It’s the end of a decade, and if 2020 Andy LaBolle could travel back and have a chat with his younger self, he would start by having 2010 Andy sit down and put on a seat belt.
“I would say, ‘Hold on, it’s nothing like you think it’s going to be,’” Andy said.
In November, Andy opened West Plains Roasters in downtown Cheney, a specialty coffee shop selling his own coffee to a community he deeply loves. That wasn’t the plan, but not much of what transpired this past decade went according to script.
“[Ten years ago], I thought I was going to live with family for the rest of my life and probably work at Starbucks,” he said. “A pretty boring life, but it was easy, it was comfortable, it paid my bills, it was safe.”
Andy pauses here to smile, and perhaps to take a breath before launching into his favorite run-on sentence: “And then I met a crazy woman who is all about adventure and changed everything and won’t ever let me be comfortable or be satisfied and always pushes me.”
Not all of the amazing adventures, risks, and rewards of the past decade involved his now-wife, Hannah, though most of them do. Before they were married in 2013, Andy lost more than 100 pounds (down from a high of 330), and he was crushing it at his job at Starbucks. Not only did he wear the distinguished black apron (for baristas who have passed Starbucks’ Coffee Masters program), but he could move coffee product like no one else. He even has a plaque from the day he was working at the Liberty Lake Starbucks and led the nation in coffee sales.
After knowing each other as friends for a short time, Andy and Hannah took their first date hiking the Liberty Lake Loop in 2012 — and decided to get married by the end of the day.
Hannah was moving to Africa to work with missionary friends in Kenya, and Andy decided he wanted to not just marry this woman, but embark on a world of adventure together.
Their time in Kenya was cut short for several reasons, not the least of which being they learned on short notice that visas weren’t being renewed following a terrorist strike in that country. They spent a week in Cairo before deciding to return to the States.
That would be enough adventure to fill a lifetime for some people, but that leaves out Andy’s stint running a screamo metal concert venue in Otis Orchards called The Kave, “which was so rad … and random,” he recalled. That doesn’t mention the trip to Haiti or the restaurant jobs where he became so indispensable, in one case a Coeur d’Alene manager offered to pay for his gas from Cheney if Andy would, pretty please, reconsider his decision to resign. This also leaves out the time he was hit by a bicycle right after he was married, and regulars at the Liberty Lake Starbucks pooled together to buy him a road bike worth more than $1,000.
2010 Andy was anxious and risk-averse. 2020 Andy would tell you that he is still anxious, but he has learned to be regret averse.
“Regret sucks,” he said. “That’s part of why we’re opening a coffee shop and why my wife’s a photographer and why we went to Cairo and why we went to Kenya and why we do the things we do.”
So, guess what, 2010 Andy: In November 2019, you open West Plains Roasters just down the street from the Eastern Washington University campus with a dream to share excellence with a community you didn’t know much about in 2010 — and can’t imagine life without in 2020.
For Andy, the location and name of his shop is not the result of market research and focus groups. The West Plains is home. His wife, Hannah, has roots in Cheney, and the couple is helping plant a church in the community.
“We care about this area, and we are going to stamp this area on our name because we believe the West Plains is a value,” Andy said. “This is where we want to be and where we want to pour into. We are proud of it, and we hope to be a standard of excellence in the West Plains.”
Andy quickly dismisses any worry that a name like West Plains Roasters puts geographic handcuffs on the future growth of his business. Admitting he doesn’t “have a clue if it will ever happen,” he said he has considered future locations in Airway Heights and Medical Lake.
“And just, that’s it: Three shops, three areas within the West Plains,” he said.
The idea of a specialty coffee shop is new to Cheney, but Andy doesn’t use that as an excuse to downgrade the experience in any way.
He purchased top-of-the-line equipment across the board and designed the space in a way to appeal to families and students alike. The color scheme is whites and grays — “our only major pop of color is the plants” — and the high ceilings and open layout make the shop feel even larger than it is.
“Bright, vibrant, modern — the goal is to create a space that invites and is culturally appropriate for the dynamics of people coming to a specialty coffee shop,” Andy said. “Everything is really thoughtful and intentional, just like the coffee.”
THE TOP PICK
People are loving both the toast — and the toasted. The Toasted Cinnamon Latte is the best seller off the drink menu; its star quality is the house-made toasted cinnamon syrup.
On the eats side of the menu, the selection of five toasts may cause one to hold up the line while weighing the finer points of each craving. When in doubt …
“Our avocado toast is insane,” Andy said.
According to the menu, it features “our signature avocado mash topped with thinly sliced cured chorizo, pickled red onion, Cotija cheese and cilantro.”
THE CULT FAVORITE
Currently listed as a “seasonal drink” on the menu, the Citrus Maple Latte features dark amber maple syrup with a hint of citrus bitters. On my visit with Andy, I ordered this with oat milk, and, Mom, I think I’ve joined the cult.
Andy employs a team of three at his downtown Cheney shop, and he counts Chai Leo (a Cheney-based chai company) and Coeur d’Alene’s MAK Bread as two of his favorite local partners.
THE TIME WHEN …
Both Andy and Hannah are curious hobbyists who excel as they follow their passions. Hannah is a professional photographer who stays busy enough that she is turning people away, but she started years ago by picking up a camera and teaching herself how to use it.
Andy dabbled for a while selling beard oil — “the Espresso Vanilla Beard Oil I sold smelled like a vanilla latte,” he said — but mostly kept it as a side hobby dealing with friends and family.
“Whatever takes less risk, I will do that,” he said. “Any hobby, I’m in. The minute you want me to make it a business and put on risk, I’m out.”
So when Andy decided he wanted to buy a coffee roaster, he was initially thinking of it as a fun side gig he could share with his group of friends. It was Hannah who believed in something deeper and bigger, breathing life into the dream that now has a storefront in downtown Cheney.
“She said, ‘I will support you in this if you will make it a business because you deserve to make it a business, you are capable of making it a business and you will succeed,’” Andy recalled. “And I was like, but it’s so risky. I’m just thinking of all the things that can go wrong.”
In the end, Andy said Hannah’s own success paving the way with her photography business coupled with her encouragement helped him overcome his doubts.
Most of all, Andy credited the continued work of God in his life. It was God who helped him pursue a better story with his life back in 2010, God who “pioneered this whole venture” with West Plains Roasters, and God who put a certain woman in his life to provide support, encouragement and the occasional nudge.
“I may be scared, but I’m enamored by courageous people,” Andy said. “I’m not a go-change-the-world-and-live-in-other-countries-and-who-cares-if-I-die person. That’s not how I operate. But [Hannah] is reckless in a loving and kind way, reckless in her commitment to doing what is right.”
108 College Ave., Cheney
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Years ago, I met 2010 Andy, and it’s been so inspiring to watch this guy’s story unfold. Thanks for sharing the latest chapter, my friend.
— Josh Johnson (soccer jersey: Uganda National Team)