It’s still hot at 9 p.m. when I pull up to Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters in Sandpoint, Idaho. It’s summertime quiet—the streets are empty except for a carful of teenagers that drives past after I park. The shop was already closed for the day, the sun slowly darkening the streets around it.
Sandpoint sits on the index finger of a panhandle that sticks up from the bulk of the state; the Canadian border is an hour to the north. The town is surrounded by a question mark-shaped lake that frames a dramatic drive over a long bridge into Sandpoint proper. It’s also sandwiched between three mountain ranges: the Selkirk, Bitterroot, and Cabinet ranges, and is well-situated for the ski set.
Sandpoint is decidedly unfussy and more homespun than nearby ski destinations like Sun Valley or Whistler, and it was the allure of a slower pace and good slopes that drew brothers Randy and Rick Evans to the northern Idaho town more than seven years ago. Air Force brats, Rick Evans has a background in real estate, while Randy Evans worked in the coffee industry in Hawaii and Washington State before deciding to launch their project. Although they hadn’t lived in the same place since they were in high school, the brothers each moved their families to Sandpoint and hatched a roastery in an old warehouse next to a historic granary a few blocks from the center of town. Rick Evans is in charge of sales and marketing; Randy Evans runs the coffee program.
Evans Brothers opened in September of 2009, filling a needed niche in a town lacking many viable specialty coffee options. Randy Evans says the brothers originally planned to move into a smaller, nondescript building and focus on wholesale roasting, but at the last minute a friend pointed them in the direction of their current roastery and coffee bar. “When we saw this location next to the iconic granary tower—the oldest and tallest building in town—we knew it was where we needed to be,” Evans told me on a recent visit (his brother, Rick, was unfortunately out of town). “At one time, the granary and the old coop building (which we’re in), were a real focal point in town with lots of activity,” said the co-owner. There’s a climbing gym and studio spaces in a portion of the granary now; before Evans Brothers opened the property had sat empty for years.
The staff is small and efficient: five baristas rotate shifts behind the bar and Barista PDX alum Daniel Gunter roasts several days a week. Although they’ve made strides with coffee education, the team has its work cut out for it. “In Idaho itself, certainly in North Idaho, the awareness of Third Wave coffee was pretty limited when we started,” Evans says. “That was a big part of our motivation. We felt there was a niche to be met with more farm-specific, lighter roasted, and sweeter coffees.”
Evans Brothers was the first cafe in the area to roll out manual brewing, single-origin espressos, and traditional macchiatos. More than five years in, Evans reports signs of life in the town’s coffee awareness. “We’ve been thrilled to be a part of changing this culture,” Evans says. “It’s amazing how many customers we now have that understand the difference between natural and washed processes, and that can appreciate a pour-over of a bright Kenyan or Ethiopian coffee.” Weekly cuppings, roastery tours, and “neighborhood tastings” featuring brewing techniques and processing methods are also offered to the public.
The coffee program at Evans Brothers is as fleshed out as what you’ll find at roasteries in metropolitan areas located closer to direct competitors. “Obviously we try to find the best coffees, working closely with reputable importers…and purchasing some coffee directly through quality-focused producers like the Menendez family in El Salvador,” Evans says. “We roast on a Giesen W15, which allows for a great deal of control with each coffee that we profile. While we have some staple blends, we’re frequently geeking out on new coffees and rotating those frequently to keep things fresh and exciting.”
Being located away from a coffee hub like LA or San Francisco gives Evans more space to create an inclusive community business—and a heavier dose of responsibility to maintain quality. “We talk a lot about creating an experience for our customers, and there’s no room for arrogance in our cafe,” Evans says. “Because we’re in a small town, we have to be really careful not to alienate a more limited customer base. As much as we’d love to only offer one size, no cream or sugar, and only light-roasted single-origin coffees, we would probably not be in business long in our smaller market. That being said, we have no problem leaving blended drinks, snickerdoodle syrup, or 20-ounce cups off our menu.”
Evans says the company’s competitive market is broader in scope “than his own backyard” and is working with his brother to build a business that’s “respected on a national level.” Expanding into neighboring cities like Spokane and Boise are also possibilities.
For now, the focus remains on producing a quality product, building momentum, and making a bigger impact on Sandpoint proper. Introverts be forewarned: move here and you’ll quickly know most everyone in town. There’s not a lot of anonymity, and for Evans, that’s a good thing. “I’ve never lived anywhere where people care as much about each other as in this town,” he says. “We see each other at the farmers market, on the ski hill, at the beach. You can’t walk into a store here without running into people you know. We’re watching each other’s kids grow up and taking care of one another.”