Rhiana Sanford

Barista Rhiana Sanford prepares a menu item for order from behind the counter at Pilothouse Coffee on March 24. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Pilothouse Coffee opened late last year in Tongass Federal Credit Union's "The Commons" with the goal of providing a comfortable space for locals to gather and work on business.

"The Commons" offers up optional office spaces for rent by the hour, day or week, and with Pilothouse Coffee, also provides a coffee shop atmosphere for business meetings or casual gatherings. Pilothouse Coffee also is home to the office space of the Grow Ketchikan organization, and provides a space for the blossoming Ketchikan Wellness Coalition Community Garden.

TFCU's Helen Mickel told the Daily News during a recent tour that the concept began taking shape in 2019.

"What happened was back in 2019 at the (TFCU) board strategic planning meeting, I floated the idea of using the space ... to do a business development and education center," Mickel remembered. "And I kind of had some idea of what I wanted to do in here, and I really wanted to have a coffee shop to kind of anchor the place, and make it a comfortable, inviting area to come in."

And in late summer 2020, Mickel connected with Jeremy Yoder, who has owned the Alaska Crepe Co. since 2019. Yoder and Mickel both have daughters who work together and helped facilitate the partnership.

"When I told (Yoder) about the space, he's like, 'I've been thinking we need something like that in town," said Mickel.

Yoder also spoke to the Daily News about Pilothouse Coffee.

"I wished a place like this existed since I moved here," Yoder commented. "It's just nice to have a place that you feel comfortable sitting down and having a cup of coffee and free WiFi."

Yoder described the purpose of Pilothouse as being "that third space" for locals.

"You have home, you have work and it's a place that you can get together with people to meet or just to get some work done or just have a change of scenery," Yoder said. "And it's nice to have that."

By time that Yoder and Mickel connected in late summer, Mickel already had coordinated with Welsh Whiteley Architects to design the office spaces that can be rented for use by individuals or groups of people.

Pilothouse Coffee originally had an opening date set in October, but COVID-19 — which Mickel described as the project's greatest challenge — pushed it back, leading to a December opening.

"We never really did a grand opening because we didn't want to pack a bunch of people in here," Yoder noted.

Yoder also said that learning how to safely operate a communal space during the pandemic was a challenge.

"None of the usual rules of thumb apply," he said. "There's all kinds of guides that you can look at for, 'OK, here's what your numbers should look like, here's how you do a grand opening,' ... (we) had to learn a lot of things on the fly."

Yoder and Mickel said that the community has been supportive in the months that have passed since the opening.

"It's been really great, actually," Yoder said. "(We've) had a lot of just neat things happen here already. Local groups are kind of using it as a sit down place to meet, to talk, to have coffee, to get free WiFi, but then also to be that space to get together."

Mickel noted that the space already has been used by economic development groups, by people applying for jobs, or those who are starting up small business projects.

Yoder also described the community response as "appreciative."

"Locals here are very appreciiative when you offer something that maybe wasn't already available here in Ketchikan," Yoder said.

He also said that Ketchikan's attitude toward new businesses is "what gets me out of bed in the morning."

Pilothouse Coffee's tagline is "Refuge from the Rain" — something which Mickel said translated well to how the business is perceived.

"It's like, this is a comfortable, nice place to go where you can get some really great coffee and get some work done," she said.

Yoder said that Pilothouse also aims to satisfy its seven employees.

"From my perspective, it's also delivering a great experience for customers, but also treating our employees right," Yoder said. "Just making it an amazing place to work where employees stick around more and they provide a better experience."