Lost Dog Coffee celebrates 20 years of great drinks and good vibes
According to owne, Garth Janssen, procurement of the Lost Dog was a fluke. He was not a coffee or tea drinker, and had moved to Shepherdstown from Colorado with the intention of teaching at Shepherd University. While walking through town, he saw the building for sale, looked through the window and thought, “Wow, this would make a good coffee bar.”
Janssen researched for six months-he said he had never even brewed a cup of coffee prior-and opened the doors of the Lost Dog on April 23, 1996.
A cross-country move, and stroke of serendipity, brought Janssen’s family to West Virginia when he was a child, by way of Colorado and Washington, D.C. His parents took a three day detour due to their family dog, Parsy, being lost during travel. Upon driving through and staying in small towns in West Virginia while looking for their dog, Janssen’s parents fell in love with the area and decided to buy an old farm house. Years later, his mother had taken a day trip to Shepherdstown, became enamored with the feel and “pull” of the town and bought a home here. Janssen had visited her many times over the years and found himself once again making a cross-country move from Colorado to West Virginia to put down roots here for good in 1995.
Janssen’s 17 year-old son, Zane has grown up at Lost Dog.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been here,” said Zane. “Some of my first memories are in this place-getting handed over the counter when I was little; standing on a milk crate behind the counter; I remember when the sinks behind the counter came up to my nose. This place has always been a constant in my life, even though I moved around a lot. This is home.”
Lost Dog has had visitors from all over the world during its run, and people will drive from northern Virginia, the Washington, D.C. area, and points elsewhere to soak up the environment.
Janssen said, “Everyone that uses this space has their own definition of what it is to them. Some people use it as a church; some people use it as an office; for some people, its a space to get away. Even lonely people come in here and fee a lot less lonely because if they sit down outside, somebody is going to start talking to them. Tourists are blown away by the friendly nature of our staff.”
Zane added that his dad allows the staff to be creative with drink making.
“We have freedom here to be expressive and use our arts when we create drinks for people,” said Zane.
“That’s the core of what we do now,” said Janssen. “We make drinks that are kind of personalized for individuals. We can make anything you can think of-a personalized drink to blow you away. People don’t get that in their every day world. That sort of attention to an individual is rare.”
Lost Dog has an extensive collection of fair trade coffee and teas to suit the tastes of just about anyone, plus a selection of mouth watering home made pastries and cookies. Some favorites are the vanilla Wet Dog, an almond espresso, a gorilla mocha, cinnamon honey latte and chai made in house.
“We’ve seen the town change so much over the past 20 years, but that essence of what Shepherdstown is, that core feeling here, is embodied by Lost Dog Coffee,” said Janssen.
“I’m amazed that we’re still in service to the community,” continued Janssen. “We’re not just here to make drinks for people. We’re here to help the community move forward. Our customers connect with each other here. I’ve noticed old folks start to get a lot more friendly with young folks. They see more of a commonality with each other, and that’s what we’re all about-seeing what we have in common and focusing on that rather than our differences. This place is the great equalizer.”
Over 20 years, a lot has taken place at Lost Dog-good and bad.
“We’ve had people have full-on strokes and heart attacks. We’ve had big brawls and bar fights complete with broken tables.We’ve had fist fights at the counter. There’s have also been people who have had wedding photos taken at the shop. One couple said they spent the day they got married at Lost Dog because that’s where they met. Some people that came in as kids and took their first steps here are growing up and having kids of their own now….a lot of great experiences here.”
As for the future, Janssen said his son, Zane has been making noticeable changes for the better at the shop since being “officially” employed there for the past two years.
“He’s (Zane) my idea man. He’s got such a different perspective on how things should be,” said Janssen. “He’s changed a lot of the ways we brew teas and prepare iced coffees and just recipes in general. He’s come up some of our most popular recipes. A lot of his techniques are more logical and they produce a better drink faster.”
“I see myself as kind of the middle man in between the employees and him (Garth), said Zane. “He’s very busy with other aspects of the business a lot, and he can be hard to communicate with sometimes. It’s crucial to have me here to calm things down and act as a go-between. He works non-stop with the business and needs time off every now and then. That’s why I’m here.”
Janssen chimed in saying, “If there were one word to describe my experience with all this it’s ‘sacrifice.’ There have been a lot of sacrifices I’ve made with my family and my personal life. When you own a business like this, you throw your entire life-being into it. At some point you decide that’s just how its got to be. But the reward that I get is being part of something like this. Very few people get an experience like this.”
When visiting Lost Dog Coffee at 134 E. German Street, make sure to to peruse the regularly changing funky, eclectic art and knick knacks displayed throughout the shop. Take some time to sit and just “Be”.
“That’s what we embody here,” said Janssen. “This is a place where you can just ‘be’.”
Lest the rest of the tale go untold, Janssen’s lost dog, Parsy,did in fact become reunited with his family so many years ago. It’s always a happy ending when a lost dog finds its home.