Since his arrival last May, David Thomas has jumped into Gustavus community life with both feet, introducing his own roasted coffee brand, Sentinel Coffee, and initiating a number of new activities here. He has taken over the editorship of the Strawberry Point Pioneer, our local newspaper, started a “slow food” recurring event, and begun a monthly foreign film showing. What a great addition to the town! His energy and ideas add new enjoyment to our lives. Read on to learn of the niche he is building for himself here.
David moved here because his wife, Louise (known as Lou,) a marine biologist, got a job at Glacier Bay Park. A Juneau woman, she was hired as a whale ecologist, arriving here in November of 2015. As David was working for the legislative session, he waited until it was over to move. The couple found a cabin to rent from Karen and Larry Platt near the Good River, through the recommendation of a friend.
Actually, David had been here before. Gustavus was the first place in Alaska he visited. After completing a job in 2001, he returned to his birthplace, Massachusetts, and got a job as a bar manager. However, he decided he wanted to travel again. He looked for work on CoolWorks.com, and found a job working as a server at the Bear Track Inn for the summer of 2001.
After leaving Gustavus behind, David started a small coffee shop in Woodstock, Vermont, traveled the country in an RV and finally wound up on the Oregon coast, where he set up another coffee shop. The Oregon coast taught David surf kayaking, hitchhiking, and pastry-making. It is also where he met his future wife, Lou. David’s Ye Olde Green Salmon Coffee is still open to this day, owned and operated by David’s original business partner. A well-known eccentric hippy joint, David always insisted of the Green Salmon, “We are not hippies!”
In the summer of 2010, he went with Lou to the Pribilof Islands, where she had a job as a biological technician. That summer he worked as a volunteer. David and Lou were married on October 3, 2010, and went to New Zealand for the winter. In the summer of 2011 they started doing the fur seal count together as part of a “mark and recapture” study with NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) in the Pribilofs.
David has an established coffee business in Juneau. This business is not his first experience with roasting coffee. His operation is small. He services 6 cafes in Juneau, and caters to individual customers on a subscription service. At present, he returns to Juneau every Monday on the ferry and comes home again on Wednesday. On his ferry-rides, he does bookkeeping and paperwork. In Juneau, he does his deliveries with a helper, as there are lots of stops. They deliver to homes, offices, the six cafes, and Bartlett Regional Hospital. Besides coffee, David carries 20 different types of tea and a chocolate sauce to die for.
To Stephanie Shor’s satisfaction, David took over the newspaper, the Strawberry Point Pioneer, in November of 2016. His goal is to make the paper free. In order to do so, he needs more advertisers and sponsors. Right now it costs him $2.46 to print each copy, and at a customer cost of $2.00 to put the paper out, he loses money even if every copy is sold. If he can cover printing costs with advertising consistently, he will make the paper free.
David got his publishing experience just out of high school. He got involved in something called “zines” — these were self-published, small, not mass-produced booklets, requiring a small printer. They used to be printed in small batches in bookstores, and included short stories, poetry, and essays. Those types of magazines tended to be politically charged, though David was often more philosophical in his writing. He found the experience to be helpful when he started doing the newspaper.
David has started a special food event here. “Slow Food” was a movement which began in Italy about 15 years ago, as a protest against a McDonald’s moving to the Spanish Steps in Rome. Started by one man in Italy, it soon became international. It initially focused on traditional foods and methods, hence “slow.” The movement had a credo: To advocate for diversity in ecosystems and society; protect natural resources for future generations; help people and the environment to depend on each other; promote food that is locally, seasonally, and sustainably grown. As David really likes cultural foods of all different types, these dinners offer him a chance to show his skills. He likes recreating traditional recipes, and seeing how the way we prepare food has developed over time.
Gustavus “slow food” nights will be announced on Gustavus Buy/Sell/Trade, so watch for these announcements, bring your dish, and attend! You will enjoy an excellent meal.
For our added community enjoyment, David is now showing foreign films once a month. Watch the paper for the schedule. David says he owned a café in Oregon where he did a film series. He says choosing is hard with subtitles. He likes to have seen the movie so he knows it is a good one, that does not include any offensive material.
David has been asked to join the Gustavus Community Center board, so he will have yet another place to utilize his talents.
In his spare time, David’s main focus is kayaking. In Gustavus he has the opportunity to participate in this hobby quite regularly. Actually, he met Lou while living and kayaking in Newport, Oregon, so it is an activity they enjoy together.
Now that you have learned of David’s activities since he has moved to Gustavus, go on to read “the rest of the story.” You’ll read something of David’s many travels since he left his family home in Massachusetts, more about how he met his wife, Lou, an interesting look at the Pribilof Islands, and background on how his present business developed. I believe that you will agree that he is definitely a valuable addition to our community.
David was born in 1979 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He lived in the small suburb of Holden, living there through high school. By then he was ready for a change.
His love of the outdoors began in his youth. Here is a picture of the countryside close to his Massachusetts home.
He says he didn’t have the best time in high school and decided to go into seasonal work rather than college. He got a job as a food server at Yellowstone National Park. This job made him realize he could travel through his work. He liked to work places where he traveled because in this way he could become acquainted with the local people, whereas tourists don’t really fully understand an area. He lived inside the park so he could see its inner workings, and thoroughly explore the back country. Being there through every weekend, he could see the seasons progressing and animals changing with their seasonal cycles. He says you can really get to know a place when you see those changes.
Immediately upon his arrival in Yellowstone, he decided to hike up Electric Peak. He had not experienced high-altitude hiking before, so it is not surprising that he got altitude sickness.
David’s favorite place to camp while in Yellowstone was the Lamar Valley. He began camping there after a group of wolves had been relocated in the park, and it was the first time he heard them howl before he moved to Gustavus.
He worked at the winter lodge at Old Faithful and at the Yellowstone Inn, built by a 21-year-old architect. The Inn has an impressive central fireplace and twisted wood banisters.
For the next winter season, he got a job at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida. It was a private club for the rich folks. David hired on as a server and then started bartending at the “clubhouse” for the country club. The club had three golf courses, but the clubhouse was only for those on the members’ list. It was very exclusive; no guests were admitted. David said it gave him a view into another world.
He met several famous people while working there. One of them also happened to be named David Thomas. He was the founder of Wendy’s. When the two were introduced, the David Thomas from Wendy’s said, “I must challenge you to a duel, because there can be only one David Thomas.”
He lived on the grounds at first, but wanted to experience more of the Keys. He moved in with two other guys who rented an apartment — a dumpy one-bedroom accommodation in town. He stayed there for a month and a half, and couldn’t handle it any longer. There were already three people staying in this small apartment, and then another worker from the club moved in. The next new resident was a 15-year-old homeless girl. One of the men owned a parrot. David gave the parrot to friends to deliver to his sister.
He says he made more money at that job than he ever had before, yet he never had money because he always spent it. Getting rid of pests was an ongoing undertaking. Cockroaches and ants filled the apartment. To get rid of them, the apartment dwellers finally brought in lizards from outside. This solution was a trade-off, as the lizards chirped all night and caused sleeplessness.
He had to get out of that situation, so he moved into a camping spot right next to the channel, at the John Pennakamp Coral Reef State Park. The campground lay on the border of the park, making it ideal for David, as he could jump in his kayak from there and go out to paddle and snorkel. It could be considered a strange transition, going from staying at the posh club to a hammock in a campground, but he found it a very satisfactory place to be.
When David went kayaking from his camp, he traveled out to a group of mooring buoys and secured his craft. The buoys were grouped together above a statue called “Jesus Christ of the Abyss.” Permanently anchored on the ocean floor, it was 20 feet below the surface. David found it to be a good starting point for his underwater snorkel explorations.
For a summer season he went to Newport, Rhode Island, and worked as a server/bartender at the Vanderbilt Hotel downtown. A British company owned the hotel, so David learned a lot about European-style fine dining and bartending. His “teacher” was a fellow who made a career out of butlering. David got to know how to do things according to British tradition and how these traditions came about.
David liked mixology. He mixed drinks all the time, and found that coffee often made an interesting addition. Over the years he learned to mix flavor profiles. He took courses on scotch and wine. Many high-end hotels offer courses to learn about such drinks.
While in Newport, David spent a lot of time learning how to sail. Sailing was very good at the time he was there. The Americus Cup used to be held there, and the town boasted a large sailing community. He had taken a sailing class in high school and really liked it. He got back into it in Newport, doing a class that summer.
He spent a winter in Vail, Colorado, skiing and bartending. Next he went to Maine for a summer season at Acadia National Park, which is close to Bar Harbor.
The next winter he worked as bar manager for the Picadilly Pub, right next to the Patriots Stadium in Massachusetts. Being back home, he realized he didn’t really want to be in Massachusetts. He began to see what this lifestyle was all about. He went in to work at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., and got off work at 5:00 in the morning. He realized his life had become unhealthy. He had not much chance there to be involved with nature; he liked places where people were more connected to their natural world. However, his job gave him good experience, which would be useful later.
Summer, 2001, he got online and found a job in Gustavus through CoolWorks.com. He worked as a server at the Bear Track Inn with Mike Olney, then the inn’s manager. He really liked Alaska. The job provided his first west coast experience. However, warned of the winter cold and dark, he veered away from an Alaskan winter.
Instead, he went to Vermont, where he worked for the Rockefeller resorts in Woodstock, Vermont. David liked Vermont because of winter skiing and an interesting view into traditional Northeast culture in the summer.
David said, “For me, my development started when I left home. I started learning a lot about my philosophy of life when I lived in Vermont. I went to the Maple Forest Monastery in Woodstock and started meditation classes there.” Maple Forest is a Thich Nhat Hanh monastery, following his teachings. David says he studied various philosophies, learning how to get more control of his life and his emotions. He found it helpful to be able to learn and then practice his lessons.
At this point in his life, David decided he would no longer work for other people. He started a coffeehouse in Vermont. He began brewing his own coffee and baking for his business. He found that other bakers were not consistent in quality, so he decided to do the job himself. He wanted to keep featuring a high-quality product. That started his baking career. Since he was purchasing kitchen equipment, he felt he might as well start roasting coffee as well.
He learned his roasting skills while he worked. He took courses with Specialty Coffee Association of America. Here he learned how to roast coffee beans. He also took courses at traditional shows in Boston, or in other big cities.
David learned baking through on-the-job training. He took small courses in bread making. He took one from King Arthur Flour, who offers a class in Vermont. Later, when he lived in Oregon, he began doing more and more pastry, from making a couple of choices to baking lots of variety. David likes pastry baking the best, and says he might be talked into doing a local bakery class.
David teamed up with another traveling seasonal worker , Deb Gisetto. He sold his shop in Vermont and decided to purchase a camper trailer. They traveled around the Mexican border and got a feel for the country. They intended to live in the trailer and get jobs on the west coast. They went through Oregon and Washington. At Port Townsend they turned around and started coming back. They ended up on the Oregon coast at Florence, Oregon, on the Siuslaw River.
They intended to try to find some earth-based work, but the owner of the trailer park where they lived had a building on a dock by the river. He found out that David had a background in the coffee business, and wanted him to convert the building to a coffee shop. He told David, “You don’t have to pay rent until you start making money.” So they started cleaning the space. The venture became a fiasco. They ran into so many problems with permitting for the business that it became impossible to continue. As they already had about $18,000 in the venture, they decided to find another spot for a coffee shop. They went to Yachats, Oregon, and started the Green Salmon Coffee Shop. It included a bakery and a coffee roastery. After five years there, David sold the shop to Deb, and they parted ways there. Deb kept the business.
David became interested in meditation after his initial experience at Maple Forest. While at the coffee shop in Yachats, he heard of a group of Tibetan monks who were touring, trying to raise money for a monastery in India. David contacted them and invited them to Yachats. There, they created a sand mandala, right on the floor of the coffee shop.
The monks worked on the mandala in shifts. It took five days to build. As they lay the sand down, they meditated on prayers for peace. On the sixth day the finished mandala was swept up and thrown into the ocean, releasing the prayers into the world. Hundreds of people came through while they were working on the mandala, and over 100 people came to watch the sweeping up ceremony.
That winter, David went to Newport, Oregon, working his barista trade. He first saw Lou from his station at the espresso machine, when she came in as a customer regularly, visiting with her classmates from Oregon State University. She had a kayak on top of her car. David told her if she ever wanted to go kayaking with him, let him know. So they started kayaking together all along the Oregon coast. They did one long trip up to the head of the Columbia River. Then Lou went on a trawl survey for a month. This separation caused the couple to realize that they really missed each other and wanted to be together. They ended up living together in Newport.
David went with Lou to the Pribilof Islands for the first time as a volunteer the summer of 2010, and worked in a “mark and recapture” program. Workers would mark the fur seal pups by cutting a small patch of guard hair off their heads, leaving a white spot. They marked 10% of the group in this way, then re-released them into the main group. Then they went back and counted the number of marked pups in groups of 25 to get a population estimate. Residents helped with the study, with the tribal council selecting the workers. Northern fur seals are managed by NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service.)
Lou worked as an observer; her job was tagging fur seal pups. Tags on individual seals allowed them to keep track of the survival rate through the
years. Observations were done from the cliff tops. Each year they did a resighting and recounting on both islands, with St. Paul hosting the biggest
group of animals. They looked for tagged individuals, and noted how many were nursing. The adults would leave the pups on the beach and go out to feed for a couple of days; then come back to nurse the pups. From their observations, NMFS could estimate the total population, birth rate each year, survival at different age classes, and other statistics known as vital rates.
At the end of the summer when the pups were old enough, the team tagged a new generation so they could record their life and movements. Adult fur seals are only on land to give birth.
After the first year on St. Paul, Dave and Lou went to St. George. They were in the Pribilofs for five seasons total, four of them on St. George. They lived on the island where they worked. The people living on St. George were vastly outnumbered by fur seals. The population was
recorded as 74, but only about 50 people actually lived there, many of them quite elderly. The population of St. Paul was recorded as 530 people.
The dense natural environment created by the continental shelf supports millions of breeding sea birds. The islands are all tundra. Herds of reindeer roam free on both islands.
At one time fur seal hunting had to be stopped because of over-harvesting, and for a while a food source went missing for the Native community. The reindeer herds were introduced to provide an additional source of food. Since then, subsistence fur seal hunting is again permitted.
The two found it took a couple of years before people started opening up to them. Native residents were suspicious of new people, especially government workers. Once they got to know each other, they began making friends. Others visited — Fish and Wildlife did bird studies; traveling scientists from all over the world visited each year.
Locals halibut fished. There was no industry and no real place for a garden. One year David helped build a geodesic greenhouse for the community.
APICDA (Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association) helped fund the project as a community development activity. This group takes all the fishing quota allowed for the community in the Bering Sea and then fishes the quota for them. They also sell the fish, and the money is used for community infrastructure projects. St. Paul also boasts a Trident Seafood cannery, which caters to crab fishermen. They come there to deliver, providing another source of revenue for the town.
This experience changed David’s view of Alaska and villages. He enjoyed learning of the complexities of village life and getting to know a Native culture. A bush village does not have the same world view because it is isolated. The Pribilof villages face many challenges due to
their isolation and lack of employment opportunities. Like many struggling villages in Alaska, the residents are torn between wanting to stay and keeping the communities alive and leaving to find better futures for themselves Outside.
After David’s first time in the Pribilofs with Lou, they returned to Newport, Oregon and married on October 3, 2010. On their honeymoon in Newport, Rhode Island, David took Lou out sailing to show his expertise. Their sailboat was a J20 (20-foot J-class sailor.) In no time at all the boat was grounded in the shallows of the very busy waters of Newport Bay. A bystander on the dock who knew about sailing (and tourists) told them how to get out of the sand. The sailboat had a weighted keel that was stuck in the sand, so they had to leave the sails open while David hung his body off the shrouds over the water so the boat would lean onto its side. Meanwhile, Lou steered with the jib until it reached deeper water. They narrowly avoided wrecking their rental boat, not to mention the several million dollar yachts moored close by.
David and Lou went to Akaroa, New Zealand, on the Banks Peninsula, for the rest of the winter months. David found work as a barista at “By the Green” coffee shop, while Lou volunteered for a PhD study on New Zealand fur seals. After that winter, they went back to the Pribilofs for the summer. Then they went to Juneau, where Lou got a legislative job for the winter. David spent two winters working at Rainbow Foods.
In the winter of 2013, Lou started working for Jamie Womble, doing aerial surveys for harbor seals in Glacier Bay National Park, and David took Lou’s position at the legislature. Then in summer, Lou’s contract overlapped the Pribilof Island job so David went alone. They did one last summer together in the Pribilofs after that, before David started a coffee roastery in Juneau.
David and Lou have done an international trip almost every year since their marriage. So far they have visited New Zealand, Greece, Mexico, Belize, and France. On the year they went to France, they visited a childhood friend of Lou’s, a historian. She worked for a private tour company in Paris and treated them both to an amazing private tour of the Louvre and many classic neighborhoods around the city.
The second half of that trip brought them by train to the start of the hiking trail, the “Cathar Way.” Along the route they found people to be very friendly and interested in someone experiencing their area by foot. They saw compact towns surrounded by agricultural fields. David says this arrangement, as opposed to the US model of wide open spaces and distant farmhouses, made the area a lot more “villagesque.” In the photo is a picture of a windmill that is attached to a bakery, which grinds its own spelt flour.
In 2013 they traveled to Belize, going first to the coast and then exploring a bit of the interior. They first stayed at Grover’s Atoll. They arrived late and missed their water taxi, and had to hire a man with a skiff to take them there, about a 90-minute trip across open ocean, guided by only a compass. They stayed in a grass-covered hut and rented kayaks. They were there for about two weeks.
While there, they decided to see how many coconuts they could eat in a day without getting sick. Lou holds the record, as she ate six coconuts and never got sick, but David gave up after two.
Every day the owners of the island would go out to fish, then bring their catch into town to sell. They made sure David and Lou had a share; they ate fish every night they were there.
On their travels, they saw many ruins. Here is a Mayan ruin they saw when they explored inland.
David says that Belize is an interesting mix — a true melting pot of cultures, even more so than here. The population ranged from African natives to English colonists, and the country hosted lots of visitors. He remarks that he did not see any racism at all — folks, though all mixed together, were tolerant of each other.
David’s coffee comes from all over the world, depending on the importer. All are traceable to a farm source, listed with the Fair Trade Coop. Thus he can tell exactly where his coffee was grown.
Coffee is part of a rich, world-wide tradition. It is the second most traded commodity in the world. It has a long history — like food, it brings people together, because the majority of people use the product. Coffee houses become gathering places. A lot of revolutions have been hatched in coffee houses.
Now we in Gustavus are privileged to enjoy all the extra goodness David adds to our lives. Try his coffee, tea, and chocolate sauce. Enjoy a foreign film presentation. Look in the newspaper to learn when to bring your dish to a “slow food” night. You will get a sample of David’s yummy cooking while there. When you see David, tell him “thank you” for moving to Gustavus.