Every Business Story is a Love Story

 

Rebecca Hurlen-Patano and Terry Patano, owners of DOMA Coffee Roasting Company in Post Falls, pose for a photograph on Oct. 19, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

By Rachel Toor

The man on DOMA’s logo is Terry Patano’s father, himself a small business owner. In fact, both Terry and Rebecca Hurlen-Patano come from the people who made this country great–those who built America by creating businesses rooted in their communities, making things and providing services. Regular people with big ideas doing good, hard work. They named the company after their sons, Dominic and Marco. Family business, family values.

The Patanos don’t just roast coffee. DOMA is simply the stage for their real production, which has everything to do with love: conserving and protecting the environment, and making the world a better, more just, art-rich, and tasty place.

This is how the story goes.

In the early ’80s, a young man from North Idaho who rocks out to “London Calling” and reads Edward Abbey snags a job working for a ski company. He lands in Salt Lake City, but gets to travel the world tuning skis and doing the things he loves.

Then, family members back home open a restaurant and ask if he wants to run a coffee bar. He does want to run a coffee bar, but not with family. He doesn’t want to move back to North Idaho.

But he does. He goes into business with his family, whom he loves, and who drive him nuts.

In Coeur d’Alene, he meets a punk-rocker summering there for Montessori training. In a small world coincidence, he’d noticed her skateboarding down the streets of Park City, Utah–couldn’t miss her–wearing leather and chains, the rainbow-colored strands of her Mohawk streaming behind her.

A feminist vegetarian environmentalist, this gnar-chick had fished commercially in Alaska and was living in Utah, shredding the slopes when not teaching preschool. She is not looking for love, but during her time in Idaho is happy to have some fun with the young man. At the end of summer, she leaves him and drives back to Utah.

She arrives home to find a postcard from him. Every single day, for the next six months, she gets a postcard from him. Sweet, corny, irresistible.

On New Year’s Day, he moves to Utah to be with her. They do their jobs, and work and play outside. They ski in the winter, cycle in the summer.

In the early ’90s, they move to Seattle. She does business as a graphic designer. He works at a restaurant. They hook into the world of specialty coffee. This is not your Folgers, not your Maxwell House. This is about small batches and fresh roasts, about timing and temperature and technique.

They learn a lot about coffee, make friends, and miss the mountains.

And so, back they go to Utah. First to Park City and then to Moab. They buy a house and then leave for three months to travel around Europe. They follow the Giro d’Italia bike race, eat puttanesca, and drink a lot of coffee. They learn to pull shots, make art in milk foam, and think about where the beans come from.

In Moab, she welds together a cart from which they sell coffee on the patio of a bike shop. A space becomes available, and they open a café. Busloads of Italian tourists come through and are shocked to find vero espresso in red rock country. Vero! Mondo Café is written up in European magazines and lauded as offering the best coffee in America.

He shelters people the way others take in stray dogs. She comes home to find Canadians camped out in the living room, French athletes taking over the kitchen. Pro riders use their home as basecamp; bike industry types host parties in their café. Greg Lemond stops by. Gary Fisher. Chuck Ibis. Their house and café are never empty.

The café becomes a hub for Moab’s thriving community of outdoorsy and athletic sophisticates. But after five years they have the conversation, the press of biology making it urgent. When they decide to go ahead and have kids, they pack it all up in a VW camper van and travel the West to find the next great place to live.

They have lots of choices, none affordable. Finally, she says, Why not Coeur d’Alene?

The area has everything they want, everything they love. Clean, icy water, skiing close by, craggy mountains. It is geologically safe: not downriver from a dam or perched on the side of a volcano. It’s a good place to raise kids, even if the ambient politics, in the panhandle of a blood-red state, isn’t exactly their cup of cappuccino.

They have two kids. They build a nest. She makes art, does welding. He buys a coffee roaster and puts it in the garage.

It comes with no instruction manual. He roasts and tastes and understands that it requires both virtuosity and craft to create exquisite coffee. He calls around to friends in the business to learn everything he can.

He is, however, too busy to do all the business parts, and soon she takes over that side. Turns out she has a knack for getting stuff done. The company’s office is their bedroom floor. Together they learn about microclimates, dig into supply chains, commit to fair and equitable trade practices, join a cooperative. For seven years, they roast and sell coffee out of their garage.

They are doing what they love, and doing it so well they have to move to a better, bigger space.

It matters where they buy their beans. They go to Guatemala, to Colombia, to Ecuador, and ask the people who grow coffee about their lives, about their families. They are creating relationships, not just purchasing a commodity. They bring their young children to meet the young children of the coffee farmers and end up thinking about freedom and the luxury of choice.

It’s impossible not to dwell on social justice when visiting farmers who sleep on the floor and pee outside. It forces consideration of what constitutes a living wage. Trust is important. People are important. Coffee becomes currency for social change.

The more they learn, the more they adapt their business practices. They spend a ton of money to buy a new roaster that uses 80 percent less natural gas and spits out only a whiff of carbon dioxide. They obsess about waste and recycle like fiends. They seek out vendors who believe, as they do, that profit can’t be the motivator, that people and the planet matter equally to the bottom line. Sustainable, responsible, and low-impact is the only way to do business. Quality coffee, always quality, and making sure that staff are paid well and that the process does the least amount of damage to the planet.

Their roastery becomes a locus for artists and artisans. They house their own letterpress and design artwork to print on the bags and labels for their packaging. They offer space to a young baker to mill his own flour made of ancient grains grown only on the Palouse. There’s a band room for employees to practice in, with guitars and a full drum set. They trade coffee for vinyl. They tithe. They create an ecosystem of connected creators, all doing different things who feed off each other. They try to live their tagline: coffee, culture, meaning.

If you want to try a cup, you can exit Interstate 90 at Post Falls and, after driving past self-storage places, used car lots, and offices of the National Guard on Seltice Way, drop into DOMA’s Coffee Lab. Scott, Emily, Joey or Zoë will pour water heated to no less than 205 and no more than 208 degrees over coffee that has been roasted fresh and crushed in front of you by a burr grinder. They will fire up the La Marzocco to pull you a shot, or combine it with hot milk for a cortado. They will make you feel welcome, and answer any coffee-related questions.

The space, designed by Hurlen-Patano, has leather counter tops, and the back wall is blanketed by a series of tiles from 100-year-old reclaimed wood that was once a mill. A chandelier she made using bike wheels and LED lights illuminates the room.

You can purchase T-shirts, artisanal chocolate, jam, Rishi teas, and brewing accoutrements and snag some free temporary tattoos. Of course, you can buy bags of coffee directly from them, or you can sip it at Lindaman’s Bistro, Revel 77, Boots Bakery, Rocket Market, Madeleine’s, or in Coeur d’Alene at The Vault. If you want to make it at home, you can purchase freshly roasted beans from Kitchen Engine, Main Market, Rosauers, Yoke’s, Fred Meyer in Spokane or Pilgrim’s Market in Coeur d’Alene.

Each year DOMA produces three seasonal coffee packages for three different coffees, the bags designed and illustrated by local artists. These days they’re offering Winter Wonderland, from beans grown by a dude they like in Guatemala. It carries aromas of lime and caramel, flavors of cherry and toffee, and aftertastes of chocolate and malt.

They’ve also just launched a new blend called DEEP, which comes in an artfully designed can of blue sky and lake, and white, white mountains. One dollar from every sale goes to support their newest enthusiasm, a project called Protect Our Winters, or POW.

POW, a collective of companies and hardcore athletes that feel compelled to do something about climate change, includes Patagonia, Clif, and New Belgian Brewing, all companies whose business practices–and products–the Patanos applaud. Terry Patano, for one, is mad about what is happening to the environment and looks for positive ways to channel his pissed-offness. While coffee isn’t sport, it does fuel many of the diehards and dirtbags who like to play outside.

Most of their philanthropy, however, has been local. Through the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, they sponsor Lake City High School’s outdoor studies program, which educates teens about what’s going on. Proceeds from their La Bicicletta blend go to local and regional cycling teams. They’ll do private label coffees as fundraisers and have worked with Lilac City Rollergirls, Friends of the Bluff, Bower Climbing Club, and others. Many of these connections have come about because their friend, Alan Shepherd, owner of the Rocket Market, sits on lots of local boards and is generally enthusiastic about supporting good causes. He ponies up prime shelf space to sell these fund-raising coffees.

While the Patanos have long offered up their own space for coffee-centric events, last month they hosted a poetry reading. Sixty people showed up to hear a couple dozen poets stand next to the Loring “Lucky 13” roaster and read their work. More poetry nights are to come, they say.

They recognize that we need art to live. Last year they funded the purchase of ingredients for Get Lit’s Pie and Whiskey event, where a dozen writers read short pieces about pie and/or whiskey and more than 300 audience members got a shot of booze and a slice of heaven.

And they appreciate fine whiskey. For the holidays, they have produced a unique barrel-aged whiskey coffee. Their friends at Dry Fly gave them empty casks to use to age coffee beans. The coffee becomes infused with the flavor and aroma of the whiskey and is then roasted and canned for freshness. You get all the goodies of top-shelf whiskey–well, almost all, there’s no alcohol–without the nasty hangover

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