After a 34 year career as an electrician, Harpo Ebert was planning to retire and travel with his wife Robin.
Instead, he was diagnosed with ALS in 2008 and given two and a half years to live. Two of his five kids, Heidi Laatsch and Hilary DeVries, had dreamed of opening a coffee shop since they were kids. DeVries said her parents told them to go for it.
“Life is so short, ” Heidi Laatsch said. “Don’t wait until you have enough money or it’s the right time. The worse that could happen is you start over.”
The sisters opened The Roots Coffeebar &Cafe in Oconomowoc in 2011 and another one in Waukesha in 2015.
Oconomowoc is where the girls grew up and still live and Waukesha is where their mom grew up.
“Family roots are super important to us,” DeVries said.
Just like family is important to the sisters, so is coffee. They said their parents would begin each day by having a cup together.
“You could always smell coffee in the house,” DeVries said.
“Something about coffee feels relaxing to us,” Laatsch said.
The dream of owning their own coffee shop was planted during a family vacation to Gulf Shores. They went to one that had more than just coffee. It had liquor, live music at night and local vendor offerings.
“We always had that in mind,” DeVries said. “We would love to open a coffee shop like that.”
She started working at a coffee shop when she attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She graduated with a sociology degree in 2008, but wanted to stay in the coffee industry.
“I got more and more of the love of coffee and saw how it ties, not just individuals together, but communities together,” she said.
She managed Milwaukee Street Traders, a coffee shop in Delafield, for about two years. It was there she learned what was important to customers like the quality of the product, how fast they’re served and how to treat them.
Laatsch also graduated in 2008, with a business degree from Carroll University. She worked as a project manager until opening the shop with her sister.
DeVries knew coffee and Laatsch knew business.
While some siblings might butt heads, these two said they know their roles and love working together.
“To not only have your business partner, but your friend and sister be there relieves so much stress,” DeVries said.
Family is everything to them, they said. Their family even helped with developing the menu.
Every Sunday, the whole family gets together for dinner. On one of those nights, family members came with their own sandwich creations and some made the cut.
The Doors is the biggest crowd-pleaser. It has turkey, garlic herb cream cheese, sweet potato and provolone on sourdough.
The Stevie Wonder is another fan-favorite. It has ham, bacon, pepper jack, tomato, green peppers and chipotle mayo on sourdough.
Both warm sandwiches are served with a pickle and kettle chips for $8.50. The sandwiches were named after their parents’ favorite musicians.
The sisters said they try to create that feeling of family within their shops and call their employees their “Roots family.”
“If you don’t have immediate family here, there are other ways to find family,” DeVries said. “That’s what we wanted to provide in our working environments.”
Nathan Darrow, the Waukesha general manager, said the sisters invite the staffs to celebrate the holidays with them in case they don’t have a place to go.
“They’re definitely all about family,” he said. “I’ve never had a job where the owners are so hands on.”
The sisters said they got their work ethic from their parents. When their dad would get home from work, their mom would leave to waitress. She ended up going to nursing school at the age of 40.
Their dad was able to see their original shop before he died in 2011. DeVries said he was so proud. He was in a wheelchair and could no longer speak, but he made sure they knew how he felt.
“There were a lot of thumbs up,” she said. “He was very happy. We’ve been very blessed with how everything has been in both locations and we truly think he’s got a hand in every part of it.”
By Hannah Kirby
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