Missoula Business Beat: Iris Coffee, EmPower Place, Fisher’s Technology, Veera Donuts

Missoula is hopping these days, with businesses big and small springing up everywhere you turn.

We have our noses to the ground here at the Missoula Current, so let us know of any new businesses popping up around you. Meanwhile, here’s a collection of intriguing businesses we’re highlighting in the first of our monthly business roundups:

SpectrUM garners national award for EmPower Place

A 14-member jury of science center and museum professionals bestowed upon the University of Montana SpectrUM Discovery Area the 2019 Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award for SpectrUM’s collaborative partnership in making EmPower Place at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center a robust learning center for kids.

EmPower Place is part of the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

The Associate of Science and Technology Center jury awarded SpectrUM at its recent conference in Toronto. Specifically, the award goes to an entity based on “visitor experience.”

The Missoula Food Bank and Community Center and Missoula Public Library work with SpectrUm to make EmPower Place a hands-on learning center in a location where children and families already gather. Activities in the space include science enrichment, library books and programming, after-school clubs, free meals and snacks, and activities.

UM faculty like SpectrUM scientist/educator Amanda Duley and graduate students spend a lot of time at Empower Place, 1720 Wyoming St., inside the community center that is part of the Food Bank.

Jessie Herbert-Meny, SpectrUM interim director, said the kids’ center is a transformative place. 

“EmPower Place is designed to feed both bodies and minds, creating a vibrant hub within the Food Bank where children can grab a snack, learn and play,” said SpectrUM interim director Jessie Herbert-Meny. “Every day at EmPower, children are learning and exploring, and parents and caregivers are connecting and building community.”

SpectrUM was the lead on a $475,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that launched EmPower Place’s exhibits, programming and collaborative approach. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency also supported the creation of EmPower Place.

Vegans delight: Business booms at Veera Donuts on Hip Strip

Plant-based Pumpkin Pie donuts are in season, so if you’re a vegan, then recently opened Veera Donuts, 617 S. Higgins Ave., offers a wide array of gourmet-inspired donuts that stray from the ordinary variety. 

This is the season for pumpkin pie donuts at Missoula’s newest donut shop. (Veera Donuts)

Manager Megan Coleman said the shop has rolled out a 700- to 800-donut inventory on weekends, but it doesn’t last long.

“It’s been great,” said Coleman. “We’ve been really busy on the weekends, when we’ve sold out. We’ll see businesses take a lot to their offices.”

Veera Donuts also takes wholesale and custom orders. 

“We’re seeing a lot of people bringing dozens to a meeting or a school or Grizzly teams,” said Coleman. “Also, ClassPass and Submittable order several dozen for events.”

The most popular donuts so far are the Mother Lode, comprised of chocolate ganache, cookie dough and cookie butter, and the White Zombie, which boasts a vanilla glaze with coconut flakes.  

Like a fine frosting, word of mouth has definitely spread. 

“We haven’t had to do any marketing or advertisement, which is really nice,” added Coleman. On Oct. 5, the shop starts to ramp up its community engagement by sponsoring a pumpkin fundraiser.

Owner Haniah Sweeney ran a vegan donut stand at the Clark Fork Market in 2018 before moving to the Hip Strip location. She’s in solid company, as Veera Donuts shares a building with Green Source Missoula and is right next door to Big Dipper Ice Cream. 

Sweeney bakes only fresh items daily and uses organic, non-GMO ingredients. Instead of animal products, she uses coconut oil.

However, while Facebook comments so far provide glowing feedback, customers seeking wheat-free or gluten-free donuts should know that Veera Donuts uses plant-based recipes, but since workers use a lot of flour in the kitchen, the possibility of cross-contamination with wheat may exist.

At least seven bakers join Sweeney to ensure the shop is open seven days a week. 

“We are open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” said Sweeney. “Our staff rotates out, so everybody gets a day off. All our bakers are trained up. All of our donuts are looking consistent.”

Big Sky Culinary students at Missoula College run coffee shop on campus 

Big Sky Culinary students attending Missoula College can now get hands-on business experience running their own in-house coffee shop. 

As part of their curriculum, students learn mandatory coffee service at Iris Coffee, named after reportedly the world’s oldest osprey, Iris, 24, who made a timely guest appearance during the bistro’s grand opening early in September.

Thanks to the Missoula Osprey Project’s long-term study of osprey and their nests in Hellgate Canyon and Lolo via the extreme popularity of the live-streaming Montana Osprey Cams, “Iris” seems an apt name for the coffee shop since she is the so-crowned matriarch of the Hellgate osprey nest, where she lives with partner Louis beginning each April.

Since opening, the first-floor Iris Coffee has displayed dramatic Louis Matteau osprey photos that are sure to inspire students and faculty as they breeze through to grab a coffee before heading to class.

Big Sky Culinary Institute chef and instructor Katie Webber said the new coffee shop allows students to learn a full-on coffee service curriculum. 

Fisher’s Technology expands to Missoula

Dubbing itself “local technologists with personality,” privately owned Fisher’s Technology, 2825 Stockyard Road, Unit A-19, drew about 50 curious people at its grand opening on Sept. 19.

Missoula may have only two employees so far, but the Boise-based company appears to be spreading throughout a three-state area – in Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Shannon Sanden is the Missoula account manager and Gayland Enockson is the service technician. Both are based in the new Missoula office.

“Fisher’s does copiers and printers and anything office technology-related,” said marketing doordinator Paige Mooney, based in Boise. “He (Enockson) services them at businesses of 10 or more employees. We have contracts with those customers.”

Since it opened on Aug. 1, the local store seems to be thriving.

“Business has been great,” added Mooney. “Our team has been up there, we hit the area hard and we’re excited to grow within the Missoula community.”

Fisher’s Technology provides a slew of services. It manages IT environments, network equipment, computers, mobile devices, phones, applications, plus it sells and services copiers and printers and streamlines business operations.

It has at least 13 other locations in the tri-state area,  including Great Falls, Helena, Butte, Bozeman and Billings.

 “Our team brings a diverse depth of knowledge and downright fun to every business engagement; and we are united by a genuine desire to deliver exceptional experiences to our customers,” reads the Fisher Technology website.

Fisher Technology touts itself as an 11-time Best Places to Work in Idaho award-winner, Fisher has received other accolades as a Top 100 privately owned company in Idaho and a four-time Inc 5000 fastest-growing company in the U.S.

Fisher’s acquired Montana’s Davis Business Machines in 2018 and Washington’s ABC Office Equipment in 2019.