Red Horse Coffee Traders opens in Joseph

<p>Kathy and Mike Leo show off their Red Horse Coffee Traders' coffee bean roasting equipment in Joseph.</p>

JOSEPH – The Red Horse Coffee Traders literally took a big plunge into Wallowa County life in January.

Not only did owners Mike and Kathy Leo open their combination roasting business and coffee café at 306 N. Main Street in Joseph during the month, but they launched the enterprise with Team Red Horse taking part in the Polar Bear Plunge at Wallowa Lake on Jan. 1.

“That was to bring in the New Year. We were taking the plunge into coffee and Joseph,” Kathy said. “I’m so glad we did it.”

She made the icy plunge with her sister, Jackie Rossner, and daughter, Cait, 22, while Mike served as “team manager” and son Garrett, 24, and Kathy’s mother, Rheta Runnerstrom, rooted them on.

The entire extended family is helping out at the coffee shop, though the Leos’ two children are also attending University of Idaho. They helped with the renovation to transform a residence into a café, and will also be at work with their parents this summer.

The couple, who met in Alaska where Kathy grew up, ran a very similar roasting café for eight years in Hailey, Idaho, but sold out five years ago, when they moved first to Southern California and then Bozeman, Mont., where Mike worked in the solar-installation construction field.

They acquired air roasting equipment in “a very good deal,” about the time they left California, like they had in Idaho, and eventually started thinking they wanted to recreate their roasting business and café – and the community, family atmosphere that enveloped it – somewhere else.

The couple had visited friends in Joseph in the past, and last year Kathy’s mother decided – after extensive traveling and scouting for a new home – that this was where she wanted to settle. The Main Street house, a perfect location for a coffee shop, went on the market and the decision was made – Wallowa County would be a perfect setting for their new coffee business.

Though the café has a limited food menu right now – including fresh baked goods (homemade on site), a breakfast burrito panini and “El Tomatino” (an open-face bagel of choice) – the family plans to add more items, such as more lunch sandwiches, as time goes on. There is a much more extensive menu of coffee drinks.

The couple met in Fairbanks, while Mike was working as a college teacher and construction contractor. “We’ve always had an appreciation of great coffee, and we’re not talking about any old coffee,” said Kathy, who worked in a coffee roasting business while in Alaska.

The couple lived for a time in Nevada – where Kathy’s widowed mother was living – before moving with their children to Idaho with “better quality of life” motives.

Mike worked for the first year as a draftsman for an architectural firm, before he quit to work full-time for the coffee shop the Leos had opened, initially “because we needed good coffee.”

The couple originally bought their coffee from Kathy’s brother, who had started a roasting business in Alaska. When he moved, they bought his roasting equipment.

Mike, after years of experimentation, became a master roaster in his own right. While all the beans are roasted the same amount of time, the temperatures vary.

As in their Idaho business, the main focus is on the coffee, made out of high quality, organic, fair trade coffee beans from places like Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru.

“We designed our own espresso blend, Tre Sol, which means three sons in Italian,” Mike said, describing it as “smooth, sweeter and smoother” than the normal blend.

They said that the price of beans has more than doubled since they had the Idaho shop, but are hoping they have now stabilized.

The Leos said their “Red Horse” name comes from Chief Joseph’s red roan racing horse, and the logo on their coffee beans from the decorative wooden horse local artist Steve Arment created during their building’s renovation. The beans are for sale whole at the shop and will be ground on request.

Hours at the shop are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The business has its own, still-in-progress, website, redhorsecoffee.com.

“It’s a lifestyle. We love doing it,” Kathy said, adding that the family is very happy with their Wallowa County reception. “Every day we see new faces, and we have our regulars,” she said.

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