Ryan Bembinister: Forgoing college for coffee



Ryan making a coffee for a customer. ©AnnaBroten2021

A strong-willed man and father with no college degree ends up being very happily married and successful. He is currently running a few great coffee businesses in the town that he grew up in with his beautiful wife Laura.

(The following story is told by Ryan Bembinister to Anna Broten)

Hello, I am Ryan Bembinister, I am the owner of the Goat Coffee House in Eau Claire Wisconsin located at 336 Water Street. I am married to a wonderful woman named Laura; she is from New Auburn which is about thirty minutes North of Eau Claire. She graduated from the University of Eau Claire with a physiology degree, which she is not using other than to be married to me. I have three children, I have a sophomore in college over at Hamline University in Saint Paul, I have a senior at North High School here in town that is going to the University of Dubuque, and I have a daughter that is a freshman at North also.

I did not go to college must like I am sending my two kids and my wife went. It was a choice that I made when I was eighteen graduating from High School, which I did graduate from. But I was in a study workforce at that point, I had two different jobs that I took a lot of pride in and I was doing well with. So, I decided that it would not be the route to go to go to college. Once those two jobs did not turn into my future, I went to work for my uncle who owned a franchise here in town A&W and TCBY and kind of learned some ropes from him about business a little bit. Him and I worked hand in hand for about four years together before he passed away. When he passed away, he willed the business to my wife and I, we had only been married for a couple years at that point and had one child.

When we got those two stores, I also was doing consulting up in Bloomer, running those two shops and then we had bought the Goat Coffee House. In the meantime, we wanted to get away from franchises and we wanted to do our own things. We thought we had learned enough doing the franchises and with how smart my wife was with the books. She didn’t have any idea that she was so good at accounting, but she learned fast and she is really good at it so we said, ‘what the hell, we will go ahead and start our own place which is the GOAT!’

Funny part with that, a little learning experience with no college experience was we kind of infringed on some name rights to the goat, we were actually called the Dancing Goat Coffee House to start. We found out about nine months into our company year, that we had maybe infringed on a trademark from a company over in Washington State. So, we had to change it from the Dancing Goat, to the Goat. Which was kind of a learning experience for us.

I feel very accomplished in not going to college and still having a successful business. One of the things that I take a lot of pride in is most of the jobs that I took within two weeks to a month I was managing the place; I was either the assistant to the store manager. I just have the wherewithal to know what to do in business, whether its retail, food, bar. I managed a bar for a couple of years, it’s just whatever I took over I was able to take and put as much pride and work into it to make sure that it was successful. That’s where I felt with not having a college degree, that I could very easily start my own business.

I made good decisions on all of those businesses that I ran and for those people. So yeah, I didn’t feel like I needed to go to college, plus I was married to a very smart woman. I am going to say that numerous times over, so she knows how smart she was. But she has been able to take all of our books and do all of our accounting for seventeen years. She makes this place run smoothly; I just take care of the business’s day to day operations for it.

That’s the good compliment between her and I, I am a people’s person she is not. We don’t let her talk to customers, she is friendly, but she is not customer service friendly. But she deals with everything, I couldn’t do her job at all and she couldn’t do mine and that’s what makes us work really well together. We did work together on the floor and in the office for a couple years, found that that was not the best choice. We needed to have her at home in an office doing all the bookwork, the smart work, the paperwork, the ordering, and invoice all that kind of stuff scheduling and payroll. I needed to take care of working with our employees’ side by side and working with all of our customers. I’ve always said there has to be a face to a business to make it successful so, my face was the best one to use even though it is not the prettiest.

As far as any regrets that I have in starting a business, in the process I wish we had done a little bit more education on name rights. We would have saved ourselves a few thousand dollars to start off with but hey it’s a learning costs and we were able to have the support of good customer base and good family members that were helping us out right away to get us through that point. Being known as the Goat is probably the best thing we could have been changed to from dancing, so I am extremely happy with that choice myself. Other than that, regret I don’t regret a single thing.

I consider this business to be my fourth child and I treat it that way. I am here seven days a week, 365. I enjoy the hell out of it, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.