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Ben Ashby

Celeste Shaw owns the most charming cafe in Spokane, Washington. Chaps is a place unlike any other. Truly a place you want to return to again and again. Recently we sat down with her to learn a bit more about her and a bit more about the inspiration behind Chaps.

Heath: Did you grow up in Spokane?

Celeste: I was born and raised in a Montana two dot town, where the west has an enduring impression on the people who have lived there or been raised in its possession. It’s a place where the prairie meets the mountains, the mountains meet the sky and the sky goes on forever, it’s the home of our legends, our heroes, and outlaws. It’s our romanticized past and present. 

Heath: Was Chaps something you dreamt of creating as a kid?

Celeste: Not really dreamt of, I think I was born to serve; indeed my childhood on a farm nurtured this.  

Heath: Who taught you to cook, and when/how did they teach you?

Celeste: My earliest memory of life with my grandmother Selma, a Montana homesteader, was waking to the mouth-watering aromas of baked bread and fried summer sausage.  Simultaneously, those smells embraced the delicious aroma of a freshly boiled cowboy coffee. Slabs of smoke-cured ham steak toyed with my tiny nostrils like a siren song.  I would lie beneath fresh clothesline dried sheets and dissect the air for scents that could only come from the magic of her primitive kitchen.  Chokecherry preserves, creamy thick gravy, mounds of fried potatoes seasoned just so with a crunchy outer crust, oatmeal to ‘die for’, uh huh-comfort food.  So as a tribute to my sweet Selma, Chaps was built and created in a 1912 original farmhouse. 

Everybody has his or her own idea of what constitutes a comfort food.  More often than not, foods described as such are conjured from memories of past times and places that were safe and inviting, warm and friendly, loving and nurturing.  It isn’t comfort food unless it offers you contentment thinking about it, as well as of the person who made it for you. The food is straight forward, and unpretentious.

Real comfort food embraces all of our senses. The enchantment of preparing food, which brings solace, is mysterious. We are all vulnerable to the sweeping affection we have within our memories of a personal story or experience told through delicious recipes and charming reflections of eating and sharing.  It teases our noses and seduces our eyes.  Taste buds are in suspense, which in turn triggers emotions and memories. I love to listen to the sizzle of my favorite dishes in a griddle or the crunch of that first anticipated bite.  Comfort food has the power to commence imagination and to transcend us through time. 

But the real truth is that by the end of my very first day I knew, sitcom moments notwithstanding that creating Chaps would become a love story and it has. I love it.

Heath: Is there a particular type of food you like to cook?

Celeste: As above comfort food

Heath: How did you decide to create the theme of Chaps?

Celeste: My Mother and My two adorable Norwegian Grandparents Hans and Selma Tveten raised me on a farm in Montana. My Grandparents were homesteaders staking claim in the early 1900’s for a section of land in Northeastern Montana. Selma a child really was quite tenacious to bear the true hardship evoked on early homesteaders. She was a quintessential mother and farmers wife. After her death I needed to return home to Montana to a now abandoned farm to acquire some of the items I wanted to save before things were destroyed by nature or looters. It was remarkably difficult to go; painful really, I couldn’t do it. It was all I knew of life, where I learned to feel safe, to know faith, to know the earth, it felt poignant. I struggled with the ability to say goodbye to those memories and the 100-year-old house that would soon be swallowed by the earth. 

A friend presented me with the gift of a pair of perfect red ruby slippers made exclusively for my feet. “Go home Celeste” she said. I drove the 28 hours from Washington to “Home”. 

It was then while stuffing my car with everything I could hold, I found a letter. The letter was written to my grandfather from his mother in Norway. He longed to leave home to be a real cowboy, to have his own land, to raise his own family, his own crops, and his own life. His Mother knowing she would never see her son again said no.

Relentless, he earnestly pleaded. I often wonder what she must have felt as she sat writing him the love letter of her life, saying goodbye, and sending him with a pair of Chaps, her blessing, and giving him freedom. 

Chaps was created as my tribute to Montana Life, food and faith.

Heath: Chaps has been included in many Food Network “best of’s”, how did you come up with those recipes, and why do you think people are so enamored with the cafe and food?

Celeste: Many of the recipes are reminiscent of the food I had prepared for me as a child by my grandmother Selma. It’s always amazing to me that it’s a common day for chaps to have 75 people waiting in line to eat. I cant quite put my finger on what creates this almost magical environment. Food? Maybe it’s really good. Ambiance?  The 1912 farmhouse turned dining and bakery is wonderful and engaging. But there is something so sweet about the authentic embracing of knowing everyone’s names, sharing in their lives, seeing people come together in one place and visit as neighbor, laugh, kids running everywhere. It’s this that feeds their soul not just their bellies. 

Heath: What are your hobbies outside of Chaps?

Celeste: Freelance writing, international medicine, love to junk. My favorite hobby is to be home on my own farm.

Heath: Do you still practice nursing?

Celeste: Yes, but at a minimum. I will travel to Rwanda in October to perform Open Heart Surgery on children and young adults. 

Heath: Ben tells me you are planning to work in (Africa/South America?) soon to help the communities and people there through healthcare, how did you decide to do that? Is it something you have done before? 

Celeste: I have been working with in the international medical community for 22 + years. I have now traveled to Mexico, South America, Philippines, Africa, Romania, and many locations in the world.