Russ Ware and Yemi Mobolade have built a place to belong.
I wandered in like a lost little gosling.
The August night air was still and heavy and I didn’t have a plan. A party at my house sent me downtown in a rush of introversion. I wanted to find a place, order coffee, and scribble nonsense in my journal in the lonely corner of some coffee shop.
It was time in my life when I felt placeless. I had just moved back to Colorado Springs after finishing a degree in California. It was a whirlwind of a year, and full of personal loss for me. I was on the brink of deciding to leave Colorado again. Adding to this sense of placeless-ness was the fact that after living away from Colorado for several years, I didn’t know Colorado Springs coffee shops anymore. So, I found myself downtown with a journal under my arm hoping to find a decent latte.
I heard the Wild Goose Meeting House before I saw it. Music that can only be described as “grooving” wafted out of open garage doors. Looking across the street I was greeted with a cheerful sight. A small crowd of people spilling out of open garage doors, wine glasses, dogs contentedly curled up underfoot their laughing owners. A happy din echoing down the street like an invitation.
This was the place for me.
With my journal tucked under my arm, I stepped through the front door. I was greeted by the warm aura of low voltage lightbulbs hanging on vintage ropes from the ceiling, casting a summery reflection on the wall full of wine bottles. I spied long community tables seated with a disparate conglomeration of friends, students, and couples. To my right I was confronted with a whole wall of book shelves categorized by color, interspersed with niche art. I involuntarily smiled at the sight, finding myself drawn out of my months long bad mood.
I stepped up to the counter. A competent and somehow ironic looking barista, tilted his curly head, and inquired about my day and preference of beverage. After some advice, I ended up with a latte, a safe choice, and headed to a table in the corner that seemed to have been saved just for me. But unlike my vain daydreams, the table wasn’t lonely. I realized as I sat and scribbled nonsense in my journal, that I was not alone here. This place, in all its details, was a place where many people could belong. From the open garage doors, to the community tables, to the staff who so obviously wanted to be there, this was a place with open arms.
Oh, and I don’t think there is a better cup of coffee in town.
That night was a year ago now, and I have spent countless hours sipping coffee, working on projects, and reading in my favorite table. The baristas are surprised if I don’t order my usual: cheesy egg quesadilla with a cappuccino.
I’ve come to see that The Wild Goose Meeting House is a shop with a philosophy. And it was my great delight to have Russ Ware, the owner and imaginer of such a wonderful place, tell me a bit about the vision and history of The Goose.
Enjoy, and if you are a Colorado Springs native, definitely stop by.
Joy: Walking into the Wild Goose Meeting house feels like walking into a story, or rather an intersection of many stories. What is the story of the Wild Goose? How long has the meeting house been a project to you?
Russ: I began to dream about the possibility of creating something like the Wild Goose in downtown Colorado Springs about four years ago. I was transitioning from a previous career in church music work and was looking for a new way to continue to express creativity and build community. At the time, I was learning a lot about the third wave coffee movement that focused on manual brew methods, single origin, direct trade coffees and a traditional approach to espresso. I was already well acquainted with the rich and ever growing craft beer scene in Colorado and Colorado Springs. These two specific areas of emphasis, with new-world wine and locally oriented food added in later, became the product framework for the formulation of a space that would encourage connections and bring vitality to our downtown community.
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I connected with my business partner, Yemi Mobolade in early 2013. We had some mutual friends who brought us together, recognizing that we were both talking about the same kinds of dreams. We met, realized we were on the same page, and the rest is history.
Joy: What elements of a coffee shop do you think are most important? Decor, quality products, staff training, etc. How do you implement these in your shop?
Russ: The environment and the experience you have in a space is shaped by the design and architecture as well as the culture of the staff. When it comes to that experience versus the quality of the products being offered, it’s hard to say that one is more important than the other. Both are absolutely essential to the success of our model.
On an ongoing basis, finding the right staff and training them well is the biggest challenge, and we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes and successes in this area over the last few years. We’ve learned that training skills is easier than training culture. So, the most important thing we are looking for in building our staff is a sense that this person “gets us,” that they understand our culture and what we are trying to do. Most of our best hires are folks that have already logged many hours at The Goose as part of our customer community, long before we’re even talking about a job. And we are looking for people who love people! We can teach almost anyone to make a great latte. But it’s hard to teach the “people thing.” That’s what we’re looking for first.
Joy: The Wild Goose is a community hub. What decisions have you made to foster that experience?
Russ: There are so many details that going into the realization of The Goose as a community hub. Our large community tables foster connections. Yemi and my personal involvement in city and community development are also key. It’s not just what happens in the space, but the full dynamic of who we are and the roles we play in the downtown community. In this regard, The Goose is a means to a greater end for us—providing connecting space for people and building our city!
It’s not just what happens in the space, but the full dynamic of who we are and the roles we play in the downtown community.
Being open and welcoming also important. Along with the importance of the physical space and the staff team already mentioned, our messaging is vital. We guard this fiercely! We don’t ever want to send any kind of message that any type of group or thought or discussion is unwelcome here. And we avoid any negative messaging like the plague! If someone comes into The Goose and orders a tea and sits on their computer for three hours at a table that seats four, that’s OK. That’s just the kind of place we are. I will say, however, that we have so many regulars and such a great community spirit at The Goose, that I have no hesitation about going to a customer I have some recognition of and asking them slide down the community table to make room for a group that’s coming in, or something like that. The positive message there is that we think of you as family, so I’m comfortable asking you to make room for others. It’s subtle, but significant.
Joy: What dreams do you have for the Wild Goose in the Future? What do you want to change? What do you want to stay the same?
Russ: I think The Wild Goose “is what it is” at this point. And it’s beautiful! We are always learning and refining out systems, but I don’t see any major changes to the kind of place The Goose is in the near future. We are working on some other projects that will offer some different things, but this first place for us is special, and I think we would hope that The Goose would continue to have significant impact on the culture of our community in the ways that it already has.
One of the greatest joys we have experienced with The Goose, is the power of bringing people together from diverse places of business, culture and spirituality. This “connector” dynamic is something that is a tangible reality at The Goose. And we know of so many city changing, dynamic discussions that have happened within our walls (or on our patio), big ideas birthed, significant plans made! I don’t know any other place in The Springs where that is happening at the level it is here. We’ve very happy about that. At the end of that day, I think that’s our greatest distinctive.
You can check out the Wild Goose Meeting House on their Facebook page or on their website:
Joy Clarkson is a featured columnist and the Director of Marketing at Humane Pursuits. She is a graduate of Biola University, and also spent time as a visiting student at Oxford University studying C.S. Lewis, Literature, and Theology. Her days are spent helping people and companies tell their stories well, pondering, writing, singing, and drinking too much Yorkshire Gold tea.