Badger Brothers Coffee might be the only business in Platteville that is recognizable by its smell.
When the coffee house in downtown Platteville roasts its coffee beans, the smell can go in every direction, depending on atmospheric conditions.
The roaster is Darin Shireman, whose coffee is sold at Badger Brothers and to wholesale customers.
“I’m ‘people’s morning bartender’ is what people tell me,” said Shireman.
Shireman, a native of Cuba City, worked at Badger Brothers from 2003 until 2008, when he and his wife left for South Carolina to run a coffee house. The Shiremans came back in 2010 to purchase Badger Brothers from its previous owner.
As he tells it, Shireman’s passion for coffee began with “summer driver’s ed — about the only thing I learned in high school was how to sleep sitting up — so I started drinking my parents’ Folgers. Through this business I realized I had a taste for coffee, and realized how good coffee could be,” he said.
Working there gave him “almost a peculiar passion for the industry in general.”
Of course, working for a business is not the same thing as owning a business.
“All the mistakes are my fault; there’s no one else to blame,” he said. “I really enjoy it. What I really appreciate about owning is I have an outlet as a business person, being able to use my creativity that I wouldn’t have if I worked for anybody else.
“It’s not an easy business. The success rate of coffee businesses is pretty low.”
Badger Brothers’ menu runs the traditional coffee house gamut, with a different flavor of coffee each day, espresso, lattes (espresso with steamed milk), cappuccino (espresso with steamed milk and foam), breves (espresso with steamed half-and-half), mochas (espresso with steamed milk and Ghirardelli chocolate), and a “sludge cup” (coffee and espresso).
Cold drinks include smoothies, Italian sodas, frozen lemonade, ice lattes and hand-dipped shakes.
“The most scientific thing I do is my espresso blend,” a high-temperature high-pressure process, he said. “What is normally a small nuance in coffee can become obnoxious in espresso. It takes a lot of time and a lot of tweaking because one or two degrees in roast makes a world of difference.”
The most popular drinks include the Kaladi Latte, with vanilla, crème de cacao and coffee flavors, and Rabid Badger, a double-strength latte with coffee beans so lightly roasted the drink smells more like breakfast cereal than coffee and “doesn’t taste anything like coffee,” said Shireman.
“For a business like mine, the quality of the product’s the thing. We roast; we’ve been doing this a long time. If you look at the café, we’re really selling space … kind of a third-space thing — a place where you can go to do nothing someplace else. We are Platteville.”
The menu also includes ice cream, soups, and baked goods. “We’ve been intentional about [having] enough product that we’re not limited and so that our business is not dependent on the university,” he said. “Having said that, our best days are when it’s cold and the university is in session.”
The business’ clientele includes students, but also retirees and “thirtysomething moms” with their children.
“We do pull from a lot of demographics; that’s the beauty of being in a small town,” he said. “We have a lot to be thankful for. Our customers have been very good to us, even the more difficult customers; I really do enjoy the dynamics of that.”
The seven-employee store includes a meeting room that is “kind of a lot of people’s entry into the business,” to go with the store’s WiFi access, he said. “We kind of try to be Platteville’s front porch.”
As with any business, some ideas don’t make a successful transition to finished product. That category includes “about 100 different bakery-type items that didn’t work out,” said Shireman. “We haven’t had any big fails yet; it’s only a matter of time.”
Shireman credits Stephanie, who does the store’s bookkeeping, for being “pretty quick to let me know when my ideas are bad.”
The Shiremans use the store to develop their philanthropic interests. “There’s definitely a philanthropic and missional side to what we do,” he said. “Coffee’s a really good fundraiser.”
One example will come up in May, when they will travel to Burundi to “establish a relationship directly with coffee farmers. … It’s costing us more money, but this is the philanthropic side of what we do.”
Shireman has ideas to expand the business, as well as plans to commemorate the business’ 10th anniversary in May.
“I’ve always got a few different things in the works,” he said. “I’d love to go multiple locations. The strategy of how to do that hasn’t been developed.
“The industry is definitely in its infancy. It’s hard to see where it’s really going to go.”