Story & photos by Patrick Alexander
Oregon Coast TODAY
For a couple who opened their business almost by accident, Sherry Wilmsen and Wilda Larsen certainly seem to know what they’re doing.
Operating from a handsomely renovated church in Gleneden Beach, the pair keep customers satisfied with gourmet coffees and baked goods, homemade soups and wines from near and far.
But far from being the culmination of a lifelong dream, the couple’s decision to open The Red Roof came down to a twist of fate.
“The whole point of all this wasn’t ‘we really want to have a bakery, coffee shop and a wine bar,’” Sherry said. “We had no plan to do any of that at all.”
Far from it. Sherry had originally eyed the old church building as an investment property, having seen the “For Sale” sign during a trip back to her old Gleneden Beach stomping grounds, where she worked in several restaurants in the early 1970s.
The building piqued her interest but it was not until three years later, when Sherry saw that it was still on the market, that she finally felt compelled to make an offer.
The couple had just moved from Portland to live full time at their home on the Siletz River, but Wilda had no plans to give up her career as a social worker. At first, the couple thought about renting the space out. Then they discussed the idea of buying coffee shop equipment to lease to a tenant. But eventually, the lure of the building proved irresistible and the two realized that they were going into business themselves.
The couple took on a lot of the renovation work themselves, too, tearing out walls, laying carpet and decorating with Sherry’s own plant-based artwork. On a trip to Newport, the two caught sight of a red roof that inspired their own building’s distinctive crown and the name that followed.
Sherry said the name also fits with the architectural monikers of other Gleneden Beach establishments, the Side Door Café and the Salishack.
“We see a theme going on here,” she said.
Some parts of opening the business came naturally. Wilda, an accomplished home baker, was already accustomed to cooking large batches of cookies and sweet treats for people on her Christmas list. Those same systems helped her adjust to running a commercial kitchen with ease.
Other parts of running a coffee shop were a little harder to master, however.
“We don’t drink coffee,” Wilda said. “We are tea drinkers. It took about eight months just to work out how to use that machine.”
But the effort has paid off, with the couple now serving up expertly crafted mochas, cappuccinos and more, all made using beans from Cafeto coffee roasters in Eugene.
“I think that people come here not just because of the good coffee but also because of the space,” Wilda said, “It’s comfortable and inviting. We try to remember people’s names and call them by name.”
With cell phones banished to the front lobby, guests at The Red Roof are free to lounge in comfortable chairs or take a seat on one of the two patios, and are guaranteed a warm welcome from Wilda at the counter.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching her work with people,” Sherry said. “She’s still a social worker. She’s just adding sweets to the deal.”
Rising in the small hours each morning, Wilda crafts a mouthwatering array of baked goods, with mainstays such as blueberry coffee cake, ginger molasses cookies and chocolate chip cookies joined by rotating specials including cinnamon bread pudding muffins, apple cinnamon bundt cake and whoopee pie.
Savory options include bacon-cheddar and sausage-cheddar scones as well as quiche, pretzels and a variety of homemade breads, including bagels, rolls, pita bread, baguettes and English muffins.
Wilda said she still enjoys baking every day and is happy to see The Red Roof’s resident “scone guy,” Robert Astley flourish in an environment where he is encouraged to experiment.
“As employers, we want it to be like a family,” Wilda said. “We don’t want to be taskmasters, riding our employees.”
Sherry, meanwhile, is responsible for the soups that keep The Red Roof’s guests warm throughout winter and fall, and for the salads that celebrate the bounty of spring and summer.
The wine bar is open from noon each day, serving a range of labels from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, including two wines on tap. Barman Mike Olson is happy to share his extensive wine knowledge and guests can always pick out a bottle to take home.
Sherry said that the first year in business has been almost non-stop but that the rewards are plain to see on the rare occasions that she and Wilda get to slow down.
“Every once in a while,” she said, “I’ll have a glass of wine and just watch what’s going on and I’ll say ‘wow, we did it.’”
The Red Roof is located at 7040 Gleneden Beach Loop, Gleneden Beach, and is open from 8 am to 8 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Call them at 541-614-4528.