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Ashton Whitley
Co-owner of Dagger Mountain Roastery — Valaparaiso, IN

My husband Dan and I met in high school. We both worked in different cafes in town, and we were dating and he really wanted to learn about roasting. Basically there wasn’t a good cup of coffee unless you just drove to Chicago. Dan and I were like, ‘we don’t have anywhere to go, we should probably just do it ourselves here in Valparaiso.’ And we thought, ‘no one’s going to get this right off the bat, so let’s do it somewhere secret.’ So we got a garage and moved our roaster into it and started roasting. So we opened the actual bar three of four years ago but we were roasting a year before that.

To us, being a barista was the thing that allowed us to enjoy our shift and then leave the weight and go and do something that we loved just as equally. 

Our employees are our favorite part about all this. We’ve seen two of our employees literally move on to bigger and better things, and that’s all this place should be for them. This cafe is our career but it doesn’t need to be anyone else’s career. It’s a different story if you want that, but we both really disliked how when we were at other jobs and were still trying to figure out who we were, the people who were in charge were so serious and egotistical. They thought we should stay there forever and that their work was the most important thing. That’s not what being a barista is. To us, being a barista was the thing that allowed us to enjoy our shift and make something that people appreciated, and then leave the weight and go and do something that we loved just as equally. We have someone who’s in a band, and when he tours he gets those weeks off. Our production manager has the ability to pursue other passions that are more important to her, and that’s totally fine. That’s something I really disliked about the other cafes I grew up working in.

My horse’s name is Roach. She’s really great. I got her in September. It’s a newer thing in my life. A person I look up to has a therapy barn, and I was just mucking stalls for her. I knew her because she came to the cafe and our dogs used to play together. One day I told her that I was interested in seeing her work, and she was looking for someone to muck stalls twice a week. So, I started doing that, and I ended up learning about psychology and how being around horses helps people open up communication, and helps with different types of trauma. I rode horses when I was little but it was such a traditional, boxed-in thing. You know when you’re a kid and you just do things a certain way because they tell you to? You get on the horse and you get off and that’s all. But I didn’t know this other world existed. 

My love for horses has nothing to do with anything else in my life. It’s just mine. 

Through my friend, I met another woman who trains horses and she told me about a retired Clydesdale named Deborah. I met her and I fell in love with her. She was just really stoic and grounded and smart. I found myself wanting a horse, but for what seemed like really unknown, surface-level reasons, like, ‘I think they’re cool, I want one.’ So I gave myself two years, thinking, ‘Ok, if I’m still into this then I’ll look into it more.’ And the feeling just never left. I would wake up thinking about it. So I got Roach. I board her at a barn and I go every day. It’s great. It’s about 20 minutes away and I’ve taken one or two friends but it’s not something I share with a lot of people. And Dan doesn’t care about horses, though he likes Roach. My love for horses has nothing to do with anything else in my life. It’s just mine. 

I am working on a garden and it’s my first go at it. I’m pretty vulnerable about it. I just want it to work out so bad. I want to grow my own food and store it over the winter, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about it. Besides Roach, research and growing food and my garden in general consumes my day. It’s only half a year in the making. I only have two raised beds, and they’re set up to plant, but in the off season it’s not that cool-looking. Besides that, the only other thing I do is hike with my dog a lot. 

I don’t ever want to think I’m done with learning and bettering myself as a person, because that’s really all you have control over. 

I think that when you’re an adult, it’s important to hold yourself responsible for continuing to grow. I’ve been thinking about that a lot now that I’m past 25. Ok, I own a house, I own a business, I’m married. I’m pretty set in my ways, but then again, that’s not true at all. When I see my parents or older people who I’m close with, I do feel like there’s this weird lack of feeling. Like, you still need to learn new things—take in this younger generation and change with the times. It’s all changing, and I think that’s a big thing people are getting frustrated with, especially when you look at how people vote and spend their money. I don’t ever want to think I’m done with learning and bettering myself as a person, because that’s really all you have control over. All I have is my ability to hold myself responsible for myself.