Corner shop in Brodhead serves up more than a cup of coffee
BRODHEAD The majority of customers at the tiny coffee shop on Brodhead’s east side are from out of town or even out of state.
Commuters who pass through the area on the Rock-Green county line regularly make Bullwinkle’s Coffee & More a drive-through stop for anything from a “Skinny Snowman Latte” to a Chicago-style hotdog to a “Brodhead Strawberry Sundae.”
It’s all served to their car windows with friendly conversation from owner Karen Williams and her staff in an 8-by-8 trailer that recently more than doubled in size.
“You listen to your customers,” said the bubbly, five-cups-a-day-but-don’t-tell-her-doctor Williams. “You listen to what they want.”
On busy mornings, cars line up at the windows of the log-cabin style shop at the southwest corner of Highway 11 and Highway 104/County T. The cozy coffee shop doubles as a visitor’s center, complete with Williams’ homemade map of area attractions, and it’s a savior for lost drivers.
Picnic tables and adirondack chairs invite drivers to relax outside.
This summer, Williams celebrated her fourth year in business, along with the addition of an 8-by-16 trailer. Dressed in jeans, a bright pink Bullwinkle’s T-shirt, glasses and double-ear piercings, Williams described how she was adamant with her “very supportive” husband, Jeff, that his construction of the new trailer match the original.
She was happy with the expansion, which now allows her to serve Cedar Crest ice cream from a cooler full of mouth-watering flavors such as birthday cake, jumping jersey cow and caramel collision. It was cramped quarters when up to three people worked in the original trailer. Now, employees can spread out to serve at four windows.
Williams tries to keep her products local: from beef sticks from Rackow’s in Juda to fresh cheese curds from Maple Leaf in Monroe, to muffins baked at the shop—only six at a time.
Williams worked at the Bank of Brodhead for 30 years, and everyone thought she was crazy when she quit during the economic downturn. Her dream was to do something cheese-related because her husband and his brother milk about 900 cows outside of Brodhead.
She didn’t jump at the suggestion of a drive-through coffee shop but warmed to the idea after two years of research, knowing location is the key.
“This was the perfect spot to get started,” she said. “People drove by and thought I was crazy, and they laughed at it.”
The name Bullwinkle’s came to her sitting at home one night.
“It’s the kind of environment I wanted. I just wanted it to be a fun place,” she said. “You can’t help but smile when you think of Bullwinkle’s.”
Even dogs get a treat at Bullwinkle’s. Williams described how customers vote on pictures of dogs taken after eating a “puppy latte,” a flat lid filled with whipped cream.
“Just to get people involved,” she said. “We live in such a cold environment now, with the cell phone, the emails. We just try to be very personable.”
Williams and one of her baristas, Kaci Pryce, 21, shared examples of their interactions with customers.
There was the man who called in the order for his wife, saying she would be arriving in a white car. He asked the staff to tell her to pick up “this, this, this and this” because she had forgotten her list at home.
There was the time Pryce got into a girl’s car to help fix her GPS.
On Sunday mornings, they can expect a woman who stops by in her pajamas and robe, “because she likes to have her paper and her favorite drink” before she gets dressed.
“We get to know our customers,” Williams said. “We don’t always know them by name.”
They know them by their cars or their drinks, such as the “mocha lady” or “vanilla latte lady.”
“If people don’t come, you worry about them,” she said.
They make note of customers’ schedules and vacations.
Joann Arn of Brodhead usually stops at least once a week. On a recent morning, she brought her own coffee mug to fill up on her way to a hair appointment in Orfordville.
“I usually make it a stop when I’m headed this direction,” she said.
She said she likes iced or hot latte, but with no whipped cream, pointing out that Bullwinkle’s has more skinny, calorie-free drinks—20-some—“than anywhere else.”
An often-asked question to employees is, “Where do you go to the bathroom?”
Williams joked about how she tells them they go upstairs or down in the basement. A portable toilet hides behind a nearby building.
People often call the coffee shop the “little place on the corner” or “the log cabin.”
“I don’t care what they call it as long as they come,” Williams said with a laugh.