New Opportunities Brewing: Goat Coffee House in E.C. Sees Revolutionary Renovation, Plans For New Mural
owners Laura and Ryan Bembnister work to overcome challenges from the past year to create everyone’s favorite spot for a cup of coffee
Just like businesses all around the world, The Goat Coffee House in Eau Claire has faced its share of challenges since March 2020, but owners Laura and Ryan Bembnister have not only tried to turn those challenges into opportunities, but have gained a new, richer appreciation for their place in the Eau Claire community.
“The news is we’re open,” Ryan said. “The Goat is a great place to study, a great place to have breakfast or lunch with some friends, a place to get away from everything. That’s why we did the new addition and moved things around, just to set it up so we’re accommodating to everyone. Regardless if you’re a student, retired, or whatever, you can come down and have a cup of coffee.”
The “main” Goat (their smaller Marshfield Clinic location is mostly take-out) has been doing business on Water Street for 17 years, first where El Patio is now and then for the last seven years further east across the street from The Pickle.
"Since we've just opened back up, we've just been overwhelmed. We learned it's not just us going to them, it's them coming to us."
When most non-essential businesses shut their doors in March 2020 due to the pandemic, Ryan and Laura decided to have the front of the coffee shop renovated to provide a more modern-looking face and to create more room. They re-opened three months later, but by November, Ryan said, along with the continuing capacity restrictions the pandemic fostered, they didn’t feel “things were going in the right direction,” so they closed again and commissioned Market and Johnson to build an addition stretching out the back that would double their seating to 72 and give the whole business a facelift. The “new” Goat re-opened in February.
Future plans for The Goat on Water Street include erection of a three-panel, 15’ by 10’ mural on their east exterior wall. Again, due to complications created by the pandemic, it’s not clear when the mural will be completed, but Ryan indicated the theme will be “awareness,” emphasizing equality and compassion for others.
Back in operation, one challenge The Goat now faces is with the supply chain. “That’s where my wife and her intelligence come in,” Ryan said. “She’s very good at finding stuff. Obviously, the coffee industry took a hit, but we haven’t run too low. Paper products have been a problem, and weird stuff like chips – we can’t find chips! Luckily, we have been in business so long that we have many distributor contacts.”
Besides handling the logistics of the addition and remodeling, Laura does all the behind-the-scenes work of running a small business. “She’s the brains of the operation,” Ryan said. “I’m the floor guy.”
Though this has been a difficult stretch for The Goat, Ryan said it has taught him and Laura something very important. “We knew we had loyal customers, but we didn’t know how loyal they were, how appreciative they were of what we do here. Whether it was from the community or the university, there was an outcry when we shut down and e-gift cards were being bought. Laura was saying, ‘Gee, we’re selling gift cards every day, and we’re closed!’ When I asked who was buying them, Laura said they were all our regulars, helping us out, supporting us. And when we had just takeout, we had numerous regulars coming in to buy goodies for work or home, or lunch for their whole crew. What I learned was we had been doing the right things, but I guess we were doing them so right that the community wanted to support us. And since we’ve opened back up, we’ve just been overwhelmed. We learned it’s not just us going to them, it’s them coming to us.”
What makes The Goat so notable, you ask? Well, the answer is simple: their coffee. The Goat may be the only shop in the area that gets its coffee from Alakef, a small mom-and-pop roastery in Duluth. Ryan also noted they offer five coffees on a self-serve basis every day and will soon get back to six, including a variety of flavors, organics, and decaf. The Goat also features a small meeting room which can be closed off for groups, a few sidewalk tables, and quiet booth seating in the back.
One challenge The Goat has not had to face was staffing. Most of the 17 employees are college students, and Ryan noted there’s little turnover, with some employees staying at The Goat for their college career since it works well with their schedules and they like the friendly atmosphere.
“The two most important things here,” Ryan tells new hires, “are customers and coffee. When the coffee’s full and the customers are happy, we’re fine.”
The Goat Coffee House • 336 Water St., Eau Claire • (715) 831-4491 • thegoatcoffeehouse.com