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Joe Epley and Kaleb Renfro admit they have great timing.

They just hope customers visiting Compass Coffee will agree they also serve a great cup of Joe when they officially open at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The “soft opening” they plan has fit right in with the governor’s plan to restart the retail economy of the state.

“That has worked out well. The timing is pretty perfect,” Epley said. The opening will be small, giving the business a chance to get off to a start before having a “grand opening,” Epley explained. “I think we are going to start with a few small social media giveaways. We will just run a regular week to get the kinks out. Maybe if these restrictions continue to lift, we might, a week or a month down the road, do an actual grand opening of sorts. We’ll probably try to do some fun things.”

One of the challenges has been coming up with a way to meet the new distancing requirements, he said. “We have been doing a lot of work on the interior of the building, renovating and bringing in new furniture, a new color scheme. It is going to be good.”

The coffee shop has ties to the Assembly of God Church in Baker. Epley has been running the youth and community center for the church for the past six years, he said. “We have been stable and consistent … and here for the long haul. 

There will also be changes to the building exterior, Epley said. “The building is owned by the Grace Lawler Trust and the one stipulation was it had to have Lawler in the name.”

“So we came up with Compass Coffee at Lawler’s. We are going to have a new sign and add some lights to give it that old storefront look,” Epley said.

Working on the interior has been a lot of fun, he said, because of the volunteers helping out. “We’ve had a lot of people volunteer dozens of hours of labor, time and materials. They’ve made wonderful things out of wood and counter tops and furniture. It has been a real group activity on behalf of a lot of the church members,” he said.

At least to start, the interior of the coffee shop will be simple, he explained. “The menu will be what you find in a coffee shop, with a bunch of different drinks, both hot and cold. There will be some bagel sandwiches, regular bagels and a few breakfast items.”

According to Epley, the focus of the coffee shop will be on the food, drink and the atmosphere. “One of our main missions at the Baker Assembly of God Church is just to find ways to give back to the community. One of the ways we have done that so far is our youth and community center. 

“The coffee shop itself is run as a non-profit. Whatever money we make will be invested, both locally and to other international causes, but primarily, it will be locally first,” he explained. “We want to invest back into the community. That is kind of our major focus as to our mission.”

The coffee shop will not only be serving coffee, he said. “As much as the coffee shop is about serving coffee, it is really about serving our community. We providing a welcoming atmosphere and a good product. It will be a consistent spot to spend time and connect with people. 

The coffee shop will have a lot of ways to grow once it opens, Epley explained. “As for right now, we are just trying to get our feet under us. We want to have a good variety of baked goods, have a breakfast and a solid lunch menu. We want to be consistent in what we offer and do what we do well. Then we’ll let our manager (Renfro) and team decide where we want to go with that. I think it will be a journey of discovery.”

The look both on the interior and on the menu will be that of a contemporary coffee shop. “It is a historic building. It used to be a Lawler Drug. It was famous locally. There is a feature wall in there covered with stories from Baker’s history,” he said. “We’ll see if there is any other historic elements that we want to include in that.”

There still will be a contemporary flair to the space, he added. 

The coffee shop will have seating for up to 30 people, but with the new distancing guideline, it will only be handling about 15 customers at any one time, he said. “During COVID-19, they are encouraging restaurants to run at 50 percent (capacity) max. with the social distancing enforced. The good thing about coffee is that you can take it to go.”

He considers it to be a nice part of the business. “People get to stop by and grab some coffee. They can head out if they need to.”

Epley said he is hoping that the business might be able to offer outdoor seating in the future. “Maybe two or three chairs out there and spread it apart.” 

For Renfro, the coffee shop manager will be starting off from scratch – in more ways than one. The recent graduate of Trinity Bible College in Ellendale is starting off with his first job at a diner/restaurant. After growing up in Missoula, the Montana native went to Montana Tech in Butte for about a year before being drawn to the bible college. Once there, he went on several missions, including stints in Chicago and Milwaukee, along with Israel and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

To prepare for his new job, Renfro has been going through several weeks of training.

When it opens Tuesday, the customers will notice ‘X’s on the floor to help keep the spacing and the staff cleaning up after a person leaves. “We want to keep people safe,” he added.

When it comes to the coffee, the goal will be to serve regional blends from either Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota, he said.

The bagels and breads will be from the Black Hills Bagels down in South Dakota. “They are excellent,” he said.

“Our goal is that we would provide a place in the community that people want to come and spend time...  and a place they can build friendships and fellowship and grow closer together,” he said. “It will be a place where people can do homework or do meetings in the back. It will be an all-around place for the community.”


Compass Coffee

21 South Main Street 

Baker, MT

For more information or for ordering: 406-778-2418

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