Three new cafes are opening in Stevensville – each one is unique
by Tiffany Williams
For a town that hasn’t had sit-down cafes for some time, Stevensville is experiencing an embarrassment of riches with the opening of Trapper Peak Coffee Co., Ahava Coffee and The Sour Doe, all within months of each other.
But if you think three is too many for a city the size of Stevensville, you’re wrong. When visiting the Bitterroot Star at the two establishments already open, customers fought over seats, prompting cafe owners to get creative with table placement. Here’s what we learned about the unique experiences offered by each location.
Trapper Peak Coffee Co.
Imagine sipping a steaming latte while casually browsing through home decor items, books, or the latest jewelry trends. That’s what you’ll find out when you visit Lydia Rae Mercantile with Trapper Peak Coffee Co. at 306 and 308 Main Street in downtown Stevensville.
Owned by Jemarie Allen, Trapper Peak has moved into space previously occupied by Morningstar Caffeine and Cuisine. As a graduate of Stevensville High School and a resident of Florence, she jumped at the chance to bring him coffee, lunch items and pastries in the Bitterroot Valley.
“I’ve been going to Creamery Picnic every year since I was a kid,” she said. “Downtown Stevensville was where I always met my friends after school. It’s really special to be here.
Long before opening a store at 308 Main Street, Allen’s dreams of joining the downtown Stevensville community manifested in his food products. Its sandwiches carry names like The Bitterroot, The Bob and The Mission and its own trade name – Trapper Peak – pays homage to the highest peak in the Bitterroot mountain range. Allen has another location in the Missoula Public Library.
Coffee and shopping go hand in hand (that’s why you see Starbucks in Target stores).
“We wanted to create more of a gathering place than just a cafe next to a store,” said Brianna Kroeker, co-owner of Lydia Rae Mercantile. When the owner of the nearby café said she was interested in selling, Kroeker and her business partner Ashlie Kalkofen began developing a vision for combining the spaces – and knocked down part of a wall to create a doorway between the of them. Then they invited Allen to move in.
The friends took on the renovation themselves, selecting paint colors and flooring that would make the café and the store more cohesive. The result is a light, bright and airy space that customers find comfortable and inviting, Kalkofen said.
“People are saying they’re so happy this space is here, and that validates everything we set out to do,” she said.
And it’s a delicious partnership. Wednesdays are tasting days, when staff at Lydia Rae Mercantile and Trapper Peak Coffee Co. can try new sandwich and baked goods recipes prepared by Jami Rodolph. Coffee is a big deal for Allen, who asked Cravens Coffee Company to create a special roast just for Trapper Peak Coffee Co.
What future for the trio? In a few weeks they plan to open up seating in the empty lot next door – and call it Lot 310. It will more than double their seating capacity and provide space for local musicians to perform or organize small fairs and events.
“I couldn’t have done this without my team, and Brianna and Ashlie being so positive,” Allen said. “There is a team of passionate women doing this work.”
The sour doe
If the phrase “know your farmer” means anything to you, a visit to The Sour Doe at 101 Church Street is a great way to do it.
That’s because owners Jay and Ashlee Hayward also own Fern Co., a certified organic farm in Stevensville. Three years into their farming adventure, the Haywards have connected with much of the community through farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA).
Now they run an adjacent business: a cafe and restaurant that will sort of serve indoor farmers market and hub for local producers to sell their wares.
“We hope to bring people together to not only sample creative, made-from-scratch dishes, but also to educate our community about sourcing local foods, the importance of responsible farming and practices, food safety , nutrition and health,” Ashlee recently wrote on Instagram.
Like their marriage, The Sour Doe is the perfect union of their two talents.
Jay is the head of the farm, where he becomes passionate about soil health and land revitalization.
“I’ve had this dream since I was 18 or 19,” Jay said, admitting he was surprised at how quickly his dream started to materialize when they saw a charming white apartment building set in sale. The location, at the corner of the Eastside Freeway and Church Street, previously housed a Flavorful burrito joint and bakery.
Ashlee is the sourdough baker of the relationship, as well as the guru of social media and marketing. A former teacher, she said education is a huge driving force behind The Sour Doe.
“We’re passionate about connecting to local food,” she said. “Here, everything is homemade, including dressings and sauces. We want to help farms reach the community.
The couple described a large room adjacent to the restaurant that will house fridges and shelves to sell produce from farms around the Bitterroot Valley. Dairy products from Lifeline Creamery and Farm, locally sourced honey, pasture-raised chickens from Living River Farms, eggs, meat and other items will populate the store. The location is still under construction, but the couple intends to open from mid-to-late May.
Ashlee makes the sourdough breads, bagels and English muffins that will be used for sandwiches and breakfast dishes. The couple plan to provide space for people to eat in the store, tables and chairs for the lawn outside and take-out meals to take on the road.
The best part will be helping customers choose items from the large refrigerators to prepare their meals at home, the couple said. Stevensville is known for being the first permanent settlement of non-Indigenous peoples in the state, and agriculture has been a part of the local community since its earliest days.
“We want to make sure farming remains a big part of the community,” Ashlee said.
Ahava is Hebrew for the type of love that describes a deep and lasting friendship. That feeling — plus the smell of bold, rich coffee — is what owner Isabelle Parell hopes to instill in her cafe at 515 Main Street.
Parell, 25, wanted to create a space where art and literature are valued and where warmth and acceptance are the norm. And his art form? Coffee.
“I love the interactions,” she said. “I love dealing with people. I want this to be a place where community members can come and share their stories and bond.
Located inside the old Bransby law firm building, Ahava feels like a Tuscan farmhouse, where time slows down and clients can make deep connections. On Friday, a group of women sat in plush green velvet chairs in front of the store’s stone fireplace for several hours.
“We already have regulars,” Parell said. “It’s been so much fun and a lot busier than I expected.”
She hopes to hold poetry slams, book clubs and acoustic mini-concerts on the shop’s spacious porch, where performers and artists can take center stage. On a sunny day, she imagines people spreading blankets on the lawn and enjoying the sun with their coffee and food.
For now, Ahava serves cold brew coffee, chai tea lattes, matcha, Italian sodas, and other beverages. Parell, who studied world religions and Hebrew in college, called his latte flavor combinations “suggestions” and named them after Hebrew words.
Adama means “ground” and combines flavors of chocolate, coconut and almond.
Laila (“night”) is cherry and chocolate.
Neshika (“kiss”) is salted caramel and chocolate.
The coffee is smooth, but the process of opening a coffee was not.
Her dreams of including a baker who makes “the best shortbread I’ve ever eaten” were put off due to injury. Currently, it serves chai pudding, cookies, smoothies and fancy toast.
And shortly after opening, Parell had to close Ahava due to faulty equipment. She dismissed the snags with a laugh, describing a week when a fridge, ice maker, grinder and several espresso machines broke. Parell is grateful for all the unexpected drama, though, as it gave her the opportunity to hook up with Hero Coffee Works, a Missoula-based coffee service repair business. They helped her perfect her technique for a bolder, stronger coffee flavor.
“Sometimes you have to know the rules to break them,” she said of the art of espresso and the perfect shot.
A Great Dane-Labrador-Pitbull mix, Halpert (“Hal”) is a shop staple. Hal isn’t just a beloved pet. He is also an assistance dog. Parell is epileptic.
“This is where I’m supposed to be,” Parell said, recalling a time in high school when she crossed out the words English Major and wrote the words Coffee Shop Owner next to her name. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”