by Tiffany Williams
For a town that didn’t have any sit-down coffee shops for a time, Stevensville is experiencing an embarrassment of riches with the opening of Trapper Peak Coffee Co., Ahava Coffee, and The Sour Doe all within several months of each other.
But if you think three is too many for a town the size of Stevensville to support, you’d be wrong. During the Bitterroot Star’s visit to the two locations that are already open, customers were jockeying for seating, giving coffee shop owners incentive to be creative with table placement. Here’s what we learned about the unique experiences each location offers.
Trapper Peak Coffee Co.
Imagine sipping a steaming latte while casually browsing home decor items, books, or the latest jewelry trends. That’s what you’ll experience 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 moved into the space previously occupied by Morningstar Caffeine and Cuisine. As a graduate of Stevensville High School and a Florence resident, she jumped at the chance to bring her coffee, lunch items, and baked goods to the Bitterroot Valley.
“I’ve gone to Creamery Picnic every year since I was a kid,” she said. “Downtown Stevensville was where I always met my friends after school. It feels really special to be here.”
Long before she opened up shop at 308 Main Street, Allen’s dreams about joining the downtown Stevensville community manifested themselves in her food items. Her sandwiches have names like The Bitterroot, The Bob, and The Mission and her own business name — Trapper Peak — pays homage to the highest peak in the Bitterroot Mountain Range. Allen has another location in the Missoula Public Library.
Coffee plus shopping just go hand in hand (which is why you see Starbucks in Target stores).
“We wanted to create more of a gathering place than just a coffee shop next to a store,” said Brianna Kroeker, co-owner of Lydia Rae Mercantile. When the owner of the next-door coffee shop said she was interested in selling, Kroeker and business partner Ashlie Kalkofen began to develop a vision to combine the spaces — and knocked down part of a wall to create a doorway between the two. Then they invited Allen to move in.
The friends took on the remodel themselves, selecting paint colors and flooring that would make the coffee shop and store more cohesive. The result is a bright, light, airy space that customers find comfy and inviting, said Kalkofen.
“People say they are so glad this space is here, and that validates everything we decided to do,” she said.
And it is a delicious partnership. Wednesdays are tasting days, when the staff of both Lydia Rae Mercantile and Trapper Peak Coffee Co. get to try new sandwich recipes and pastries baked by Jami Rodolph. Coffee is a big deal to Allen, who had Cravens Coffee Company create a special roast just for Trapper Peak Coffee Co.
What does the future hold for the trio? In a few weeks they plan on open seating in the empty lot next door — and call it Lot 310. It will more than double their seating capacity and provide a space for local musicians to perform or to host small fairs and events.
“I couldn’t have done this without my team, and Brianna and Ashlie being so positive,” Allen said. “There’s a team of passionate women making 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 that.
That’s because owners Jay and Ashlee Hayward also own Fern Co., a certified organic farm in Stevensville. Three years into their farm adventure, the Haywards have connected with a large portion of the community through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Now they’re heading up an adjacent endeavor: A coffee shop and restaurant that will serve as sort of an indoor farmer’s market and hub for local growers to sell their produce.
“We hope to bring people together not only for a taste of creatively crafted, made-from-scratch dishes, but also to educate our community about sourcing local food, the importance of agriculture and responsible practices, food security, nutrition, and health,” Ashlee recently wrote on Instagram.
Like their marriage, The Sour Doe is the perfect union of both of their talents.
Jay is at the helm of the farm operation, where he gets to be a nerd about soil health and land revitalization.
“I’ve had this dream since I was 18 or 19,” Jay said, admitting he was surprised by how quickly his dream began to materialize when they saw a charming white building go up for sale. The location, on the corner of Eastside Highway and Church Street, previously housed burrito joint Flavorful and a bakery.
Ashlee is the sourdough baker of the relationship, plus the social media and marketing guru. A former teacher, she said education is a huge driving force of The Sour Doe.
“We are passionate about connection to local food,” she said. “Everything here is made from scratch, including the salad 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 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 mid- to late-May.
Ashlee makes the sourdough breads, bagels, and English muffins that will be used for sandwiches and breakfast items. The couple plans to provide space for people to eat in the shop, tables and chairs for the lawn outside, and grab-and-go meals to take on the road.
The best part will be helping customers pick the items from the large refrigerators to make their meals at home, the couple said. Stevensville is known to be the first permanent settlement of non-indigenous peoples in the state, and agriculture has been part of the local community since its beginning.
“We want to make sure agriculture stays a big part of the community,” Ashlee said.
Ahava is Hebrew for the type of love that describes a deep abiding friendship. That sentiment — plus the smell of bold, rich coffee, is what owner Isabelle Parell hopes to infuse throughout her coffee shop at 515 Main Street.
Parell, who is 25, wanted to create a space where art and literature are valued and warmth and acceptance are standard. And her art form? Coffee.
“I love the interactions,” she said. “I just love taking care of people. I want this to be a place where members of the community can come and share their stories and make connections.”
Located inside the former Bransby Law Firm building, Ahava feels like being inside a Tuscan farmhouse, where time slows and patrons can build deep connections. One group of women sat in plush green velvet chairs in front of the shop’s stone fireplace for several hours on Friday.
“We already have some regulars,” Parell said. “It’s been so fun and much busier than I expected.”
She hopes to host poetry slams, book clubs, and acoustic mini-concerts on the shop’s spacious porch, where performers and artists can take front and center. In nice weather, she envisions people spreading blankets on the front lawn and enjoying the sunshine 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 her latte flavor combinations “suggestions” and named them after Hebrew words.
Adama means “ground” and combines chocolate, coconut and almond flavors.
Laila (“night”) is cherry and chocolate.
Neshika (“kiss”) is salted caramel and chocolate.
The coffee is smooth, but the process to open a coffee shop has not been.
Her dreams of including a baker who makes “the best shortbread I’ve ever eaten” have been postponed because of an injury. Currently, she serves chai pudding, cookies, smoothies, and fancy toast.
And shortly after opening, Parell had to close Ahava because of faulty equipment. She dismissed the snags with a laugh, describing one week where a fridge, ice machine, grinder, and multiple espresso machines broke. Parell is grateful for all the unexpected drama, though, because it gave her the opportunity to connect with Hero Coffee Works, a coffee service repair company based out of Missoula. They helped her perfect her technique for a bolder, stronger coffee flavor.
“You have to know the rules sometimes in order to break them,” she said about the art of espresso and pulling the perfect shot.
A Great Dane-Labrador-Pitbull mix, Halpert (“Hal”) is a shop staple. Hal isn’t just a beloved pet. He’s also a service dog. Parell is epileptic.
“This is where I am supposed to be,” Parell said, remembering a time in high school that she crossed out the words English Major and wrote the words Coffee Shop Owner next to her name. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”