New Stoughton coffee shop is like a ‘love letter to Wisconsin’

Seattle transplants lovingly open Wildwood Cafe

Like a meandering trail through the woods, Stephanie and Ryan Baughn’s path to opening their own cafe in Stoughton took many twists and turns. When Wildwood Cafe opened in mid-May, Stephanie says she was finally able to revel in the “beauty of a longtime dream coming true.” Some might think it was a quick turnaround from finding the space — a former hair salon — in downtown Stoughton last summer, leasing it in October and transforming it into a coffee shop in time to open its doors for Stoughton’s Syttende Mai Festival. But the real story, as Stephanie tells it, begins in 1996 at a four-way stop in Wells, Nevada, where Stephanie’s car caught on fire.

At the age of 18, Stephanie packed up her car and left her Virginia home to drive across the country. When her car caught on fire, Stephanie received help from the Wells community, including a free flight on a casino airline to Portland. From Portland, Stephanie took a Greyhound bus to Seattle, where she met Ryan, a manager at Starbucks. Within six months, they were married.

New Stoughton coffee shop is like a ‘love letter to Wisconsin’

Stephanie says “cafe culture did not exist on the east coast” where she grew up but when she arrived in Seattle, she discovered a thriving coffee scene. Ryan enjoyed working at Starbucks but was ready to move on. It wasn’t long before the couple started talking about opening up their own place, but they knew it wasn’t going to be in Seattle where they were growing weary of traffic and the cost of living.

When a friend took a job in Dodgeville, Stephanie and Ryan visited and became enchanted by Wisconsin. “The real truth is we fell in love with the geography,” Stephanie says. “The rock outcroppings and rolling hills reminded us of a place we visited in Scotland.” Originally setting their sights on Mineral Point, Stephanie and Ryan moved to Madison in 2005 before they landed in Stoughton in 2006, where they have been raising their family of four boys ever since. “If only there were a cafe,” Stephanie recalls thinking at one point, but the idea of opening their own still seemed out of reach. “It just goes to show how quickly things can change,” Stephanie says. “Something seems impossible, and then things shift.” For the Baughns, that shift was coming upon the vacant space on South Forrest Street last summer.

Wildwood Cafe is humming with activity on a Friday morning in June. A group of new moms sit in one corner while a table of friends erupts in laughter at a different spot in the room. All of Stephanie and Ryan’s boys, 16-year-old Sam, 13-year-old Oliver, 11-year-old Felix and 9-year-old Jasper, are helping out today. Oliver, who has been baking since he was a toddler, makes the cafe’s pop tarts and Felix makes the cookies. Everyone takes turns working behind the counter.

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Stephanie, who designed the cafe’s seating areas and bathroom, says she was sold on the space’s natural light. “Even on a gray January day you can read without the lights on,” she says. Plants fill the room’s nooks and crannies, taking advantage of the bright room. Ryan, whose full-time gig is selling and maintaining coffee equipment, finally got to design and install his own coffee bar. “It’s a small space, so I wanted an efficient area. You have to think about flow,” Ryan says. Ryan customized a Marzocco espresso machine for the cafe, including commissioning an artist to create a ceramic scene of the phases of the moon for the machine’s front side. “I’ve had the bones of this machine for a long time,” Ryan says. “It’s a ’94 which is the same year I graduated from high school.” Ryan says they rely heavily on three Wisconsin companies for their coffee: Ruby, Kickapoo and JBC coffee roasters. “They are all top roasters in their field,” Ryan says.

New Stoughton coffee shop is like a ‘love letter to Wisconsin’

In addition to coffee and sweets, Wildwood Cafe serves waffles and biscuits for breakfast and a pimento cheese sandwich for lunch, an homage to Stephanie’s southern roots. For now, the cafe is open Friday through Sunday, but check the cafe’s instagram page for updates. On Saturday mornings the Stoughton farmers’ market takes place right outside the cafe’s front door. Stephanie and Ryan are excited to be part of what they say is a transitional time for Stoughton in becoming a more vibrant community. “We needed a place to drink coffee, read and play backgammon,” Stephanie says. “This place is really our love letter to Wisconsin and to Stoughton.”