When Wildwood Cafe opened during Syttende Mai weekend in 2018, it quickly became more than a coffee shop.

With a naturesque aesthetic, and dishes and mugs with rosemaling patterns that represent the city’s Norwegian heritage, owners Ryan and Stephanie Baughn told the Hub the specialty cafe serves more than espresso, pastries and breakfast foods. The 218 S. Forrest St. business is also a safe space for all topics of conversation and ideas, shared among individuals.

Solidifying that philosophy is how the shop became a Stoughton destination in the last two years, Stephanie said, drawing people from around the county. And as more people flocked to Wildwood, that meant hiring new employees, adding new menu items and expanding hours.

But that growth has been stifled during the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout of that crisis, the owners agreed. The shop went from seven employees down to three, besides the owners. Not only that, but Stoughton has joined the nation in rectifying the pain of George Floyd’s death — a nation rising up against racial injustice.

So rather than going dark completely, Ryan and Stephanie are using the Wildwood Cafe philosophy and applying it wherever possible. They’ve used their business platform to help the community that helped them — whether to donate profits to local causes, participate in protests or spread messages of hope during the health crisis.

And as the county continues its reopening plans, the cafe is slowly expanding its hours and its menu again after closing for almost two months. It tried opening for walk-in orders, but that caused disruptions with the shop’s inventory, the owners said.

Their hope is that in the near future, those conversations shared over coffee among individuals will take place again.

An uncertain closure

Ryan and Stephanie could recall the Sunday they decided to close down indefinitely like it was yesterday.

It was the weekend after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11. The owners talked for hours inside Wildwood about how the logistics of such a closure would work. Then they took to their Instagram page to deliver the news.

“After a lot of thought and consideration, Ryan and I have decided we will be closing Wildwood this coming week,” Stephanie wrote in a March 15 Instagram post. “As people in the ‘hospitality industry,’ it feels very foreign to shut our doors, less because we’re losing business and more because we’re losing daily interaction with people.”

But an outpouring of support from the Stoughton community inspired the owners to keep going — to keep hoping amid the fear.

“We’re worried about all of our friends,” the owners wrote on Instagram March 19. “However, we take such great solace in the feeling of solidarity and the knowledge we are facing all of this together.”

Wildwood started a tip jar on its website, which garnered almost $1,000, Stephanie said. The cafe also started taking online orders and delivering them.

And as Syttende Mai weekend 2020 rolled around — the cafe’s two year anniversary — it was like old times, minus how customers had to wear a mask and were allowed only four feet into the shop.

Stephanie said some customers teared up being inside one of their favorite Stoughton spaces again.

Speaking out

When black Stoughton resident Dominique Johnson had a Black Lives Matter movement sign taken from her yard, that mobilized the owners to spread awareness about Johnson’s cause when she started a fundraiser.

“(June 2) an act of racism and attempt of oppression were committed against a community member in Stoughton,” a June 3 Wildwood Cafe Instagram post reads. “She is calling on our community to keep her, her family … all of our black community members are safe. Not ever should any of our black or other neighbors of color be targeted by racists.”

The owners said they promoted the fundraiser on the Wildwood Instagram and attended Black Lives Matter protests on Johnson’s behalf. They also contributed 100% of the profits the cafe made during Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6, to black female-owned bookstores.

The following weekend, the owners passed out signs making customers aware of Johnson’s efforts.

Stephanie and Ryan overall remain vocal about racism and other social justice issues — both on social media and in interactions with customers.

“If we don’t work in whatever sphere of influence we have … we are the problem,” Ryan wrote June 1.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.