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  • The Eau Claire Muse

Episode #3: Ryan Bembnister - The Goat Coffee House

Show Notes:


Was The Goat a business you started from the ground up?

  • The goat is ground up but purchased previous coffee house location

  • Gutted the previous business to make their own

What prompted takeover of previous business

  • Ryan and his wife owned couple franchises in Eau Claire from uncle; A&W and TCBY

  • Didn’t really care for the franchises

  • Looking at real estate magazine and saw a coffee shop and his wife said no

  • Next day they called realtor and a week later were buying the coffee house

What were first differences noticed off the bat between franchise and small business

  • Freedom

  • As a franchise you are kind of stuck: products, pricing, marketing

  • Owned two companies located in the same store but were owned by larger separate companies so was difficult to fight between the two

  • In small business can do what ever you want whenever you want

  • Just need basic knowledge and put the time and energy in

  • The liberty to not pay anyone else for anything

  • Franchises aren’t cheap cause you have to pay percentage of sales or orders

  • Were able to make it their own and not live by other’s rules

  • Could interact with the community how they wanted and be themselves

Why Eau Claire

  • Ryan born in EC; wife from new auburn and went to UWEC

  • Uncle owned couple franchises in EC

  • Coffee house seemed meant to be

How has community support been?

  • Awesome

  • COVID showed the support

  • Before the shutdown lots of customers came and were buying gift cards and stuff for support

  • When opened back up, like floodgates from the university students

The Goat impacting the community

  • Place to study and place to go

  • Lots of retired people and older professionals for meetings

  • Set up for that specifically

  • Limits craziness for guests to feel comfortable

  • Comfortable atmosphere

  • No advertising done; only through donation and community service, word of mouth

What was it like in the transition period?

  • Scary 1-3 years

  • Like 80% of business fail in the first 5 years

  • Both weren’t educated in business, but Ryan went straight to the workforce, got first hand business knowledge

  • Crazy working hours in the beginning

  • Took many odds and ends jobs to get money

  • Lots of support from family’s

  • Thought they would succeed because two blocks from UWEC

  • Focused on bringing in UWEC students then the rest of the population

  • Every year there’s always new roadblocks

  • New learning experience

How did they differentiate from other coffee shops?

  • Coffee shops weren’t as big 17 years ago

  • Good location and got lucky with that

  • Everybody has their own niche

  • Competitors don’t matter; just focus on making goat better

  • Put personality into the store to make feel more comfortable

  • Called cheers of water street because they know everybody’s name and their drink when they walk in

  • Don’t think of customers as $2 coffee

  • Not fake but still pleasant

Artist of the month and charities

  • Started at least for 10-12 years

  • Art seemed the logical thing to do

  • For artis of the month you can put up whatever you want

  • Artist gets full profit; The Goat doesn’t want that cause it’s the artist’s

  • Don’t take percentage of profit

  • Do art differently

  • Lost a lot of artists due to covid

  • Currently working with the EC library art

  • Doing stuff with Bolton refuge house right now

  • Giving proceeds from certain drinks

  • Donation box

  • Don’t say don’t to donations

What was the impact of COVID?

  • First time was mandatory so easy decision

  • COVID was pretty serious and aired on the side of safety

  • Took advantage of the shutdown to remodel the shop

  • Planned to open back up safely later than other shops and took care of employees as much as they could

  • Adjusted with the times

  • Close touches with covid

  • Buy from local business to support them

Changes will impact the future of The Goat for “normal”

  • The students are all out there

  • Make all feel safe with vaccines and such

  • Will come out in full force to support small business

  • Going back to same places but as baby steps

  • Anything will be a good thing to get the community back out

The Goat’s second location

  • Not easy in this family

  • Marshfield clinic wanted a second place of the goat

  • Was set up like a coffee shop so just needed to put their stuff in

  • Just a year-to-year thing with Marshfield

  • Great with connections

  • Bring good personality there to create great place

  • Were established and were lucky to know somebody

Do they plan on opening a third location?

  • Did have a third location

  • Four years ago, clinic in Chippewa contacted to do same thing as Marshfield

  • Little different in terms of guest

  • Signed one year lease there

  • Was a break-even store

  • Lot of negatives, tucked back, not a lot of traffic,

  • Just made it harder for Ryan and wife for personal time

  • Other areas suffered because of stretched thin

  • Two is enough

Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • Doing the same thing as today

  • Don’t really have a plan

  • Don’t see them doing anything else

  • Getting better at what they do

  • Little grayer but just as happy

Major headlines in EC

  • Put more focus on Water St

  • Less on downtown but love the rejuvenated downtown

  • Water St needs more focus again

  • There were parades down Water St; it was awesome

  • Want vibrant on Water St

  • Community events

What would you go back and tell 2021 Eau Claire from 5 years in the future?

  • Be patient through this time and put a lot of focus into the small business

  • Need the focus on the city and take care of itself

  • EC has great energy but utilize it in the city

  • Would like EC to be the best city it can be

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