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New Big Sky coffee shop rooted in strong community values

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Sam Riley, owner of Big Sky's mobile coffee shop, The Traveling Bean. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – Sam Riley had a vision. She wanted to own her own coffee shop in Big Sky. On June 14, after two and a half years of planning, that dream blossomed into a reality when she opened the to-go window of The Traveling Bean. Riley’s focus with her mobile coffee shop is to give back to the community that has supported her as well as lending a hand to the coffee industry that she is so passionate about.

Almost every physical aspect of the mobile coffee shop—the menu board, the coffee bar’s “Coffee” sign, the grinder, and even the cups—were crafted or purchased from members of the Big Sky community and Riley, speaking with a gratefulness that one can feel when chatting with her, can rattle off the lengthy list of individuals who have assisted her in some way, in making her dream a reality.

“Between yesterday and today, I can feel that Big Sky supports me, so I just want to support them,” she said after her second day of business on June 15.

The Bel Air, Maryland native never envisioned herself in one of the West’s premier resort towns before her arrival to Big Sky in 2014. “I had never heard of it. I hadn’t even been out West ever,” she said.

Ultimately, a senior project she completed while pursuing her degree in hospitality and tourism management at Appalachian State University led to her discovery of the mountain town that she now holds dear. She recalls communicating with the Big Sky & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Information Center and Big Sky Resort for the project throughout her final semester at ASU before ultimately applying for and getting offered a secretary position at the resort.

“I graduated college, got my wisdom teeth out, [and] moved out here two days later,” she said, laughing at the memory. 

In 2017, Riley traveled to Honduras to teach for a year and had even been taking trips to Central America as early as 2010. The longtime barista, who previously served frothy, caffeinated beverages at the Hungry Moose and Caliber Coffee, also aims to support the coffee growers who allow her to remain in operation. Her goal is for growers to earn enough money to allow them to send their children to school.

“Kids can’t go to school,” she said. “Kids are in the streets [and] either they become gang members, even if they don’t want to, or they just are living in this form of poverty forever and then their kids will, and the cycle never breaks.” 

Riley plans to operate her mobile coffee shop outside of Gallatin River Guides along U.S. Highway 191 for the summer. She wants to travel to community events in the coming years as well. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

Riley chose Yellowstone Coffee Roasters as her coffee distributor because they share the same moral values: giving back to coffee growers and other community movements.

“I truly, deep in my bones, believe that education is a way out of poverty and so that ties into this entire existence,” she said.

The mobile shop is unique in nature being that Riley can take her operation anywhere at any given time. Costing a grand total of no more than $10,000, Riley knew this outside the box operation was what she wanted from the start.

“It was like a no brainer for me,” she said, citing the various logistical mishaps of costly overhead and the risk of eviction, the plights of occupying a physical location, as the reason for her mobile operation. “… I’m in it for the long haul.”

Riley plans to put her mobile shop to use by attending community events, while also selling her coffee to those also in attendance. She said The Traveling Bean will remain located outside of Gallatin River Guides, along U.S. Highway 191, for the summer before moving locations next year.

“I love knowing people’s coffee orders,” she said. “So, it’s fun to get back into it and still remember them.” She plans to utilize social media, specifically Instagram, as well as other community channels to communicate when and where she is moving her operation. 

When the pandemic shut down so much of society, Riley, who was working at Ophir Elementary and Middle School as well as the Discovery Academy, found additional time that allowed her to finish preparing for her opening. COVID-19 didn’t have an overbearing impact on The Traveling Bean; instead it’s caused more industry-based delays than anything, according to Riley.

“The coffee business is slower. There’s a shortage of almond milk out there,” she said. 

Continuing with the theme of education and giving back to the community, Riley hopes to eventually offer internships or other educational based programs that would translate to credits at her shop.

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