As with many great ideas, this one was partially self-serving. The craft pour over coffee bar at Liberty Lake Wake Up Call has been a smash hit with local coffee drinkers, but Christopher Arkoosh is president of its fan club.
He also owns the place. Ever since starting Wake Up Call with co-owner (and mother-in-law) Christi Walsh in 2004, Arkoosh said each new location brings fresh ideas as the company grows and the industry changes. A pour over coffee aficionado, this recent investment was added at a location that, incidentally, is the closest Wake Up Call to his own home.
He is a frequent consumer, enjoying either the House Blend or the rotating cast of specialty brews from places spanning the globe. On the day of our interview, he enjoyed a medium to light roast from Papau New Guinea.
“That’s what’s so fun about coffee,” Christopher said. “It’s always changing. Every year, you think you have just about caught up, and then something changes.”
As he prepared to launch that first Wake Up Call, he was fresh from Gonzaga University with a degree in business finance. Did he consider himself knowledgeable about coffee as well?
“I thought I was, but no,” he admitted. “Most of this we’ve learned along the way. There was a long period of time where we slowed down our growth because we had so much to learn. We opened up a couple shops and there was so much information.”
Locations on Dishman-Mica and Evergreen were built that first year, and the business kept to its Spokane Valley blueprint for several years, adding locations on Pines and Sullivan. The Spokane market was next with four locations. This year, Wake Up Call No. 9 and No. 10 debuted, expanding the business into Liberty Lake (June) and Coeur d’Alene (November).
Along the way, Christopher has majored on the people and business side. Christi (who originally conceived the London-themed shop) is the creative in the pairing, with a flair for design and an innate sense of quality. In recent years, Christi has pursued writing. One of her books, “The Purple Rose,” was made into a 2018 Lifetime Movie called, “I’ll Be Watching.” A favorite companion to her work: a 20-ounce iced mocha, two shots.
While so much has evolved, two tenets of Wake Up Call’s founding principles remain in place. One, Christopher emphasized, is that “we’ve always had great people.” Second: the focus on a quality, light roast.
“In 2004, there were not a lot of coffee shops that served a high quality light roasted coffee,” he said. “Our idea was to bring something to the market that was super high quality and consistent and different than everybody else, so that’s what we did.”
Ironically, some of the changes over the years have been all about keeping things the same — consistency for every cup. That’s because technology has improved dramatically. In Liberty Lake, Christopher showed off the grinder that freshly produced 17 grams for every double shot (the ideal ratio for their House Blend, he explained), measured on a scale that’s accurate to a tenth of a gram. The coffee is then tamped by equipment that produces exactly 30 pounds of pressure.
“Everything is dialed in to utter consistency,” he said. “From there, you have a consistent base if you want to change things.”
How much of a difference does all of this actually make? Christopher said you would be surprised, especially in the Spokane market, where coffee consumers are incredibly discerning. He said he often has vendors trying to sell him on processes and ingredients that are cheaper.
“They’ll say, ‘Do you realize how much money you would save if you switch to this coffee and that 99 percent of your customers wouldn’t even notice the difference?’” he said. “But I think they are totally wrong. I think our customers know.”
The name, the phone booth theme, the London flair — all of it is part of Christi’s original, cohesive Wake Up Call vision.
“We wanted something distinctive, something that people would remember and something that tied our branding into our commitment to our communities and neighborhoods,” Christopher said.
Some of the “phone booth” feel of the early architecture has evolved over 15 years in business, but that distinctive rotary phone dial remains imprinted with the logo on every cup.
“The funny thing is now the (younger crowd) doesn’t even know what that dial is,” Christopher laughed.
A mocha overlooking the Pines drive thru Two pour overs and a cappuccino later …
Natural light, vibrant reds and a crisp, London feel dominate the Wake Up Call atmosphere. The business even has a customized, red double decker bus for mobile coffee opportunities. When Liberty Lake went under a boil order in November, many water-dependent food service locations temporarily closed. Wake Up Call closed down the shop, but rolled the bus into the parking lot to keep the coffee flowing.
One of the bigger atmospheric changes to the Wake Up Call vibe is that the shop has become increasingly coffee centric. Christopher pointed out how the layout of the Liberty Lake location has emphasized a clean look centered on coffee. The display case is gone. The espresso machine and coffee equipment has moved to the forefront, allowing for “more face to face time” between consumer and barista.
The Liberty Lake location places its coffee equipment right at the counter.
THE TOP PICK
According to Christopher, there’s no competition when it comes to the most common Wake Up Call order.
“Oh, mochas by far,” he said. “A regular old mocha. The mocha has always been the top seller.”
Next in line are a pair of drinks from the Signature menu. The Abbey is a white chocolate blend, while the London Latte is billed as a “sweet and salty caramel treat sprinkled with cinnamon.”
THE CULT FAVORITE
An “under the radar” order Christopher hears often is actually not a particular drink but a particular milk. Oat? Soy? Coconut? Nope, Christopher said some people swear by using chocolate milk as the base for their espresso selection.
“Basically whatever you drink with whole milk — a latte or whatever — substitute chocolate milk for it,” he said. “Some people are diehard about it.”
THE TIME WHEN …
Wake Up Call was the first shop in Spokane to utilize “runners,” Christopher said of the practice of sending baristas outside to a long line of cars to take orders. While no one is surprised by this level of customer service today, in the beginning it seemed unheard of, including to the baristas.
“They were like, ‘You want us to go outside?’ Their reactions were funny,” he recalled. “And the people were scared when you came to their car. Then they got the hang of it.”
Interestingly, it was this practice of taking orders at cars that helped diminish the importance of menus in Christopher’s mind (the new Liberty Lake shop, for instance, simply has a printed menu available on the counter).
“There’s no menu out in the car, and 99 percent of the people order, just boom,” Christopher said. “Part of it is just that Spokane is so coffee centric. There are a lot of great places in Spokane to get coffee, so we are kind of spoiled. When you travel and get out of Spokane, it’s like, ‘Oh man, I would die for some good coffee.’”
We are kind of spoiled. When you travel and get out of Spokane, it’s like, ‘Oh man, I would die for some good coffee.Christopher Arkoosh
With the expansion to 10 locations in two counties, Wake Up Call now has an employee count of about 150. Many have been with the company for years, including the pair of general managers and a full-time trainer, all who started as baristas and worked up the ranks.
“We always believe in making people successful who have made us successful,” Christopher said.
On top of the 10 stores and mobile bus unit, Wake Up Call also has a robust wholesale business. Bakery items and roasting are outsourced to longtime, reliable partners.
“We try to be just really good at what we do, so we’re really good at retail coffee,” he said.
Thanks to Christopher Arkoosh for sharing the Wake Up Call story with me — and for insisting I try those two massive pour over samples (which were amazing) after I finished my cappuccino. That was a LOT of very good coffee.
— Josh Johnson (soccer jersey: Uganda National Team)
What would Christopher select off his own menu?
Yep, it’s a pour over. For more on his take on pour overs (and why there are some you shouldn’t drink before 8 a.m.), sign up for the free CoffeeJosh newsletter. You will immediately receive the Owners’ Orders” PDF, featuring coffee and food selections so tempting, they are what local coffee shop owners make for themselves.