Ladder Coffee Roasters, a local coffee shop with locations across Spokane, is elevating people one cup of artisan coffee at a time. In an effort to make specialty coffee more approachable, Ladder focuses on hospitality before anything else.
“People are who we serve, coffee is the thing that we make,” said Aaron Rivkin, owner and founder of Ladder. “We want to help elevate people and help them climb their life ladder, and allow the things that I do to be like rungs in their life ladder, and use Ladder as a stepping stool to get to their next phase in life."
Hence, the name.
Though relatively new to the Spokane Coffee scene, Rivkin is no stranger to a good cuppa’ joe. The former owner of Kream Coffee in Phoenix has competed in the United States Barista Championship. But that wasn’t enough for the young business owner.
“I needed to do this again for myself and help create something special for Spokane,” Rivkin said.
Ladder began in 2017 on Rivkin’s front porch in the Five Mile Prairie neighborhood of Spokane. Initially only intending to make coffee for a few close friends, July through October saw over a hundred people come to the house every Saturday in search of good coffee. Rivkin then launched a drive-thru location, but it didn’t last. He realized that it lacked the hospitality of his front porch, and that was the feeling people were looking for.
“We wanted to create living rooms for our city… creating a place for our city to gather,” Rivkin said.
Late 2018 saw the launch of Ladder’s first sit-down location, at 1516 W. Riverside Ave. in downtown Spokane. After opening, this location won second place in “World's Best New Cafe.” This accolade helped put Ladder on the map, and drew in customers.
“I think the city really realized the gift of hospitality that we’re trying to bring,” Rivkin said.
At the end of 2018, Ladder was approached by Canopy Credit Union in hopes of a partnership. There are now three Canopy Credit Union and Ladder Coffee Roasters locations, the first of which opened in Feb. 2020, right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Ladder weathered the storm that killed so many other local businesses and was able to open two new locations during the pandemic, including what was once Vessel Coffee Roasters, now the 2823 N. Monroe St. Ladder location.
Ladder was also able to court new clientele during the pandemic. Though it can be easy for people to be intimidated by more expensive, artisan coffee, newer and older generations alike are coming to appreciate the craft.
“Our approach is through hospitality… getting people in the door and creating a space where they feel like they can approach this industry,” Rivkin said. “We don’t serve coffee, we serve people.”
But the coffee is no slouch. Serving a seasonal menu devoid of overly sweetened and complicated drinks, the focus is on the coffee itself.
“It’s a little expensive, but I think it’s worth every penny,” said AJ Jackson, a first-year student at GU.
Ladder’s employees pride themselves on serving high end coffees from all over the world that is roasted eight pounds at a time and tasted regularly for quality. And while the coffee is by no means cheap, Rivkin says it’s worth not compromising to meet a price point.
“We’re going to spend as much money as we can on the best coffee that we can,” Rivkin said. “We want people to drink the best coffee possible, and part of that is by paying farmers what they deserve.”
At Ladder, serving people means more than just creating a welcoming environment and specialty drinks. Every quarter, they partner with Canopy Credit Union to support a local non-profit that’s doing well in the Spokane community. But they rarely advertise this work — it’s not for marketing, Rivkin said, it's about helping the city.
Ladder also aims to serve its employees, one of whom is a GU student.
“We’re always hiring… our hope is that we can equip people, even if it’s a college job where you’re working for us for four years… we hope to create a space where you can grow in your leadership and take that leadership into the next level of your life,” Rivkin said.
Leadership is important to Ladder’s mission. Rivkin believes that working for a local business can help young people learn to work hard, hold themselves accountable and enter the world equipped to do their best.
“The people who are going to go be doctors or go be lawyers, we want them to come work with us, to help them grow in their leadership,” Rivkin said. “Comfort and growth can’t coexist. If you’re looking to grow in your leadership, you’re going to have to get uncomfortable.”
Ladder is also interested in GU students after they graduate, with opportunities for business school graduates to work as business developers. Ladder also hopes to see its employees “plant roots” from which to grow in whatever craft they choose. Rivkin believes you can’t learn something through the short term, and that you learn more about yourself and your craft through long-term application.
Ladder’s mission statement says it all.
“We exist to have a global impact while being a hub of influence in every city that we are planted in, by serving people and making coffee,” it reads.
Rivkin hopes that the practices that ladder uses will have a global impact to better the industry, and train and equip people to further their leadership capabilities. As for advice to aspiring business owners and coffee drinkers alike, Rivkin has only this to say.
“Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously," Rivkin said. "Whatever is produced is equated to the effort that you put in.”