Talking Shop with Andy Labolle of
West Plains Roasters
by Jeff Fijolek
photos by Hanna Sophia Photographer
“My dream job out of high school was Starbucks. I always loved coffee and the atmosphere is really vibrant and life-giving. The people are really motivated and driven and just the kind of people who make you excited,” says Andy LaBolle, a native of Deary, Idaho—hardly a hotbed of craft coffee.
So about ten years ago, LaBolle moved to Spokane and started working at a Starbucks, where he made his way up the ranks. LaBolle enrolled in the Starbucks Coffee Master Program, which seeks to educate employees about coffee beyond the steps it takes to make a venti quad shot macchiato. “You have to learn a ton about coffee. Region, origin, flavor. How to pair it with food. It just got me more pumped about the history and where coffee comes from.”
LaBolle’s passion for coffee has taken him to Haiti and Kenya where he and his wife Hannah picked beans alongside farmers and forged relationships based around a shared love of coffee, community and faith.
Upon returning to the states, the LaBolle’s settled down in Cheney where Hannah’s family has lived for over 30 years, and the couple now owns and operates West Plains Roasters.
Andy started roasting on an electric countertop machine, learning from repetition and what he calls ‘YouTube University’. “The guy is one of the smartest roasters I’ve ever experienced. He teaches you everything from the very beginning to the very end. All the chemistry, biology, techniques, all there is to know in 45-minute episodes. They’re basically college level courses, so very dry, but it doesn’t matter if you’re a five-pounds a week roaster or a million-pounds a week. He’s really smart and relatable,” Andy says of Minnesota’s Mill City Roasters and its roasting guru, Derek Delapaz, himself a Starbucks Coffee Master.
Andy sold his beans and drinks at local popup events, getting the West Plains name out there before finally opening a brick-and-mortar location on Cheney’s College Avenue last fall. Located just down the street from Eastern Washington University, the café is contemporary and comfortable. “This is a place for people to engage and experience community and get off their phones or iPads and laptops and actually encounter individuals and come meet one another.”
Standing tall alongside the high-tech Slayer espresso machine and Mahlkönig bean grinders is West Plains Roasters’ white Diedrich roasting machine. “We really wanted the right equipment to honor the coffee. One of our business mottos is ‘excellence in everything’,” says Andy.
“West Plains Roasters was not an accidental name. We love this community. We love this area. Our standard is excellence because Cheney deserves it.”