Downtown Rifle’s Whistle Pig Coffee Stop & Cafe up for sale
Out-of-town hunters descend in droves upon Rifle every year to navigate the rugged, Western Slope terrain as they try to bag their share of trophy elk.
In the meantime, some stop at Whistle Pig Coffee Stop & Cafe, a quaint downtown hot spot on Third Street that serves gourmet coffee, breakfast and lunch fare.
“We have a family from Georgia that comes in every hunting season, and we connected with them the first year,” owner Samm Young said. “Every year they come back to us. They follow us on Facebook and comment on all our stuff.”
After more than five years of catering to both locals and hunter-orange visitors, however, Young has decided to put the Whistle Pig up for sale. The reason: Young’s having a baby with her boyfriend, David Garcia.
“It’s been a crazy, crazy journey,” Young said.
The Whistle Pig has called downtown Rifle home since officially opening its doors in July 2015. And, how it came to be involved a bit of serendipity.
Young had just moved in 2014 to Rifle from Loveland and couldn’t find a job to save her life. She said she put out applications everywhere but results kept coming up short.
Meanwhile, one fortuitous night Young was having dinner with her brother in Rifle when the two started joking over the concept of her owning a cafe.
“A good place always has a mascot,” she’d tell her brother. “You have to have a mascot — mascots just make things more fun.”
Little did Young know the wisecracks would eventually translate into a downtown Rifle staple. Out of work but full of inspiration, Young nabbed herself a vacant storefront on Third Street using a small-business loan.
Before bringing her business plan to fruition, however, Young had to apply a little elbow grease to the storefront’s interior, which had sat vacant for the past two years, she said.
“The building was very much in need of some love,” Young said. “We spent three-and-a-half, four months cleaning and renovating it. Long story short, I had a list from the fire department and the health department on stuff that had to be done before it could be opened.”
But Young kept at it, and the building had begun taking the form of what she had imagined on the drawing board.
“I wanted a place for people to be able to meet, hang out and have a cup of coffee with their friends. I really wanted the coffee shop feel, but I also wanted it to be a little cafe,” she said. “I grew up going to some small cafes. I love being able to sit there hang out and chat and get to know the owners and really get to be able to be part of the community.”
The downtown cafe really became a reflection of the community itself.
The term “Whistle Pig” comes from the yellow bellied marmot, a husky type of ground squirrel that roams the Rocky Mountains, including Garfield County. The “Maxfield,” the joint’s most popular sandwich, is named after Rifle town founder Abram W. Maxfield.
Maxfield’s legend is delectably summed up via turkey, avocado, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo sandwiched in a ciabatta roll.
Beyond the fare, the Whistle Pig has always acted as a local information center, equipped with maps and guides available for patrons. Young said she also gives people suggestions on what cool local spots to visit.
“Rifle Falls is one of my favorite places around here, so anybody looking for anything to do, we always try to send them up there to see Rifle Falls, because it’s such a crazy, awesome area,” Young said.
Just like neighboring downtown storefronts, the Whistle Pig had to endure a battle with COVID-19. From March 17 to June 3, 2020, the downtown cafe had to temporarily shutter.
“Last year was kind of sad because we didn’t get to see the normal people that normally come through,” Young said. “But, otherwise, every other year has been amazing. So many people come through our doors, it’s incredible.”
Young said, however, the help of the federal government’s 2020 Paycheck Protection Program helped her small business stay afloat. Meanwhile, so did community support.
“Since we opened back up June 3, we have been steadily busier than I anticipated — not normal sales but not bad sales,” Young said. “So we’re really lucky that people have supported us throughout this time, because it’s a weird time.”
Though businesses continue to open and close as they attempt to conform to ever-changing COVID-19 dial metrics implemented by the state, Whistle Pig continues to sell an average 30-40 sandwiches every lunch hour, said Young.
The business is still strong and viable enough that, after Young posted on Facebook that she was selling Whistle Pig for $45,000, she’s already ended up with 12 prospective buyers.
“We built a really awesome business and I’m really hopeful that somebody will take it on,” Young said. “We want it to stay Whistle Pig, we want it to continue, I want to help the owners as much as I can, but it’s time for me to move on.”
With that, Young was asked what she’s going to miss about running her haven of freshly-brewed coffee and gourmet cuisine.
“I will very much miss my employees. I will miss being able to talk to the community all the time,” she said. “I’ve made many friendships and relationships through being there, but I’m very excited to be able to just go and enjoy it soon.”
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Garfield County is seeking to qualify its four west-end communities for Colorado’s Rural Jump Start program, providing tax breaks for new businesses.