by Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer
Dan and Cathy Rodriguez, co-owners of Cafe Columbia in Pybus Market, spent their early careers in IT, working for more than 15 years with manufacturers such as The Boeing Co and Tempress and later moving into consulting for Fujitsu, Solutions Consulting, Perot Systems, and Dell Computer. But all the while they were honing their cooking skills, inspired by the menus they sampled in the broad spectrum of restaurants in Seattle, Portland, Spokane, and San Francisco.
Neither Dan nor Cathy came from culinary families, Dan says. “We grew up in the time of Rice-a-Roni, Kraft mac & cheese and hot dish.” But in their IT jobs, which involved extensive travel regionally, they had “the opportunity to enjoy cuisine from Tom Douglas, Thierry Rautureau, Ethan Stole, Renee Erickson all the way to ethnic comfort favorites of the Rainier Valley and Chinatown.”
As their travel schedules got busier and their work grew increasingly demanding, Dan and Cathy “started looking towards the future and were fortunate to have the resources to purchase some acreage in Plain, near Lake Wenatchee, with plans to eventually build house on the property.”
Once the couple relocated to Plain and decided to get out of the proverbial rat race, they decided to start their own business, a specialty foods store called Almond Blossom. Dan says, “Following our love of food we developed recipes for familiar and exotic flavors of roasted nuts. We manufactured our own line of packaged product and sold it in the store and also to several locations in the valley, Seattle area and nationally. We also sold a curated line of fine gourmet foods in the store. We tried to source everything as locally as possible.”
At first the business was just successful enough to support the Rodriguez family, which included Dan and Cathy, two grown children from first marriages, and two daughters adopted from China. Later, as Almond Blossom flourished, the couple “decided to expand and opened another location in the newly developed Pybus Market in Wenatchee,” Dan says. “We sold a larger offering of gourmet items and also produced our line of nut products similar as the Leavenworth offering.”
They had been running Almond Blossom in Pybus Market for about a year when they were presented with the opportunity to open a small cafe–Cafe Columbia–in the market. “We started this venture with one barista, one baker, and one kitchen person,” Dan says. “We also worked in the cafe in the bakery and kitchen all while sustaining the two Almond Blossom locations and associated staff.”
It was too much, the couple realized after a couple of years. They decided to “laser focus” on growing Cafe Columbia and sold Almond Blossom, where it continues to thrive in Cashmere.
In Cafe Columbia, Dan says, “we hope we have built a business that reflects on spirit of the Central Valley. We focus on quality, customer service and consistency. We now operate the Cafe seven days a week and provide a living wage for our full-time employees.”
Cafe Columbia began offering Bluebird Grain Farms products as soon as Dan and Cathy discovered them. “We had developed a couple of grain bowl menu items,” Dan says. “We were buying farro–the main ingredient–from a national supplier. But we always try to find local suppliers for ingredients and happened upon Bluebird in a Google search.”
Bluebird’s small family farm growing practices appealed to the Rodriguezes, who value things like “mindfully sourced ingredients and scratch preparation.”
The Rodriguez family loved Bluebird’s Organic Whole Grain Emmer Farro, but more importantly, so did Cafe Columbia’s customers. “It’s a little heartier than the initial product we used and our customers noticed that and definitely prefer it,” Dan says.
Cafe Columbia is just entering its busy season, as Pybus Market ramps up for summer, with the farmers market and entertainment offerings drawing in customers, as well as walkers and runners coming in from the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail. The next six months will keep the Rodriguezes and their staff hopping: cooking, baking, brewing. But it’s a different kind of busy than their west side lives offered, and it gives them the opportunity to encourage others to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal together–to linger, savor, and reflect.
Cafe Columbia is a locally owned artisan coffee bar, bakery, and kitchen, featuring world class, hand-roasted Blue Star Coffee expertly prepared by a friendly barista team. Scratch bakery selections are prepared on location daily, along with freshly prepared breakfast, brunch and lunch menus that include traditional favorites, healthy, vegetarian, and vegan options. A brunch menu is served on Saturday and Sunday. Beer, wine, and Mimosas are also available. Order online or visit them at Pybus Market.