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Otter gets earful for sipping Spokane-roasted brew

Tue., April 28, 2009

BOISE – In a buy-local brew-ha-ha percolating in Boise, a southwestern Idaho coffee roaster is steamed at Gov. Butch Otter for sipping out-of-state java.

David Ledgard, who owns Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters, had just paid his annual $165 dues for the Buy Idaho program last week when he confronted the governor with a few choice words as Otter was leaving a rival Spokane-based joe joint, Thomas Hammer, across the street.

Ledgard, admittedly edgy lately as the economy takes its toll on his and his friends’ businesses, concedes the incident escalated. Yes, he swore at the governor. That’s when Otter announced his staff wouldn’t frequent Dawson Taylor, either, Ledgard said.

“I guess I witnessed an executive order at the street level,” he said.

Since last week’s confrontation, Ledgard has called the governor’s office to apologize – and to explain why he was so upset.

A restaurant near Ledgard’s coffee shop recently closed. Ledgard himself laid off four people in the last month, cutting staff at his roastery and four retail locations to 35 employees. Earlier this year, he had to raise the price of a cup of coffee to $1.25, up from $1.

“I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, where I planned the closure of my company several times,” Ledgard said. “I was still reeling from that. That day with Butch just kind of ignited what had happened.”

Otter hasn’t officially restricted where his aides can go for their lattes, said Jon Hanian, his spokesman.

“As a staff member, there has been no edict that’s come down on high about where we can and can’t buy coffee,” Hanian said. “This is the first we’ve heard about.”

Hanian said the governor went to Thomas Hammer because there was a long wait at Dawson Taylor and he needed to hurry back to his offices for a meeting with legislative leaders.

“It’s fast, they’re prompt and when I’ve gone in the other place, there’s usually a line,” Hanian said, adding nobody should be forced to visit a business – even a local one – whose owner cusses them out, but that the governor has accepted Ledgard’s apology.

As governor, Otter is the promoter-in-chief of the Buy Idaho program, which advertises itself as “a nonprofit, nontax supported association of Idaho business, industry, agriculture, education and governmental entities” working to tout Idaho products. “It’s not our role to recommend specific businesses,” Dave Wagers, president of Idaho Candy Co. and a member of the Buy Idaho executive board, told the Associated Press.

Thomas Hammer, owner of the Spokane-based roastery that bears his name, said he heard about the fracas after it aired on Boise State Radio, a public station. Hammer, with seven coffee shops in Spokane and two in Idaho, points out his and Ledgard’s operations may be based in different states, but they’re cut from a similar cloth: Neither approaches the bean-roasting might of Starbucks. Dawson Taylor roasts about 200,000 pounds of coffee annually, while Hammer says he’s up to 250,000 pounds.

“It’s a slippery slope, trying to define what’s local,” Hammer said. “I consider us an entrepreneurial small business. ‘Local’ isn’t so much proximity as it is the style of company.”


 

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