Before Brett Wiensch and his daughter Ashley landed on the idea of opening a coffee shop in Helena, they took a deep dive into their competition.
There was no shortage of coffee kiosks scattered around the city, Starbucks in three locations, and a handful of bakeries that offered coffee drinks. They knew to succeed, they had to stand out from the crowd and offer something beyond what others were doing.
1889 Coffee House opened in November 2018. The family has succeeded in not only providing a diverse selection of coffee drinks, including nitro cold brew, but pastries, lunch and breakfast options available throughout the day in what feels like a comfy home setting.
Before opening 1889 Coffee House, Brett, a Great Falls native, had been involved in the liquor industry as a broker for the last 14 years. Ashley graduated from Montana Tech with a business degree, while working at the Vanilla Bean Bakery in Helena for four years. Danielle Yatsko, Brett’s older daughter, recently joined the family business as facilities manager, having been previously employed in the medical field. Together, the three are a strong force, committed to making sure every customer has the best experience.
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1889 Coffee House uses coffee from Ghost Town Coffee Roasters. I’m curious how they connected. While shopping for wedding dresses for daughter Danielle, Brett and his future son-in-law spied what they thought was a coffee shop, Ghost Town Coffee, next to the dress shop in Bozeman, and ducked in to refuel with caffeine while the girls kept shopping. The owner, Chad Kimm, informed them it was a coffee roasting facility and proceeded to give them a tour and a rundown on the varieties of beans they use.
As Brett tells it, “He was so authentic and passionate about his coffee that I knew instinctively we wanted to partner with him.” Chad’s coffee beans are sourced from all corners of the world, including Rwanda, Sumatra, Colombia, Mexico and Costa Rica. Before opening the 1889 Coffee House, Chad came to Helena to help train the staff in all things coffee, and continues with his training throughout the year.
The idea of calling their business a coffee house set the tone for the casual, comfy interior they wanted their customers to experience. The location attracts family and friends chatting over coffee. When I popped in, a group of bikers passing through were enjoying lunch. Students and business folks have found 1889 the ideal place to sit with their computers as long as needed. Wi-Fi is readily available. Brett tells of one Carroll College student who came in every Sunday with her laptop, blanket and slippers and made herself at home in the upstairs loft for the bulk of the day while studying. The name 1889 refers to Montana being the 41st state admitted into the Union on Nov. 8, 1889.
The signature coffee drinks honoring our national parks include the Glacier Frappe, using a nitro cold brew mixed with the customer’s choice of gelato, and the Yellowstone, a good choice for kids, is a mixture of orange juice and vanilla bean gelato. Other cold drinks include nitro cold brew, Italian sodas, real fruit smoothies, and frappes. In addition to coffee in all of its variations, the Coffee House serves Chai tea, hot tea, hot chocolate, flavored steamers, and London Fog (Earl Grey Tea with vanilla syrup and honey added, then topped with half/half).
Ashley, who is passionate about baking, oversees the goodies, including scones, muffins, turnovers, cinnamon rolls, bars and cookies, with many gluten-free options. Fresh, made-to-order breakfast burritos with ham, bacon or sausage are available all day. Lunch options include soups, salads and sandwiches, featuring bread from Grateful Bread, a Helena bakery.
The Coffee House uses only top shelf meats and cheeses (all gluten-free) from Boar’s Head Provision Company, founded in 1905 in New York City. In addition to familiar sandwiches like hot ham and cheese, roast beef and cheddar, tuna, and hot pastrami, there are a few surprises, like nacho grilled cheese and a spicy chicken bacon ranch. House-made chicken walnut salad with a blood orange vinaigrette dressing or the BLT with a huckleberry dressing sound delicious.
Brett shares his philosophy on expectations with his employees. “They can’t lie, cheat or steal, and they need to be on time, wear the proper uniform, and show up with a good attitude.” He also adheres to the idea that people make mistakes, which shouldn’t be the focus of their performance.
A barista might make nine perfect coffee drinks, but the 10th might have a slip-up (customer asks for vanilla and was given hazelnut). As Brett says, “We all make mistakes, but rather than concentrating on that 10th cup, focus on the nine perfect cups the employee crafted.”
If I needed to go back to a 9-to-5 job, I would apply at the 1889 Coffee House, given how Brett and his daughters run the show!
I see a line of cars at the drive-thru window that is moving quickly. Brett tells me he is very analytical. He logged in many hours watching the fast food restaurants along Prospect Avenue to get a sense of how many customers used the drive-thru versus going inside.
He also analyzed how long folks were waiting in the drive-thru line. The Wiensch team vowed that the Coffee House would excel at getting customers served quickly and efficiently, regardless if they walked in or ordered from their vehicle.
This struck a note with me. Like many Americans today, I have taken to waiting in line a ridiculous amount of time to get fast food (usually a taco). I always say to myself, I can’t believe I’m doing this as 25 minutes pass while my car is idling. That’s a bad habit that needs to go away and be replaced by my new habit of driving into the 1889 Coffee House.
The family recently opened a second location at 2125 N. Last Chance Gulch, across the street from Woody’s Car Wash. Hours there are 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, currently freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.
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