This time last year, the owners of Fiddle’s Coffee House in Wapato were admittedly a little spooked by the uncertain future brought on by COVID-19.
Fidel Negrete and Efren Martinez had just opened the shop off West First Street and U.S. Highway 97 in November 2019 and they didn’t know how their business was going to survive the statewide shutdown.
The two young entrepreneurs/life partners decided to lay off their entire staff indefinitely and work with Martinez’s family to keep the doors open. They put in a temporary drive-thru window last April and started to embrace the pickup and takeout model.
As the year went along, they also remodeled the bathrooms, installed new flooring, patched up the parking lot and applied stucco siding to the storefront at 721 S. First St. — formerly known as Pinnochio’s market in the early 2000s before going vacant for more than a decade.
“We’ve already remodeled twice and we’ve only been in business for a year and a half,” said Negrete, 28. “But luckily for us, Efren’s family has a construction company and they have helped us a lot.”
Negrete and Martinez (who is 31) are now working on phase three of their remodeling project, adding a permanent drive-thru lane that should be open by mid-May. Sometime this summer or early fall, Fiddle’s will resume indoor service and seating. But for now, the owners are making the most of the temporary drive-thru window and spacious parking lot.
“We didn’t open this place to be a drive-thru, but our number-one focus is our customers, and they have really responded to our new setup,” Negrete said. “Our main goal is to offer a homey coffee-shop vibe where people can come and feel safe. We’re really looking forward to bringing that back, but our current system has also been working well.”
Negrete added that the initial response to Fiddle’s in the Wapato community was mixed, as many people took time to grow accustomed to a big-city coffee shop in their small town. Martinez had worked as a barista in Seattle for years and had been looking to return to the Valley and start his own business.
After searching for a location in Yakima for months, the couple discussed the possibility of opening up something in Martinez’s hometown of Wapato. Once they cleaned up the property, they knew it was going to catch on quickly.
“We knew we had a great business plan; we just needed someone to believe in us,” Negrete said. “We also have great coffee, great food and great ideas, and now we have the perfect location. We saw the potential in it and started building for the long-term.”
Despite all of the struggles in 2020, failure was not an option. Martinez’s family — especially his parents, Angelina and Efren Sr., and his aunt, Nena Andrade — helped ensure that Fiddle’s could weather the tribulations of the past year.
“We decided that we were going to put everything we had into this — and make sure it happens,” Negrete said. “We worked so hard on the building at first that we weren’t willing to give up. Now, the place is becoming what we both envisioned.”
Most of their staff has returned and they are taking an active role in redecorating the customer area. Meanwhile, some staff members are creating artwork that will hang on the walls. There will even be a chalk wall featuring the work of local artists, such as Haley Strom.
Also on the horizon is an updated website at fiddlescoffee.com and a new smartphone ordering app.
“We’re basically just reopening in a brand-new style,” Negrete said. “Our customers will definitely notice.”