A Wifi Refugee, a coffee and some cows

This lone writer finds connectivity in a café steeped in family history.

It’s a snowy day at 8,000 feet above sea level in Colorado, which -- while picturesque -- is bad for working. Internet access in the hinterlands of northwestern Colorado is iffy at best, totally unavailable at worst. While these mountains are known for picturesque hikes, beautiful snowy winters and wicked wildfires, they are also known for a particular brand of craptastic internet.

Today I have no internet, but as fate would have it, I do have many Zooms, a handful of Teams and a series of stories to file. So, I load up my backpack, brush my ratty pandemic hair (for the first time in a week) and head down the hill to my favorite spot for Internet squatting: the Howling Cow Café. It’s an iconic coffee spot and destination for bikers, runners, hipsters, students and internet-less writers. It’s got one of those distinctly Colorado vibes to it: local products, excellent coffee, Dave Matthews strumming in the background, CBD-infused bubbly water, an epic view of dairy cows framed against a backdrop of mountains, and a lightning-fast barista.

The Howling Cow is part of one of the oldest agricultural family businesses in Colorado -- Graves Dairy, a multigenerational family dairy farm founded in 1894 right here in the raging metropolis of Bellvue, Colo. They make Morning Fresh dairy products. If you live here, you know the Morning Fresh brand. More important, if you live here you know the Graves family. They are the heartbeat of the community: employing 100 people; growing their own feed and giving back to the community.

I’m lucky today because Lori Graves, owner and founder of the Howling Cow and a fifth-generation Graves, is here. And so is her grandson, a seventh-generation Graves. He’s 2, and he likes giraffes and tractors, but all indications are that he will make an excellent CEO one day.

At the Cow, like so many restaurants and cafés these days, things are pretty quiet. I asked Graves how things were faring during the pandemic. “Well, when it all started, we held on to our cowboy hats and prepared for the worst,” she explained.

The café does a steady takeout business and continues to serve regular customers who drop in. Morning Fresh Dairy, however, has grown an eye-popping 25% during the pandemic because it is a designated essential service. “Our home delivery business is soaring,” Lori says.

For me on this day, internet is an essential service. I’m pretty lucky to sit here in this family-owned business, look out at the dairy cows and share a moment with Lori. In my view, this family business is more than a dairy farm and a coffee shop – it’s a trusted friend.

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