Note: National Veterans Small Business Week was celebrated across the country from Nov. 1-5, 2021, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Montana Secretary of State’s Office would like to thank all of the veteran-owned businesses in Montana.
HELENA, Mont. – Brett Wiensch didn’t plan on owning a coffee shop. But, as it often does, life has a funny way of presenting an opportunity.
“It all started when I lost my job, or I would have had to relocate, and I didn’t want to relocate – my kids were in school and all that stuff here, we have been in Helena since 1994 – so I had to come up with something to do,” recalled Wiensch. “My youngest daughter was graduating college and she wanted to (open) a bakery; she was working at a local bakery here, so I said, ‘Let’s build a coffee shop or a sandwich/food place.’
“We finally came up with wanting to do coffee, but we wanted to do real food, good food, not just processed stuff, and we wanted to have some place where you could sit and entertain, come up as a family, come in as a business or student.”
Wiensch knew he wanted a name that honored Montana, one that didn’t emulate current businesses donning the likes of “406” or “Sleeping Giant” and the like.
“I started thinking 1889 because I saw it on a bourbon bottle in Bozeman,” he laughed. “I didn’t know what it was at the time. I said, ‘1889, what’s that?’ When I found out what it was, I thought, ‘How cool is that? We’re four or five blocks from the state capitol, 1889.'”
In November of 2018, 1889 Coffee House officially opened its doors and Wiensch has been blown away by the support ever since.
“It was cool because we didn’t advertise or market, really. … We just opened the doors. People came in, and the best part about it, I figured in Helena, people would give you a chance,” said Wiensch. “The fun part was, very few people knew what 1889 meant, so there was a good conversation piece there. … They would come in and get coffee, but then they would look at our menu and be like, ‘What, you have ruebens? You have pastrami sandwiches?’ At the time we had a fried bologna sandwich. And then when they find out we slice all of the meat here in house, we do Boar’s Head meat, which is a very, very high-quality meat. And then they say, ‘Oh, you do breakfast?’ ‘Yeah, we make all your burritos when you order them. We wrap them when you order them, we don’t just stick them in a microwave and heat them up.’ They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you crack your own eggs?’”
“What that was doing was forcing them to come back,” he continued, “because all they were coming in for was the coffee, but then they come back and try our burritos or sandwiches or whatever it was, and they would say, ‘This is more than a coffee place.’”
One of Wiensch’s biggest priorities wasn’t related to the menu, but offering a space where guests could have a conversation, conduct business or even study. An upstairs space offered 1889 Coffee House guests exactly that.
“If I had a dime for every time someone did a business deal here, I would probably have this thing paid off,” Wiensch laughed. “It’s kind of cool to watch the amount of people that have done interviews here, you know? It’s nice to see the different things that go on here with family and friends, seeing people get together.”
Wiensch enjoys visiting with guests of all backgrounds, but takes special pride in seeing veterans appreciate 1889’s coffee, menu and atmosphere.
“Being a veteran myself — I still have a Marine Corps (employee) working for me, we’ve had a young lady that went off to the Coast Guard, we’ve had a young man that went off to the Marine Corps, we’ve had Air Force, the Army; we’ve had an array of people work for us,” said Wiensch. “We also have a couple people getting ready to go into the military or ROTC, and that’s great. I think it’s awesome that young men and women are wanting to go out and serve our country and do all that.”
“My thing was, what could I do for my veteran brothers and sisters?” Wiensch continued. “One of the things was, we opened on Veterans Day. That was a big thing to us. We couldn’t open on (Montana) Statehood, Nov. 8, so I asked the city if I could at least open on Veterans Day, and they allowed it, which was great. With that being said, we want to blow this up every year. We want to give a discount to any veteran. I coach my team, if you see someone come in wearing a (military) hat or a shirt, tell them, ‘You get a 10-percent discount if you’re a veteran.’ … We want to try to honor that as much as we can. We do free coffee for veterans every Veterans Day. … It’s hard because I’ve lost friends, a lot of us in the military and personal life have, to suicide, and that’s something I’m trying to work with the VA on now, ways that we can maybe help with the mental illness side. Again, I’m one guy in a coffee house, but whatever awareness we can do to help, we’ll try to invest our time, energy and money we have for that stuff to our veterans. I don’t think I can ever do enough, but if I can help one servicemember, I want to do it. It hits home for a lot of reasons.”
1889 Coffee House will celebrate its third anniversary this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2021, and Wiensch is quick to share his appreciation to the community of Helena and Montana.
“I do wish I would have done this a bit earlier, but I’m glad I’m doing it now because I have both of my daughters that work here. This is going to be their future, not mine,” he said. “I’m eventually going to step away and be the guy that’s hopefully sitting down with my veteran buddies downstairs drinking some coffee and eating some delicious food, and they can run the show. That’s what our ultimate goal is.”