A perfect blend of labor and love

16 Mar 2024

WORDS Brigid Mander | IMAGES Lara Agnew

A new career as roast master, or a third career in general, wasn’t on Jim Sheehan’s to-do list when he relocated to Alta, Wyoming, in 2019 with his wife, Mary. Eastern Idaho, however, turned out to be fertile ground for the former Saint Paul, Minnesota-based IT executive and his longtime passion of home roasting coffee. Fast forward a couple of years, and Jim has not only become a known roast master and retailer, but also the proprietor of Driggs’ new java shop, Wydaho Roasters Coffee House.

By the time the shop opened in downtown Driggs, Idaho, in July 2023, Jim’s love affair with coffee had benefited from decades of experience, curiosity and passion. At the age of 21, he made a choice to get sober from alcohol and drugs and found a passion for coffee instead. He frequented the little coffee shops of Saint Paul and a nearby roastery, and soon purchased some beans and began experimenting on his own. “My first time roasting coffee was in a cast iron stove-top pan,” says Jim. “It didn’t come out great.”

However, the coffee served in Driggs these days brings the local specialty coffee up to an exacting level, in a space Jim purposefully designed to cater to locals first, offering a welcoming, homey layout comfortable enough to work in for hours. This gives it a wonderful sense of melding both a modern sensibility with a stylish interior and worldly coffees, as well as a coffee house in a traditional sense — as a public social and networking space. “So many businesses here cater to tourists first — and it is part of the game, but I wanted this as something for the local community,” says Jim, citing in part the role of coffee shops as a refuge during his newly sober years in Minnesota. “That was my line in the sand.”

Jim installed the best internet available specifically so people could work and hang out for extended periods of time in the coffee house, packed as many tables in as possible, made the space dog friendly, and set operating hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Sheehan worked on the interior himself, using reclaimed wood and custom-made metalwork for a warm, cozy and inviting vibe.

As natural as it may seem to the unsuspecting visitor, the path to Wydaho Roasters was unorthodox as well as unplanned. The Sheehans, drawn by a love of winter, skiing and the mountains, relocated to Alta and purchased a couple of short-term rental vacation properties to supplement their retirement income. Jim supplied these rentals with complimentary bags of his special personal roasts. When other rental property owners approached him to help manage their rentals, he took them on — and supplied each new rental with his sophisticated, small-batch beans.

The beans took on a life of their own. Former guests asked to buy them, locals clued in and sought them out, and the buzz about Jim’s coffees began to grow. For the first time in his 35 years of hand roasting coffee, Jim invested in a large commercial roasting machine able to roast 20 pounds at a time to keep up with demand. It only made sense to open an accompanying coffee house. “We never thought we’d be doing this,” laughs Jim. “But my obsession with coffee has turned into a labor of love, and it is what makes me happy.”

Most days, guests can find Jim in the shop, eager to talk about all things coffee, from the small, independently farmed bean crops he sources (you might love their coffee, but each batch of beans is finite) or the best backcountry setup for afficionados (Jim recommends a light hand grinder and an aeropress). As he roasts the beans onsite, many customers enjoy learning about the process while he works.

The space is soon to be a family affair: Mary has a very complementary business up her sleeve, too. As a dedicated home pastry chef, she will be behind the addition of a menu of muffins, croissants, scones and other pastries to go along with her hus- band’s coffees by late 2023.

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