VERGAS-When you walk into Ottercoffee and Ice Cream in Vergas, you'll notice a little sign at the bottom of the door that says "Dogs are Welcome." Owner Jill Shipman said the sign is down so low so dogs can read it.
Since Ottercoffee opened its last year, it has always been dog-friendly. Shipman even brings in her rescue dachshund, Lily, a few times a week. When my dog Zoey and I walked in, everyone made sure to pet her. Customers that walked in after us also gave Zoey some scratches and attention.
"The goal here was always to welcome dogs. We always have water dishes; it's a good place to get your dog to socialize," Shipman said.
Recently, Shipman started serving dogs something fancier than just water: "puppaccinos."
"A friend told me about the puppaccinos and I was like 'I'm on it'," Shipman said. "And we put it on and right away we had people coming. It was crazy."
These puppaccinos are exactly what they sound like: a coffee shop treat for your pet. They are $1 and are made of whipped cream, a little bit of peanut butter (depending on the size of the dog) and a dog treat on top. In the last week, Shipman thought they had given out at least 20 of these puppaccinos, and they just started serving them on June 13.
This new treat is one of many things that Ottercoffee has added since it opened. The shop celebrated its one-year anniversary on June 22, and in this one year, Ottercoffee has gone from just having coffee, ice cream and some pastries, to offering wine and cheese, having a little patio in the back, hosting a book club, featuring art and creations from other local vendors, and of course, serving the puppaccinos, among many more things.
"We really try to support the local businesses; my beans are from Fergus Falls, my honey is from Fergus Falls ... it's all local," Shipman said.
To celebrate her first year open, some of Shipman's workers and friends held a surprise party for her. Barista Maria Shomento, who continues to work for Shipman despite her allergy to pet dander, helped put the event together by simply asking Shipman to meet her at Ottercoffee to catch up. Shomento said that Shipman almost canceled on her, asking if she could raincheck. Of course, Shomento said no and convinced Shipman to come, as friends and coworkers were already hiding in the back. When Shipman arrived, all of her friends and workers were there with gifts, food and balloons.
"That was a great example of all the friendships that were built in here too," Shomento said. "I didn't know those ladies and we established these great friendships. That's what small towns are all about."
Shipman seconded that, adding that "it's amazing how diverse a group we get here."
Her loyal customers are what helped get her through the long, cold winter. Shipman said that first year was tough, like it is for any new business, but she learned a lot.
"I think it's a great example of making sure that people around support businesses during the winter," Shomento said.
Shipman is looking forward to year two, as she thinks it will be less stressful and already has plans for "building up." For this summer, she is excited about having her new patio open with the fire pit and chairs and seeing both the returners and new people. And the dogs, of course.
"To me, it's all about the people that come in. It's just been awesome," Shipman said.
If you go
Who: Ottercoffee and Ice Cream
What: Restaurant with coffee, ice cream, wine, pastries, and much more
When: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Where: 118 E. Main St., Vergas