Foothills Cafe Finds

Common Grounds

Richard the Mule serves up cold brew coffee and good memories on Boise’s famous foothills trails.

The hike began as expected. A scenic, single-track trail. Smiles from a few passing hikers.

Just another day in the Boise foothills.

But rounding the curve, it’s clear it’s not. First a small, small crowd comes into sight. Then half a dozen bikes laid down just off the trail ahead. A few more steps and there they are: Richard the mule and his co-worker Matty, founder of Cafe Mulé, the world’s one and only — as far as anyone can tell — mule-powered coffee service.

“This works in Boise because of it’s proximity to the outdoors and this amazing Ridge to Rivers trail system,” Matty says, referring to Boise’s network of nearly 200 miles of hiking, jogging and mountain biking trails that run through town and up into the surrounding mountains. “When you’re in Downtown Boise you’re always only five minutes to a trailhead. There’s nowhere else like it.”

Matty should know. A former Marine Corps officer and Army Special Forces soldier, he traveled the world before earning an MBA from Georgetown and settling into civilian life as a management consultant.

But when his wife, also a former Marine officer, decided to pursue an education to become a physician’s assistant, the couple decided to look to make their home out West.

“We checked out Seattle, Portland and Bend, and I had already checked out Denver,” he says. “None of the places we looked at stacked up to Boise.”

While his wife was busy with school, Matty kept busy hiking in the foothills with his young kids.

That’s when inspiration struck.

“I had this idea to serve coffee in the foothills and thought a mule would be a memorable, engaging way to serve it,” Matty says.

So Matty reached out to a friend who had some experience with mules and went mule shopping.

Matty, Meet Richard

The first time Matty saw Richard he was thin, but still strong… and bossy.

“He was super pushy with me,” Matty remembers. “But he was good around dogs, and I knew I was selecting a mule that needed a good temperament to be around dogs and bikes.”

The first few weeks were touch and go as Richard and his human Matty determined how they fit in each other’s lives. Richard, who had spent much of his life as part of a sheepherding operation, regularly tested Matty’s resolve. But Matty, having been educated on the ways of mules by his more experienced friend, learned to hold his ground.

“Mules don’t just do what you tell them,” Matty says. “Mules are going to think about what you’re asking them to do. They understand their size advantage and aren’t afraid to use it. They’re like a kid, if you let them get away with anything they’ll just keep pushing it.”

Matty worked with Richard several hours a day almost seven days a week. It was time that allowed them them build a rapport so when the time came for Matty to load up Richard for his first fully-loaded trek, he was comfortable and ready to go to work hauling a mobile coffee shop.

Cold Brew and Great Views

Cafe Mulé serves about 10 times a year, May through October. While Richard and Matty have their favorite locations, they rotate through them, announcing the next service — complete with a map — via social media a couple weeks before.

“The community that has developed has really surprised me,” Matty says. “We have our regulars, mostly trail runners and bikers, but also a few families who bring their kids up to enjoy coffee and feed Richard some carrots.”

The atmosphere is unlike anything else. It’s like a coffee cocktail party. A mix of Richard-seekers and chance passersby who stop to visit with Richard, Matty and each other.

“We’ve had people from Texas, Chicago and one young woman from Washington State who came here to see Richard,” Matty says, noting that Richard is not a mascot. He’s there to work. It’s what makes him happy.

“There are few places I can imagine this working and remaining true to the character and heritage of pack mules,” Matty says. “But here it provides a unique experience that reflects the area’s history and natural environment.”

“Who doesn’t love a delicious cup of cold brew and great scenery?” Matty asks, very aware of the answer: basically everyone. “It’s really unique.”

Three Things to Know

  1. Cafe Mulé turns Idaho-roasted, small batch coffees into delicious cold brews.
  2. Get Cafe Mulé FREE on select days in the Boise Foothills and for purchase at local retailers and online.
  3. Sign-up for updates — including foothills service schedule — at www.cafemule.com

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