First, the good news. Flying Goat Coffee reopened in Healdsburg at 300 Center St. last month with the kind of fanfare usually reserved for Super Bowl wins. Longtime fans were elated to get their organic Guatemalan and Ethiopian single-origin coffee fixes once again.
“I’m a coffee guy, and I always will be. I see coffee as a mission,” said Flying Goat owner Phil Anacker.
But Sonoma County bean buffs have long wondered what happened to the once-thriving Healdsburg and Santa Rosa Flying Goat shops that closed in 2019 and 2020.
The tragic story told by Anacker is one many restaurateurs, especially in Healdsburg, have experienced recently: a combination of untenable rent hikes, the COVID-19 pandemic and financial exhaustion. He said small, family-run businesses like his had been hit especially hard.
Founded in 1994, Healdsburg’s Flying Goat Coffee was a morning staple for the town’s caffeine-seeking locals for 25 years.
As Anacker and co-owner Maura Harrington watched sleepy Healdsburg grow into the tourist hot spot it is today, they sold pastries and coffee made with beans Anacker sourced through relationships with coffee farmers worldwide.
Things began to unravel in late 2019 when Harrington died from cancer, the rent doubled on the Flying Goat shop at 324 Center St. near the plaza in Healdsburg and the emerging pandemic and subsequent restrictions dried up business.
“Late 2019 was the beginning of a year of challenges. It was hugely sad. Maura was a spark in the community,” Anacker said.
By mid-2020, as the pandemic raged, ongoing problems forced Anacker to close the once-thriving Healdsburg shop. Their original roastery and coffee shop, a couple blocks north at 419 Center St., remained open for takeout. A small coffeehouse in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square also stayed open.
“We built out that space at 324 Center St. in 1994. But we had to leave our home,” said Anacker.
That wasn’t the end of Flying Goat’s troubles. By December 2020, the rent on their Santa Rosa location in Railroad Square was another financial drain. During the pandemic, as many restaurants and businesses closed, Anacker said, the Santa Rosa rent was too much for the bottom line.
“Margins are always a challenge, and the numbers didn’t work there,” he said.
Anacker said staff dwindled from 50 to around 25 at its lowest point, with just the roastery open. He tried to keep longtime workers employed at the roastery.
For two years, Anacker had looked for a new location on the Healdsburg square and finally found the 300 Center St. location (on the corner of Center and Matheson streets) and landlords willing to work with the company.
When the new coffeehouse opened, Anacker said, many came to check it out.
“We just let people come in as they saw the doors open, but when word gets out in Healdsburg, it spreads like wildfire. The community totally came out, and it was like a community group hug,” he said.
As for the future of Flying Goat? Anacker sees hope.
“We still get emails weekly from customers in Santa Rosa who want us to have another store, and we are in discussions with some property owners there. We are intent on getting a store in Santa Rosa and possibly Windsor as well,” he said.