It’s a business startup story that sounds like it is straight out of a novel.
A woman who always dreamed of opening a coffee shop goes for a test drive, and the route takes her down County ZZ near Kaukauna. Deborah Tewes, the central character, explains what happened next.
“I came down a hill and saw the water and a beautiful valley. I dragged my husband back to see it because it was so perfect.”
Having talked about opening a coffee shop for years, Deborah and her husband, Roger, kept the area in mind as they continued their work as house parents at the Rawhide Boys Ranch, an organization that supports at-risk youth. While the work was fulfilling, the couple also found it exhausting.
“We were at Rawhide for more than eight years,” Deborah said. “It was really hard work; it consumes you. We felt that we had done our ‘tour of duty,’ and in 2015 decided it was time to do a coffee shop.”
Having spent their careers in service of others, first as school teachers and then at Rawhide, serving customers seemed like another step in their journey. However, being a business venture, it presented new challenges.
The most difficult part was finding time to write a business plan while working long hours at Rawhide. Once a draft was complete, the Teweses met with David Stauffacher at the Small Business Development Center, one of SCORE’s SBA partners.
“David went through my business plan and was excited about it," Deborah said. "We spent a long time talking and he gave me positive feedback that was really encouraging. I spent months working diligently on the plan and in 2016 started to look for financing.”
Yet, they still hadn’t selected a location. Having lived in Western Michigan near the water, Deborah hoped to find a similar location. The couple wanted to stay in the area and looked in Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Two Rivers. While researching, it was serendipity. A friend told them about a wonderful building that was available in Wrightstown — the very area that Deborah had fallen in love with years earlier.
“The building was 100 years old and beautiful," she said. "It had an upstairs where we could live and a retail space across from the water. We found out that the owner was willing to sell, and it was perfect.”
In April, they received funding through the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation and spent the next several months adding windows, bathrooms and a commercial kitchen. Under an old floor, they discovered the original maple floor and refinished it to its original splendor. A fireplace was added for ambiance. Their goal was to make The River Coffee & Cream Café, Wrightstown’s first coffee shop, a destination.
“We knew we could be a destination because of the location on the water,” Deborah said. “The caliber of our coffee is excellent and I don’t think you can get a better cup anywhere. When people walk in the first thing they say is, ‘Oh, wow! How pretty this is!’”
She says that her hope is to make it a third space environment where you aren’t at work or at home but are in a third space where you can relax without having a lot of noise coming at you.
The music is subdued, and the menu includes much more than coffee. There are gourmet sandwiches with a unique flavor, wraps, breakfast sandwiches, craft beer and wine.
As the business grows, the Tewes plan to add an outdoor deck where customers can kick back and watch the Waterboard Warriors ski shows in the summer or just bask in the beauty. Deborah, who says she is the creator, implementer and quality control, has tons of ideas for the café, and her challenge is to avoid working on too many things at once.
“I compare it to people who spin a large number of plates. You have to get one spinning and then keep it spinning while you get the next one up,” she said.
In looking at the future, Deborah has many new chapters to write. It is clear that this is a story that’s just beginning.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.