Espresso on a mission

(First published in the December 19, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Bridge Street Mission started a coffee shop to help support the agency and its sober living facility


Todd Van Ryn shows off the coffee shop that will help support Bridge Street Mission.

Let’s put it this way, Todd Van Ryn knows a lot more about espresso machines than he did a few months ago.

The interim executive director of Bridge Street Mission worked with coffee kiosk professional Marcia Stencil to get a drive-through coffee shop up and running for a Dec. 16 opening at the corner of First Avenue and West Bridge Street in Wausau. Van Ryn learned things most nonprofit directors or pastors never need to know, like how to maintain an espresso machine.

The idea behind opening Mission Grounds Espresso at 107 W. Bridge St. is to financially support the nearby Bridge Street Mission. That now includes both the Bridge Street Mission Outreach Center next door to the drive-up-only shop and the new Bridge Street Mission Program Center at 1140 W. Bridge St., the former site of the Annabelle Apartments.

Religious belief aside, Van Ryn has faith the operation will be a success, even after the start-up of the Dunkin’ Donuts shop planned for directly across the street. Access for motorists is easy off Bridge Street, and a single barista can serve customers pulling up on either side of the small building.

He says their coffee will be inexpensive at $2 for 12 ounces or $2.50 for 16 ounces. Then he goes a step further and says their coffee, coming from Redwood Street Roasters in Edgar, will be better than most.

The grand opening event is coming in January. To begin, they’ll be open 6:30 am to 3:30 pm weekdays only. The menu board will have lots of options with prices topping out at $5.50 for a coconut caramel delight. Customers can branch out to cappuccino, tea and even the bubble tea that’s popular at Southeast Asian food stands.

The outreach center/church has a commercial kitchen, so Van Ryn expects they might be selling baked goods out the service windows in the future. The shop is also equipped with a soft-serve ice cream machine, which they’ll gear up in late spring.

Having Stencil aboard for this venture gives Van Ryn confidence. “She is really championing it and has her own kiosk called The Espresso Lodge that goes to the fair and places like that. She also staffs the coffee kiosk at Highland Community Church.”

Stencil will be the only full-time employee, but they are picking up part-timers with coffee shop experience. Van Ryn doesn’t plan to immediately involve residents at the sober living house (formerly Annabelle Apartments) to work at the coffee shop. Most have enough on their plates trying to stay away from an addictive substance, he says, but if someone living there wants training to be a barista, they will arrange that.

They came up with an appropriate twist on the ubiquitous punch card where the repeat customers get a free coffee after 10 punches. At Mission Grounds Espresso, the cards will carry a Bible verse. Van Ryn says the customer who gets 10 punches and can recite that verse from memory will get “an additional surprise.”

Success with the coffee shop will come if they provide value, Van Ryn reasons. “We want to provide top quality at the lowest price, and I think that’s consistent with what Jesus did.”

While preparing to open the new enterprise and carrying out some of the pastoral duties, Van Ryn continues to manage the sober house where rents average $295 per month. Currently 21 of the 52 rooms are occupied, accounting for one resident who was told to leave Monday after he was found intoxicated.

That’s a 40% occupancy rate, but he’s projecting getting up to 60% in six months. One lesson learned so far is that it’s too difficult having a mix of men and women in the same building. They had up to seven women at first but are now down to one and plan not to accept more unless they have a separate facility.

Using a $15,000 donation, they are converting available space in the building into a “bunkhouse” setting that will be run similarly to the Catholic Charities warming center. To prevent substance abuse while there, a guest’s personal possessions will be locked away for the night, but for $180 a month, guests will have a guaranteed warm place to sleep and a breakfast to prepare them for the day.

For inquiries about any of the mission’s operation, call 715-409-3506