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If the bold flavor of macchiato and fresh-baked caramel rolls or banana bars sound like a great way to start the day, get your fix at the new Raccoon River Coffeehouse in Lake City.

“It’s great to have a place like this close to home,” said Diane Kirby of Lohrville, who regularly stops by for a mocha latte. “I also love how the coffee shop offers a place for people to gather.”

While Raccoon River Coffeehouse opened in late February 2024 at the east end of Main Street/Highway 175, owner Aspen Ellis, 26, is no stranger to the coffee business—or Lake City.

She grew up in town and graduated from South Central Calhoun High School in 2017. She served in the U.S. Army for four and a half years as a gunner and team leader. She completed two tours of duty in Europe (including Germany) and attained the rank of corporal before returning to west-central Iowa.

Ellis managed the Scooter’s Coffee kiosk in Carroll before managing the JRG livestock & pet supply in Lake City. She managed that store for nine months before the company closed this branch. The building, which her uncle Dave Smith co-owned, needed a new tenant.

“I started thinking about opening my own coffee shop and thought, ‘Why not Lake City?’” Ellis said. “I think it would work here.”

Good things happen after coffee

Starting the week of Thanksgiving 2023, Ellis and her brother, Levi, spent the next few months painting the store’s interior and remodeling the space to suit the new coffeehouse. “I wanted to create a welcoming, laid-back, comfortable environment,” she said.

While aesthetics are important, so is business acumen. “Working at Scooter’s helped me learn how to run a business and manage the money,” Ellis said.

She desired more flexibility, though, than a franchise could offer. “I wanted the option to expand the menu and offer products that customers are asking for, or offer new things they might like,” Ellis said. “I also want to keep things affordable.”

The Raccoon River Coffeehouse crew (which includes six full- and part-time employees) can duplicate favorite flavors from nationally-known coffeehouse chains. Customer favorites include the Caramel Macchiato (with sweetened milk on the bottom, topped with espresso, hot or iced) and flavored lattes.

“I did a lot of research to find the right supplier,” said Ellis, who chose Council Oak Supply out of Sioux City, which provides equipment and sources high-quality coffee beans from Peru and Guatemala. 

Not a coffee drinker? Raccoon River Coffeehouse non-coffee options, including hot chocolate, lemonade, fruit smoothies and fruit slush. There are even menu options for the “little rascals,” including lemonade, chocolate milk, blenders (sweetened frozen drinks with any of Raccoon River Coffeehouse’s flavors) and fruit smoothies (including mango, strawberry and wild berry).

Homemade goodness keeps customers coming back

Customers also enjoy the baked goods menu, which changes with the season. Options have included fresh-baked peanut butter cookies, brownies, cake pops and blueberry muffins. When Ellis recently baked four and a half dozen of her family’s famous caramel rolls, the batch sold out by 10:30 a.m. that day.

Raccoon River Coffeehouse is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ellis encourages customers to follow along on Facebook and Instagram, since the shop sometimes offers special pop-up events. Ellis’ younger sister Payton, an aesthetician, recently hosted a pop-up beauty bar offering mini facials and more.

Customers can also browse a section of gift items at the coffeehouse, including jewelry and other fun items. To keep customers coming back, Ellis offers punch cards—buy nine drinks, and the 10th one is on Raccoon River Coffeehouse.

It’s fun to serve a wide range of customers, from high school students to retirees, Ellis said. “I never thought I’d be running a coffee shop or any type of business in Lake City, but things are going well.”


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