Natalie Van Dusen still remembers the epiphany she had while working as a barista during high school.
“I wanted to have a cafe one day because I loved making people happy,” Van Dusen said.
Several years later, while on a trip to South America, the 35-year-old again found herself face-to-face with her future. Traveling through Colombia, Van Dusen met a coffee farmer who showed her how to roast the green, raw beans over a fire.
“I was so excited,” she said. “It’s funny to look back on that and how it shaped my life.”
The experience led Van Dusen to open Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters in Bozeman in 2013, a small operation located in the back of Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot. The business grew on the back of a grassroots effort that included long days at farmer’s markets, as well as Van Dusen’s self-described “bullheadedness,” but the California native still craved a cafe of her own.
“We always wanted a full cafe; we just had to decide where and how,” she said. “Spaces are challenging in Bozeman.”
After a thorough search, Van Dusen and new co-owner Deejay Newell located their dream spot: a corner building on the northeast side of town at the intersection of Cottonwood Street and Wallace Avenue.
As part of the transition, the owners decided to rebrand their business.
“While we adored our brand before, we had outgrown it,” Van Dusen said, adding that a copyright issue also prompted the change.
After a six-month build out, the combination cafe, roaster and distributor, Treeline Coffee Roasters, celebrated its grand opening over the weekend.
“It’s surreal,” Van Dusen said. “I took part of the day off yesterday and was like, ‘Oh my god, we did it.’”
The interior of the shop, centered around a large wood bar accented with repurposed tiles from the old Stylon building, Edison bulbs and photos of coffee plants, reflects Van Dusen and Newell’s “eclectic” aesthetic. Francis, Treeline’s San Franciscan roasting machine, which toasts beans in 6-pound batches, sits exposed in one corner. In another, packaging, scales and a printer mark the manufacturing and distributing side of the operation, all of which is done in-house.
The open layout is by design, and encourages customers to engage with the entire coffee-making process, Van Dusen said.
“We’re in the farm-to-table movement and coffee is right there. There’s so much information to share,” she said. “The whole coffee industry is changing and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
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The owners have kept many of the practices that made Little Red Wagon successful, including the connection to its farmers. Newell and an employee returned Friday from Colombia, where they spent time connecting with one of their suppliers — something the company tries to do at least once a year.
“It’s easy to forget that it’s a crop, but there really is a lot going on behind the scenes,” Van Dusen said. “Ultimately, it would be a goal to know all the farmers we get our coffee from. That’s a unique priority for us.”
The cafe offers a small-food menu, which includes waffles and ice cream, as well as a rentable mobile coffee and espresso bar. Treeline also ships coffee across the country through its monthly subscription service.
Bozeman has a handful of coffee roasting operations, but much like breweries, there is room for them all, Van Dusen said.
“There is a lot of latitude for being creative,” she said. “There is an opportunity for everyone to do it different.”
And at the end of the day, all the businesses want to offer a good product, Van Dusen added.
“Right now our goal is to make the best coffee we can,” she said. “We just love coffee and want to share it.”