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