[Girl from the Northwoods] Northwoods Spotlight: Backroads Coffee & Tea

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I first came to know Backroads Coffee & Tea when it was still in the building that now houses the Hayward Fly Fishing Shop, and there were two things that made Backroads outstanding to me during this time: A) This was back in the age when coffee houses were just starting to become a part of popular culture (thanks, Friends!), and so, it was a rarity to find a coffee house in a small town. B) The first time I stumbled in the heavy door and set foot on those creaky wooden floors, I spotted Real World stars Sean Duffy and Rachel Campos with my very own eyes.

(This was when MTV’s Real World was still a huuuuge deal. I coasted on that star cred for YEARS after that!)

Thus, Backroads became such an integral part of my existence that it stayed my all-time favorite coffee shop even after I moved to other towns and countries, and if you read my first book, you’ll notice it features a coffee shop eerily similar to Backroads (cleverly named “Backwoods.” I apparently decided to save the bulk of my creativity for other parts of the book…).

So when we decided to use this little corner of the web to feature local places, people, and events, I knew that one of the first places I wanted to talk about was Backroads.

Backroads began in 1987 by Janie Wise, and the original location sits right across the street from the current one (the original location now houses the Hallmark card shop). Five years after Wise opened Backroads, she relocated into the building where the Hayward Fly Fishing Shop currently resides. In 1997, the current owners, Teresa and Rod Peters, purchased it from Wise, and that was the beginning of the Backroads Coffee wholesale business. Peters stayed in that location until about 2002, when they moved into the more spacious current location on Dakota Street, which allowed them to offer to more seating as well as a larger bakery and lunch menu.

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Now in their 25th year, what began with a small, old-fashioned roaster has morphed into a full wholesale business that includes a new roasting facility, numerous wholesale partners, and a widespread following that keeps their Hayward coffee shop bustling with loyal customers throughout the day.

That “loyal customer” thing is probably the trait that defines Backroads the most. For instance, by now pretty much everyone in the entire world has had at least one run-in with the notorious, holier-than-thou barista types. However, you would be hard-pressed to find them at Backroads. Michael Ann, who has lived in Hayward for seven years and has worked at Backroads for five of those years,  is the bright and shining face that most people see behind the counter when they get their morning coffee. Her favorite part of working at Backroads, she told us, is getting to know the locals. “It’s the regulars that make this place. Carol and Tom Duffy come in here two to three times a day, every day. People like that become a part of your life.”

Teresa Peters, one half of the ownership, concurs. When we asked her what the highlight was of running a business like Backroads, she replied, “Our fantastic co-workers  – they are like family, my daughters, sisters and best friends. They inspire us to always do more and give much. Our incredible customers are the fuel that keeps the doors open, and we are so blessed and thankful for all of them. They continue to support our business day after day and week after week. [We have an] amazing following of support.”

dsc00036-blog“These people are my friends,” agreed Vicki, a local customer who had stopped in for her morning coffee. “I come in here almost every day, and you’re never going to find a place that cares more about their customers. You really build a relationship with the people who work here.”

And it’s not just about the locals. For visitors descending on Hayward or just passing through, Backroads is often a favorite stop. “We have a lady who travels all over Wisconsin for work, and she goes to about 30 different coffee shops in a month, but this is still her favorite one.”

But before you start thinking that this is a “everything is GREAT at Backroads! The floors are made of gold and the coffee is ground from diamonds!” puff piece, I have to make a point and say that one of the things that probably speaks the most strongly about the commitment to building loyal customer relationships is the way that Backroads handles feedback after a less-than-optimal experience. This past fall, after a particularly unsettling experience at Backroads, I decided to email the owners about it, figuring that, as a former small business owner, I would want to know if a customer was unhappy. I not only got an immediate response from Peters, but she actually jumped on the phone and called me that day to gain more details about my experience and assure me that the situation would be remedied. And then she followed up later to make sure that my experiences had improved (they had).

That is how you create not just loyal customers, but lifetime fans.

And Backroads is doin’ it right.

…But let’s get to talking about the actual coffee, yeah?

One thing I always wanna know – whether I’m at a coffee shop, a bar, or a restaurant – is what the people who work there and go there most often choose time and time again. Michael Ann told us that the most popular drinks for female customers was the Creme Brulee Latte and the Frapps. For men, it’s the hot mochas. But her favorite is the Maple Nut Fudge Latte with maple spice, macadamia nut flavor, whip, and caramel on top.

Yeah. We’re probably gonna order that next time, too.

Liz, the Retail Store Manager who has worked at Backroads for six years, told us that she prefers a small breve with an extra shot, and that for new customers, she also recommends the hot mochas. “They’re made with Ghiradelli chocolate. You can’t beat that.”

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Backroads also has lunch specials every day, “made with high quality ingredients, along with love and hugs.”  Peters shared that she’s partial to the Havacado and the Mexican Quesada, and Michael Ann encourages everyone to try the Pesto Flat Bread and the BLT Pita. Liz particularly loves the Hummus menu, which offers a selection of sandwiches, pitas, and wraps featuring everyone’s favorite chickpea concoction.

And, because Michael Ann is awesome, we also go to try the new biscottis at Backroads, which they started offering at the end of March. The brown sugar cinnamon and the chocolate chunk were both fantastic and had the perfect consistency for dipping into a hot drink. Definitely a Girl from the Northwoods recommend for your next trip in.

And speaking of new…you may have heard rumblings around town about a new Backroads retail shop opening in May.

To loosely quote Seinfeld, the rumors are true, and the truth is spectacular.

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Backroads will be opening the Hayward Coffee Co. in May, which will be going into the space on Kansas Avenue that was formerly known as Hi-Ho Silver (which has since moved into the space formerly held by Anthony’s Jewelry. It’s like a Main Street game of Hopscotch!). Peters told us that the buzz word for the new shop is “WORST KEPT SECRET”, as “it began as a secret but within hours became the talk of the town.” Keeping it simple is the mission for Hayward Coffee Co. The majority of the coffee offered will be Fair Trade and organic (but fear not, those of you who suffer from New Coffee Anxiety: they will also be offering their regular coffees, as well). “We hope that our customers will find the atmosphere very inviting and bright, with a feeling of ownership. Our fresh baked goods will be different than our current selection. The beverage menu will have many different offerings, as well as our lunch menu. We are calling our lunch menu “Simple Bistro” which will consist of a variety of delectable Panini’s served on fresh baked focaccia, along with cold sandwiches.” They’ll also have a “simple salad menu” that will feature a variety of unique salads and a “simple soup” menu that will feature a selection of soup offerings served with a side of fresh baked focaccia breads topped with amazing ingredients.

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Sounds simply…awesome.

If You Go:

* Backroads Coffee Shop is located at 10546 Dakota Avenue, just north of 63 in downtown Hayward. Besides coffee, bakery and lunch items, and an assortment of gifts and coffee blends, they also offer free WiFi.

* Check out their Facebook Page and follow them on Twitter to get daily updates on lunch specials. You can also join their email list to be alerted on their Coffee of The Month Club and other wholesale features and specials.

* If you like your coffee drinks simple and consistent, definitely order the hot mocha. If you like to jazz it up a little, ask the barista to point you to their ever-changing seasonal drink menu. (and then ask her to give you a few minutes to decide, because the menus are packed with choices and they all sound great)

And! A special If You Go Bonus…

A few tips we gained from Backroads friendly baristas to help make your Backroads experience even better:

* If your Customer Loyalty Card is filled, tell your barista that you’re getting your free drink before they ring you up. This will ensure speedier service.

* When multiple people are waiting for drinks, double-check with the barista on whether or not the drink on the counter is yours before you take it. Doing this will help prevent coffee-related disaster and mayhem.

* Please put your phone conversation on hold before ordering (this seems like an obvious tip, but we’ve all seen the person who hasn’t quite gotten this yet)

* Whether a local or a visitor, don’t be afraid to say hello and introduce yourself to the staff! Much like Lynyrd Skynyrd, they wanna know your name!

Written & published for Girl from the Northwoods April 1, 2013

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