Written by Luke Baumgarten for Inland Northwest Bank
Bobby Enslow grew up in the Inland Northwest and has lived here most of his life. He grew up in Spokane, went to North Central High School, and got both a finance degree and an MBA from Washington State University.
It wasn’t until he went to almost the exact other side of the world, though that he began to figure out how he might impact his home town. On a summer pilgrimage that took him to the streets of South Africa, Enslow says he was struck by how that country’s huge income gap created entire populations of people who are ignored or excluded from public life. “So many people there are just invisible,” he says.
He returned to Spokane wanting to somehow help lift up ignored and excluded communities here, and found one in his own back yard. “I started looking at neighborhoods here I had never paid attention to,” Enslow says. Places like Hillyard and East Sprague. It wasn’t until he started thinking about West Central, though, that he really had his breakthrough moment.
“I had gone to North Central,” Enslow says, still gaping. “Half my classmates lived in that neighborhood.” A neighborhood with an incredible place in the history of our town and also some of the most city’s intense poverty, crime and food insecurity. “I realized I had been ignoring my neighbors.”
Enslow fixed that by moving there in 2008, identifying the needs in the neighborhood, and working on a business plan for making an impact. “I knew I wanted a place for the community to gather and feel welcome,” He says. A person of deep faith, Enslow had nevertheless experienced a lot of faith-based community spaces that felt exclusive or exclusionary. That was the opposite of what he wanted. “I just really felt that it needed to be the kind of place that everyone feels welcome because we welcome everybody,” Enslow says, and then pauses. “Then, of course, we wanted to have really, really good coffee.”
Since Indaba opened in West Central in fall of 2009 with “just an espresso machine, a couple of grinders, and like $10,000 in startup capital,” the business has grown steadily, first serving local coffee, and then going to a hip, multi-roaster format. 2014, they began roasting their own beans and 2015 they opened a second location.
As the business has grown, so has the community. “We have customers who drive down from Canada,” he says. They come from inside West Central, they walk up from Kendall Yards and they make weekend pilgrimages from all over Spokane. When Enslow began talking about that second space, all these people wanted it close to them. “They’d say ‘You gotta open up north!’” Enslow says, “like Wandermere.” Others said Coeur d’Alene, Liberty Lake, the South Hill.
In the end, he went with his gut, “I make a lot of decisions emotionally,” He says, “Downtown is the heart of our city. I thought about it so much and I just said, ‘If we can, we have to be downtown.’
The location has been tougher than Enslow expected. The Macy’s across the street just closed. But in that turmoil, he sees an opportunity for something even greater.
“What gets me pumped is seeing things restored, redeemed. Seeing new life, not just with development, but with people’s lives,” That second part is where the right coffee shop in the right location comes in.
“Coffee is relational,” Enslow says, “It’s communal. You see people change, struggle and turn it around.” And when their people change, Enslow believes, cities follow.