The building at the corner of 3rd Avenue North and West Main Street in Isle has been a decades-old fixture of the community. The location, formerly called Popcorn Video, has served as a video rental store, a laundromat, and, more recently, a coffee shop. New owner Deb Schoening, however, has grand plans for expanding that coffee shop. This April, the front half of the location will open under its new name, Tibbett’s Wilderness Cabin Coffee, featuring both on-site roasted coffee and community-building initiatives.
Growing up in Hanover, Minn., Schoening described her family as having a strong sense of leadership, and she graduated from Buffalo Senior High School. Moving to the Milaca area, she would raise her family of three children. Now with families of their own, her children live in the vicinity of Milaca. Schoening has seven grandchildren under the age of six, which she has affectionately nicknamed her “littles.”
As a non-traditional student, she attended the University of Superior and graduated seven years ago with a Bachelor of Science degree geared towards enterprise management. This degree was focused on sustainable management, operational management and triple-bottom accounting. She has also been self-employed for over 40 years, doing a wide variety of work. She has worked in real estate, as the master captain on a 100-foot yacht, and as a meteorologist intern at Channel Six News under David Anderson. Anderson, she added, was her flotilla commander in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She also has 30 years of project management experience.
VINELAND BAY TIES
For most of her childhood and young adult life, Schoening’s grandparents owned a cabin on Vineland Bay, and she recalled learning to love fishing with them out on the lake. “Water is definitely a part of my life,” she noted, “as well as growing up in the local area.” In the ’70s, her father had also purchased a small deer camp along Tibbett’s Brook, between Onamia and Milaca. Schoening’s family took to calling the property “Tibbett’s Wilderness,” and they grew to love visiting it, and the family moved to the property in 1993. Her father, Art Schoening, had done work as a real estate investor and was able to acquire several farms connected to the cabin site.
Schoening now lives at the family deer camp, describing her lifestyle as “off the grid,” with no electricity or running water beside the brook. The property does have solar panels, battery power, a gas generator, a hot shower and a sauna. “I live simply, beautifully, and in line with the environment,” she said. She added that she likes to “doll up like any other girl,” but also needs to put up 10 cords of wood every winter to keep warm.
She has also developed her own hydrokinetic power station, which netted her honors with the international hybrid conference held in Spain in 2019. Once fully implemented, this station will be the first microgrid power system operating in the Midwest.
Reflecting at what brought her to the Isle coffee shop’s location, Schoening said she had previously been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune blood disease that, untreated, has a prognosis of three to five years. Schoening has pursued treatment, and noted that the disease can be put into remission. Faced with the illness and chemotherapy, Schoening said she’s had to make drastic life choices, including moving to be closer to her grandchildren. She says she’s determined to make a legacy for her family. Part of that legacy will be expanding the Tibbett’s Wilderness name beyond her homestead to the new Isle coffee shop location. “I have many grand ideas,” she said. “I may be a dreamer, but I plan on using all of my life experience to do good and make my littles proud of me.”
Schoening began roasting her coffee beans during her time as a non-traditional student at University of Wisconsin-Superior. “At 48 years of age,” she said, “staying awake was unheard of.” Coffee became a means for her to stay awake through her late-night studies while living at the dorms, and she described herself becoming like a den mother for the other residents. While taking an Econ class at college, she met a young man from Columbia, studying abroad to make a difference for his family. This young man taught her both about sustainable farming and roasting her own coffee. “It sure helped with the staying awake part,” she added, “and he forever changed my life.”
This was only the beginning of Scoening’s coffee roasting. Living off the grid, she often uses a cast-iron pan to roast her beans, which she says gives her beans outstanding flavor. Through her work at Tibbett’s Wilderness Cabin Coffee in Isle, she hopes she can take the coffee available to a new level. Tibbett’s Wilderness Cabin Coffee will still offer many of the same beverages, including espresso drinks, smoothies, Italian sodas, and shaved ices, but with an added barista flare.
For the location, she has ordered a new roaster from Post Falls, Idaho, and she will be using it to roast her coffee on-site with the goal of providing the freshest cup of coffee possible for all who stop in. The beans will be imported from rainforest alliance farms through fair trade, and she will preferably aim to keep this trade with small, organic family farms. Schoening’s five-year plan includes taking her grandchildren down to Costa Rica to harvest beans. She wishes to teach them about free enterprise, international farming, and to not be afraid of what the world has to offer, but to grasp every adventure that presents itself.
Tibbett’s Wilderness Cabin Coffee will aim to sell its own whole bean coffee, and Schoening has been working on contracts with organizations outside the city limits of Isle. Her aim is to bring a small town product to bigger cities. Through offering a quality product and expanding the brand, she said, Tibbett’s Wilderness Cabin Coffee will operate at a whole new level.
The shop will include a small cabin-inspired boutique, offering local artisan wares and artwork. She will also be adding both a piano to incorporate music and a courtyard out front to encourage passersby to stop in. She recalled her youth at the Tibbett’s Wilderness deer camp, which she said had always been a place to gather around the campfire and play music. Her mother was a 12-time All State Fiddle champion, and the family would jam with other local musicians. Schoening has been in contact with some of these performers, and she plans for the shop to host monthly, if not weekly, jam sessions.
Schoening is also in the process of developing five signature danish products with Isle Bakery, of which she teased the blueberry-filled lumberjack braid. This collaboration is part of Schoening’s desire to network with local leadership and promote servant leadership in the community.
And building community is at the heart of what Schoening hopes to bring to Isle with Tibbett’s Wilderness Cabin Coffee. As a faith-based person, she believes community revival will happen one person at a time. “We need to step out in faith,” she added, “and believe together we can make a difference.” And she added that she’s on fire to make a difference and will use all the power at her disposal to make connections in Isle. While the definition of ‘isle” is “a island or peninsula, especially a small one,” she noted, she also thinks the City of Isle can have a big impact.