Banks, Business, COMMUNITY

Banks’ Coffee Country gets new owner, stays in family

With the snip of an oversized pair of scissors, Matt Smith marked his place as the new owner of the long-running Coffee Country coffee stand in Banks, a small business owned and operated by the same family for 28 years. 

Smith said his grandparents originally started the business—his grandmother, Alice Ralph, was present at the ribbon cutting ceremony March 17—and it’s remained in the family since. Now, it’s his turn. 

Smith said he plans to add premium bagel sandwiches and other items from My Favorite Muffin to the stand’s current espresso, coffee, and other beverage and food offerings.

Sitting currently at the back of the Oak Village Shopping Center anchored by Jim’s Market, the stand was launched by Alice Ralph—at the time, Alice Fields—and her then-husband Art Fields in 1994.

An old newspaper clipping showing the original story of when Coffee Country launched in 1994

With a clipping of a story about their opening from the March 9, 1994 edition of the Vernonia-based, now-shuttered The Independent in hand, Ralph told the tale of how the little espresso stand launched. 

The idea to open the stand was first pitched by her children. 

“We were looking for something to do at that point, so, we did!” Ralph said. 

Ralph’s daughter, a nurse, helped organize a taste-test to select a coffee provider, taking coffee samples to coworkers to taste the product. 

“It was just so funny, because they were the ones that picked Longbottom,” Ralph said. The stand still uses Longbottom coffee to this day. 

“It’s quite a process to open an espresso stand, but I am so thrilled that it has been passed down through the family for all this time,” Ralph said. She made sure to thank her family members who helped her over the years, including Pauline Smith, her daughter, who was the first to take over the stand. From there it passed to Ralph’s grandchildren—all siblings—one-by-one, as each took turns helming the business, starting with Will J Smith, then Nicki Hanchett, and now Matt Smith. 

“They all had a hand in it,” she said, praising her children and grandchildren and their family members for all putting work over the years into the stand. 

Her son-in-law, who she said goes by the moniker Big Willy, at one point was doing a remodel of the coffee stand when his son Matt Smith was around three years old, Ralph recounts. 

With old linoleum ripped out and needing to be moved, the younger Smith picked it up and carried it out. 

“He just worked his little heart out,” Ralph said. “And now he’s running it.”

Matt Smith, moments before cutting the ribbon at Coffee Country on March 17, 2022. Photo: Chas Hundley

On hand for the ceremony was Susie Jurgensen, president of the Banks Chamber of Commerce, who provided the scissors for the ceremony, and a small crowd of supporters and family members. 

More information for Country Coffee can be found on the drive-thru’s Facebook page.

Matt Smith’s family and supporters shortly after cutting the ribbon at Coffee County March 17, 2022. Photo: Chas Hundley

Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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