Take a doctor who developed a passion for coffee beans and a beautician who dreamed of opening an art gallery.
Roast, grind and pour, add a hint of Celtic flair, and voila, you have the White Horse Coffee & Tea Company in Sutherlin.
You can’t miss the place, across the street from Bi-Mart, with its large equine statues in the front. Go through the drive-thru around back and you’ll be greeted by three dragons. The sculptures are the creations of Kristin Lusk.
In 1999, Kristin Lusk and her husband Leo Lusk were operating a beauty salon next door to the current coffee shop building. That was the year that Kristin’s son David MacDonald fell in love with roasting coffee beans.
MacDonald is a doctor who currently lives in Northern California and is a practicing hospitalist treating inpatients at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, California.
But he had become obsessed with coffee, he said.
“I discovered that I could roast my own and really liked it, although my attempts at roasting coffee in my oven in my kitchen smoked up the place,” he said.
He taught his mom how to roast the beans, too, and he learned a lot about coffee. For instance, he said many of the coffee beans used in coffee houses are arabica beans rather than the robusta variety used in cheaper coffees. The arabica coffee is grown at higher altitudes. It’s denser, has more flavor and more antioxidants but less caffeine.
They first served the coffee they roasted at the hair salon and sold beans to those who wanted to make the coffee at home. There wasn’t other coffee like it in Sutherlin, so for many people this was something new.
“People started noticing the difference of hey this is a little different than the Folgers I’ve been getting at Bi-Mart or one of the other stores. And little by little their tastes changed to having a preference for this higher quality coffee in my opinion,” he said.
Then the lot next to the salon became available for sale and they bought it and built an art gallery there in which Kristin Lusk could showcase her work. MacDonald suggested she save room in the back of the gallery and put a coffee roaster there.
“So she called my bluff. It wasn’t a bluff, it was more of a wish to see if I could act on my dream,” he said.
In 2003, White Horse opened as a coffee shop. The Lusks closed their salon and both started working at the shop.
The White Horse took its name from an oil painting of a white horse that Kristin Lusk entered in a contest for a Napa wine label. Her entry wasn’t selected, so they used it as the label for their coffee business instead.
The Celtic theme comes from MacDonald’s interest in the Scottish and Irish part of his heritage. He began playing bagpipes not long after he started roasting coffee.
In addition to coffee, White Horse offers homestyle breakfasts and lunches. It opens early in the morning and closes most days around 2 p.m.
The shop has one employee, Brenda Lopez. MacDonald said she’s the kind of person who customers become attached to and for good reason. She remembers how they like their coffee and starts making their drinks as soon as they walk in the door.
MacDonald said his goal is that his customers enjoy the coffee.
“If you take that sip and you go oh, this is good, this makes the moment, that for me is the biggest compliment I could hope for,” he said.