Business Close Up: Briar House offers more than a great cup of coffee
The welcoming aroma of espresso lures visitors inside the comfortable looking older home on the corner of Kemp and Keenan streets. If the promise of a double shot doesn’t serve as a pick me up, the Briar House baristas certainly will.
“I credit the barista’s friendly, smiling faces behind the counter for bringing customers back,” said co-owner Dawn Allen. “Our customers become like family.”
Dawn and her husband Len opened the Briar House in September 1996 with a second hand espresso maker, as an outlet to sell her handcrafted wares. But the seed was planted much earlier. Working at her sister’s ceramics shop, painting at the age of 18 is where Dawn got her start. From there she taught ceramics and woodworking to developmentally disabled adults, eventually taking her projects and creations on the road, attending countless arts and crafts shows for years. She said she eventually had to quit her crafts habit completed or take it to the next level. Dawn chose the latter, and has never looked back.
“We rented out the upstairs apartment for extra income,” Dawn recalled. “I was making crafts in one of the rooms downstairs, and selling coffee – sometimes only one or two customers a day.” Word got out and Briar House business grew slowly, but steadily. “It’s the perfect way to start a business,” as Dawn puts it. “Customers would come in, and then come back with a friend.” That second hand espresso maker was soon replaced.
It was a lot of work back then, with a limited staff, but as long as business was continually picking up, Dawn kept going. Racks of clothing were added after five years, mostly items hand made by people Dawn knew from the craft show circuit. If customers asked for it, Dawn tried to get it for them. Things like Lang Calendars and Yankee Candles were a couple of the first requests. The business continued to grow.
Today’s clothing lines include Karen Kane, Tribal, Miss Me and Jack. The shop also carries popular jewelry from Ethel & Myrtle, and a variety of bags, shoes, scarves and other accessories. Dawn says keeping on top of trends, staying fresh, and making changes is what is necessary to stay ahead of the competition.
“Twenty years ago, ‘country’ décor was everywhere,” Dawn said. “Now it’s either primitive or, rustic decorator items that shoppers are looking for, as well as the more traditional.”
To that end, the staff is busy unpacking boxes of some very primitive Christmas reindeer, santas, trolls and elves. On the shelves are some remaining Halloween and fall stock, along with the timeless gifts that include wooden signs, mugs, candles and holders, trendy aprons, baskets of all sorts and some collectibles. It’s the quintessential ‘coffee and browse’ sort of place, with enough eclectic styles to interest just about anyone who walks in the door.
Another way in which Dawn made improvements as her business continued to grow was to meet the demand for more seating. “We had so much stuff, that there was only room for one small table downstairs,” Dawn said. “So we took back the upstairs, added a bunch of tables and chairs, and also have space for a clearance area for our clothing.” During nice weather, coffee klatches can gather around one of the tables in the garden, relax and enjoy the sun, and these days the remaining beauty of fall.
Briar House is located at 634 Keenan Avenue in Rhinelander and can be reached at 715-369-2498. Dawn has two full time employees and four part-time. They are ready and waiting to crank up the espresso maker Monday through Saturday.