Matt Vassar with Rhythm & Brews
Matt Vassar with Rhythm & Brews

A former cafe in downtown Waupaca is now a coffeehouse.

Rhythm & Brews combines music and coffee, and it opened at 107 W. Fulton St. on Nov. 19.

"I really like good coffee, and I really like ambiance," said Matt Vassar. "The vision kept growing and growing."

His initial plan was to open a music store.

That was after Chain O’ Lakes Guitar closed on South Main Street last spring.

Vassar, who has played guitar for 25 years, knows a number of musicians and believed Waupaca should be able to sustain a music store.

Vassar and Dan Wachsmuth, his business partner, bought the inventory from Chain O’ Lakes Guitar.

There was not yet a location for the new music store.

Adventure Outfitters was moving into the space that had been occupied by Chain O’ Lakes Guitar.

Soon, Vassar had an idea of where the new store could be located.

"I was driving by," he said of the West Fulton Street building. "I saw this building was for sale."

Vassar said to Wachsmuth," We should find out who owns that building. We should put the music store in there."

It turned out Wachsmuth had just bought the building, and someone planned to buy it from him.

The closing, set to take place in a week, fell through.

"So, I decided to buy half the building," Vassar said. "I started renovating it. Dan did the electrical and plumbing, and I did all the rest."

Vassar has years of carpentry experience and transformed the space into Rhythm & Brews over the course of four months.

The idea to add coffee to the mix came about before the renovation even began.

Vassar and his wife, Danielle, thought about how when they went out to dinner, they often wanted to go somewhere afterwards.

As the parents of five children, who range in age from 7 to 20, they also thought about how there are not many places youth may also go to.

"So, instead of just a music store, it became a coffeehouse and music store," he said.

Vassar wants Rhythm & Brews to be a place for people of all ages.

"It’s amazing the number of high school kids hanging out here," he said.

During the renovation, Vassar found there was no insulation in the building’s walls or ceilings.

"This building has so much history," he said. "It’s an addition to the oldest building in Waupaca."

The building’s history became quite apparent to him.

"I ripped off seven layers on the walls – plaster, paneling, drywall, you name it," he said. "There were two suspended ceilings."

Vassar wanted an industrial look and also a "warm, take your shoes off, curl up in a blanket kind of place."

He and Danielle have always been resourceful.

They covered tables with burlap, turned lamps into hanging lights, used craft paper on the stage and bathroom floors and found the chandeliers on Craig’s List.

The player piano dates back to 1918.

A friend found it at a rummage sale and gave it to them. It has been tuned up.

Among the instruments for sale there are guitars and drums. "We will be getting in some keyboards," he said.

Rhythm & Brews will also be getting more used instruments.

Vassar wants to cater to the community. Instrument repairs are offered, as well as reeds for woodwind instruments and strings for guitars and violins.

There are two practice rooms for lessons.

"I personally give guitar – acoustic, electric and bass – and also ukulele (lessons)," he said. "Also, a good friend of mine, who has a Master’s in music, is giving mandolin, vocal and brass and woodwind (lessons)."

Call Rhythm & Brews at 715-942-2888 for information.

After the holidays, plans call for live music to be added with an open mike night during the week and music on Saturday evenings.

"I know a lot of musicians around here who are not in a band with no opportunity to play, other than a bar," Vassar said. "I really want to highlight musicians but also have people still able to carry on a conversation."

On the coffee side, Vassar went through 12 different roasters and five different bakers before making decisions for that part of the business.

"Ultimately, the main factor was I wanted the best coffee, the best bakery and the best ambiance," he said.

He chose the Fair Trade, organic coffee of Farmer Bros.

There is a full coffee menu, and among the options is the "pour over," which is the rave in Chicago and Portland, he said.

"The pour over is exactly how they did it in the 1700s. It’s a longer process, about 3 1/2 minutes per coffee. It’s really simple but really good, very smooth," Vassar said.

There is also looseleaf tea and the treats of Amanda Cupcake.

Victoria Vaughn, of Baking for Friends, supplies the rest of the bakery, which includes scones, cookies, muffins, handsize and full pies and biscotti.

Homemade soups and bagels made by Jeff Hayes, of Waupaca, are being added to the menu, as well as wraps made by Vaughn.

Rhythm & Brews is closed on Monday. It is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday, it opens at 4 p.m., with Faith Community Church hosting a worship and Bible study in the evening.

The worship service begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the community.

"Every week, I see new people coming in," said Vassar, who was once the church’s worship arts director.

He is happy to be part of the business community.

"It’s just really neat how the other merchants, the other businesses are supportive of each other. It’s just a neat downtown," Vassar said. "It’s been such a blessing."