Current remodeling of Zoe Coffeehouse signifies growth, change in Pullman business environment


Zoe’s barista, Angie Greenhagen, makes a latte in the kitchen of what used to be Tam’s Place as seen on Sunday, June 7, 2015.

Ten years ago, on the corner of Terre View and Merman drives, Zoe Coffeehouse took over a closed Hico gas station and began to serve a different kind of fuel.

Today, owner Mike Wagoner and his crew serve the same kind of fuel. But that fuel is being offered out of a building on Main Street that used to house a restaurant titled Tam’s Place and is currently being remodeled. Coug Corner Mart now occupies their original space.

Since opening in 2005, Zoe Coffeehouse has been no stranger to change. In a way, the business has always been transforming and transitioning through seasons.

After substitute teaching at Jefferson Elementary, painting buildings around Pullman, and constructing developments in Seattle and Vancouver, Washington for years, Wagoner decided to open his first establishment at the Hico location.

Two years later, in 2007, Zoe Coffeehouse opened a satellite shop titled Zoe Underground in the basement of the Koinonia House, or Interfaith House.

Over the next two years, Wagoner said he took up an extra job as a maintenance mechanic at the University to cover the expenses of his new business.

“Of course it takes a few years to make a profit, and we just weren’t at that point yet,” said Wagoner.

When his business partner left, he decided to close down the original Zoe and focus efforts on Zoe Underground.

“Before Schweitzer and all that, there was a saying that here in Pullman you either worked for the University, or you made shoes for everybody that did,” said Wagoner, “We felt at home here, and we wanted to stay.”

Unfortunately, the powers that control development in a small town like Pullman are sometimes difficult to overcome. After the proposed sale of the Interfaith House and months of being strung along hopefully, Wagoner was served with a final eviction notice in December 2014.

The space was to be empty by the end of the month, an extension granted after student uproar resulted in a petition brought to school administration.

When first notified of the sale, Wagoner was told to vacate by April 30, 2014.

“I thought one of two things would happen at that point,” said Wagoner, sitting at a temporary desk space in the dining room of former restaurant Tam’s Place, which Zoe now occupies. “Either one of the churches associated with the building would buy it, or we could buy it.”

Originally priced at around $400,000, Wagoner said the Interfaith House would have been a perfect location for his plans of expansion. The main floor could be transformed into a dining room, and his family could take up residence on the top floor.

After appraisal, the price rose to $800,000. Washington State University purchased the building for $1.2 million on March 21, 2014.

On February 25, 2015, Tam and Dave Shermer signed the building of their restaurant, Tam’s Place, over to Wagoner.

Briana Collins was hired at Tam’s Place before they vacated the building to make room for Zoe. She admitted that around two-thirds of their customers still come looking for Tam’s Place, and until the remodel they are relying on word-of-mouth of their more loyal customers.

“I was really excited when Tam could finally retire,” said Collins, “having all these new people here has been great.”

Angie Greenhagen has worked at Zoe since February 2014, and said the most difficult part of the transition from the Underground to Tam’s Place has been the preservation of customer base and store identity.

 “Obviously, we all miss Zoe Underground,” said Greenhagen. “With the new location and customer base it will never be quite the same.”

With the new location and customer base, Zoe Coffeehouse doesn’t have much of a choice but to not be the same. But Wagoner is doing what he can to preserve some of the previous atmosphere.

Wagoner’s original plan for remodeling Tam’s Place had been to open the drive-through window by March and complete renovations by June 10. After troubles with contractors, the project has been pushed forward through the summer.

Wagoner said the city approvals and construction logistics of the renovation are pending, but he hopes to be up and running by August 8, two weeks before the bulk of students return to Pullman.

The remodel will add industrial accents of steel and rust colors, similar to those found in the Underground, Wagoner said. He said he is trying to find a way to work Zoe’s circular logo into the layout of the room.

Carpeting will be removed, and the concrete flooring will be sanded down. Corrugated steel might line counters and walls, Wagoner said.

Currently, HDG Design Group has Zoe’s new schematics in their computer drafting software, plugging in and out different themes, layouts and décor.

“Everything I’ve been seeing that I like, I take a picture and send to them,” said Wagoner.

He said the plan is to steer away from a study spot, providing a relaxing dining and bar experience on the south side and the classic espresso bar on the north. The drive-through will serve espresso and express breakfasts, like sandwiches or muffins.

He hopes to become a fixture in the part of campus most people are introduced to first, and will partner with additions to campus in that area to give the community a nicely polished impression.

“I think it’s going to be a cool spot,” Wagoner said.