Shades Cafe to close

By Jenni Lake on December 11, 2013

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Located in a cozy, historic cabin on King Street, Shades is known for its warm atmosphere, shaded deck and dishes like eggs tomavo.

Another sad evolution for the town of Jackson: The iconic Shades Cafe will be closing its doors at the end of December.

Owner Lisa Miller said the cafe has been losing money for about two years, and neither she nor other investors have the resources to continue putting money into the business. Competition from big chains like Starbucks and other coffee shops with deeper pockets has impacted Shades’ business.

An emotional Miller said the loss of Shades might serve as an example to people in town that it does matter where you spend your money — even if it’s just for a cup of coffee and muffin.

Jim Mitchell opened the cafe in 1986. Miller worked for him, then bought the cafe in 1992 and has run it as a family business. Customers nearly always see Miller or her daughter, Abbie, at the counter, and the duo also makes the cafe’s signature baked goods like wheat bran muffins and gourmet coffee cakes.

Shades was the first cafe to start serving espresso in town.


Posted under Business, Food

37 Comments so far

  1. Mike V December 11, 2013 10:49 am

    Originally the Vuarnet Cafe, until Vuarnet found out about it and made them change the name.

    Sad, it’s one of those cool little “off main” places that we really don’t have much of in this town :(

  2. Jim Stanford December 11, 2013 11:01 am

    I’m still mourning the loss of the cottonwood trees and Off Broadway across the street.

    This bums me out so much. While I’m happy for the Millers to move on to other adventures and not have to toil every day for little return, I’m sad that a quintessential piece of Jackson’s character will be lost. Perhaps someone else can take over the space and re-create the atmosphere and sense of community the Millers fostered. Summertime in Jackson Hole will not be the same without sitting on the deck at Shades.

  3. Brad December 11, 2013 11:09 am

    This is sad. I wish more could have been done. My affection for that little log building and its businesses goes back to Al’s Hickory House in the early ’80s. Now all gone the way of the Happy Hound and Wideon T Gadwalls. If I remember correctly, Jim Mitchell(?) opened Vuarnet Cafe right after Al’s closed in ’86. Then, the name change came within 6 months. Was Lisa his partner then? My chronology may be off.

  4. Kid K December 11, 2013 11:26 am

    We now have a giant Walgreens!! WOOO-WOOO

  5. bzig December 11, 2013 11:35 am

    Unless my memory is off, was still called Vuarnet as late as ’92.

  6. Brad December 11, 2013 11:56 am

    That Vuarnet sign may have lasted a year or two but I know it was gone quickly. Like all corporations, they have people working full-time on name infringement. Being in one of their prime markets brought it to their radar screen pretty fast. If I remember an old JH News article correctly, Mitchell was pretty incensed about the whole deal.

  7. Rachel December 11, 2013 2:10 pm

    That party sucks! Shades is the best and I will miss my eggs tomavo on each and every visit to the Hole. I hate this, I hate this I hate this.

  8. M December 11, 2013 2:39 pm

    Jim, let’s not blame Starbucks, which recently opened on the square, for the reason why a business was losing money for “about 2 years.”

    Does it suck to Shades go or another locally owned business go? Absolutely. But don’t blame Starbucks or other coffee shops (e.g. PSB) who may have a better location, price, and/or product.
    Hopefully, another local entrepreneur will step up and make a go of it in that location.

  9. Jay December 11, 2013 4:37 pm

    Total bummer…

    To be fair, M, I don’t think Jim or Lisa were out and out blaming Starbucks for two years of declining business, but Starbucks may have been the final nail in the coffin. Without the Starbucks factor, Shades may have lived on long enough to figure out how to improve things. But, alas, we’ll never know. I hope other local businesses don’t follow… I guess I’ll be eating lunch there while I still can.

  10. Becky December 11, 2013 4:51 pm

    For a few magical summers there we spent every Saturday (it felt like) listening to dear friends play music at shades. Thanks to Lisa and the crew for that gift! Best of luck with whatever is next!

  11. Ripple December 11, 2013 5:17 pm

    I agree… Starbucks gets a bad rap. Same with Costco and Walmart. Let’s lay off those successful business models that hold our communities together and provide a convenient centralized shopping experience. And I’m positive there’s a mountain of local entrepreneurs just waiting to throw away money on an absurd lease with unfavorable terms. All so they can try and compete with national chains. Remember: cheaper is better and shopping locally is for hippies.

  12. Colleen December 11, 2013 5:56 pm

    Oh I love Lisa and Shades! Spent a year here right out of college and loved working for Lisa.. raspberry cream cheese muffins will never be the same! Cheers to Lisa and good luck with your new venture.

  13. kevin p. December 11, 2013 9:28 pm

    Sorry to hear…not unexpected, though. So sorry, Lisa…although I am sure you are ready to kick back a little. So many years of frustration. The main problem is the high rent for the building…but the multitudes of other coffee options didn’t help. Thx, Lisa for everything you have done at Shades!
    It was actually called The Varnet Café, originally by Jim Mitchell, a Jackson Hole Ski Patroller at the time. A rep for Vuarnet Sunglasses was in town one day and saw the sign/business. Jim was notified with a letter threatening a law suit unless he changed the name…thus Shades:) I managed his restaurant from 1989-1991-ish. Lisa and I worked together…I left…got hired on the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol with Jim’s help (thx, Jim:)…she took over…then was eventually offered an ownership/partnership from the new ownership when Jim sold-out.
    It’s sad this is happening. It is true testimony that high rent is driving out the small businesses in this town. Only the mega busy businesses, or the chains, are making it here. We are losing such great character in our town due to the monopoly of high rent business owners…and lack of options.
    R.I.P., Shades Café:(

  14. Chad December 11, 2013 10:27 pm

    If Ripple is trolling, its done either really well or very poorly. I guess I say ‘really well’ since I cant tell for certain.

  15. D December 11, 2013 10:46 pm

    Location location location. I think the place is great but out of the way, no parking, no drive by business, etc.

  16. Rex December 11, 2013 11:09 pm

    Shopping local isn’t for hippies. It’s for locals; the people who care and share with their neighbors. A true local establishment is centered around more than just making money. It’s about letting your customers know that you care about their daily experiences, whether that be looking for free wi-fi or enjoying coffee and a quick bite. Shades has an environment that welcomes the person, not just their wallet. I’ve worked with disabled individuals who would frequently, ritualistically, ask me to take them to Shades because of how valued and respected the staff made them feel. The closing of Shades is not some necessary economic function of capitalism, it’s a loss to our tight-nit JH community family. In the 7 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve watched as more and more corporate logos replace beloved local landmarks, like the not so subtle Starbucks logo taking away our town square clock. And I don’t necessarily blame the corporations for this. I blame the ignorance of American consumerism, thinking that frequenting a corporate business somehow stimulates local economy even though local businesses like Shades are closing their doors. If that’s what JH consumers want then maybe that’s what they deserve. Hopefully for JH and it’s true locals, this will not be the case.

  17. Charlie December 11, 2013 11:15 pm

    I enjoy Starbucks. Enjoyed Shades.

    I wouldn’t blame others for my failure to succeed in life. The marketplace wants something else for a reason – price, location, service, quality, a known entity, whatever.

    As was pointed out, the marketplace for commercial buildings is competitive around Town Square with high rents. It’s not just Shades trying to prime the pump, it’s the landlord, the bank, the developer, the customer. Free markets are not stagnant creatures.

    Even our land-use policies play a role in the demise of places like Shades. They drive up the cost of building and limit supply. That Forest Service land is still up for sale because of unknown land-use issues.

    If wages were better in the Hole, I would certainly spend more money locally but eating out is a luxury. Amazon and Idaho Falls get millions from Jackson because it’s easier to find what you want at a price you can afford. Walgreens may actually help keep local dollars in Jackson.

    Places like Shades that don’t pay a living wage contribute to the lack of local customers who can keep them busy during lean times.

    Anyway, apparently Jackson has too many Coffee shops competing for too few customers. Consolidation or elimination is better for employees and other businesses in the long run.

    Best of luck.

  18. NoFlowerChild December 12, 2013 7:41 am

    Elephant in the room. Aren’t there TWO new locally owned very trendy bakery/breakfast & lunch places nearby? You can’t call out Starbucks for this sad reality of trendy downtown JHole.
    ALways loved the Shades deck, the wonderful food, and the lovely ladies inside. Good luck Miller family! Thanks for feeding us so well for so long!

  19. Chris December 12, 2013 9:47 am

    Very sad indeed, although I think we’re remiss in blaming Starbucks for the closing. The fact of the matter is that stiff LOCAL competition has popped up in recent years — Lotus Cafe, Persephone, Cafe Boheme — are just a few new(ish) establishments where you can find bustling tables any morning of the week.

  20. Fresh Tracks December 12, 2013 11:24 am

    Very much a local place with a ton of character, but blaming Starbucks is way too simple. It did best when it was one of the only games in town. I seem to recall the business being for sale multiple times with no takers. In addition, it was a tough space to cook out of and service could be really slow. Many a morning I’d see the line and opt not to bother.

  21. Emily December 12, 2013 11:59 am

    It’s sad to see Shades go. I worked there from high school through college and beyond. Abbie and Lisa are by far the most caring are creative people I know. Shades was not just a cafe but a place for all creative minds to congregate. From the local art, to live music, to popup boutiques, poetry nights, and dinner parties, Shades was a community. I’ll miss this staple in our town, but the memories are some of the best in my life. Long live the Shades family!

  22. JWL December 12, 2013 3:01 pm

    Lisa, I wish you the best. Shades was the quintessential espresso bar; great pastries, customer service, and atmosphere. If want to continue sharing the love of coffee, we down in Alpine would love to have you.

  23. Dave December 13, 2013 4:22 am

    Jackson Hole …lost its soul ! When are we getting that WalFART ?

  24. Benny December 13, 2013 8:59 am

    I think Shades was a cool little spot with some solid things on the menu, but people are missing the mark here. I’d love to blame Starbucks for pretty much everything, but it’s not the downfall of Shades. The success of Cafe Gieneveve, a local establishment, effected Shade. Percepheny (spelling sorry) may also effected their business. And the restaurant biz is fickle, just ask…anyone in the restaurant biz. Location, yes a big issue here. As is probably an expensive lease. Even if you do everything right, poor location and rent will crush you. And you need to evolve/adapt in some fashion when things start getting tough which I’m not sure Shades did. Not much really changed in the 10 years I went there. If things started going south 2 years ago, you gotta start shaking things up a bit, be progressive. It’s still sad and locals should still buy local as much as possible.

  25. Dolph December 13, 2013 12:11 pm

    When’s the last time anyone saw an advertisement anywhere for Shades (not sunglasses)?

    A man wakes up in the morning after sleeping in an advertised blanket, in advertised pajamas. He will bathe in an advertised bathtub, wash with advertised soap, drink advertised coffee after his advertised juice, cereal and toast, put on advertised clothing and ride to work in an advertised car. He’ll sit at an advertised desk and write with an advertised pen and type on an advertised computer. Yet this man hesitates to advertise, saying that advertising doesn’t pay. Finally, his unadvertised business goes under….he will then advertise it for sale. – Author unknown

  26. Advertising BS December 14, 2013 11:16 am

    The lack of compelling advertising didn’t kill Shades.

    Try the lack of a compelling reason to go.

    Advertising won’t save a company any more than the big old media companies can save themselves from the small boutique firms and incredible start-ups. TV’s dead. The Internet won.

    The market for Microsoft phones is sitting around 3 percent. AOL sent out free CD’s to every household in America. Word Perfect used to be the King in word processing software. Taxpayers bailed out GM. All advertised heavily.

    Meanwhile, Amanresorts (Amangani in Jackson, etc) has avoided most traditional advertising since its inception in order to be true to its underlying philosophy of exclusivity. It may fall on its own sword in expensive locations like Jackson but it’s still building resorts.

    Catch me at Myspace….

  27. Shari December 17, 2013 6:40 am

    They had a great run.

    Sometimes, the best make way for better things.

  28. Tim December 17, 2013 11:48 am

    Charal Floral is also going out of business at the end of the month…Mursell’s chocolates is already closed (death of one of the owners)…Shayne Skin Care is closing the Gaslight Alley location…

    On the other hand, space is tight and new businesses looking for a location include a gun dealer, a chocolate shop, a tattoo parlor, a rare coin dealer, a large format photography studio, [another] real estate company…

    The cycle of retail goes on…

  29. Mimi December 17, 2013 7:36 pm

    Shades will live on forever in the hearts of many! Thanks Lisa, Kevin, Jim and many more for some really great memories!
    Miss you all.

  30. Beth December 18, 2013 4:56 pm


    Who is Jenni Lake?

  31. Jim Stanford December 19, 2013 10:15 am

    She is ace correspondent who previously wrote this post:

  32. KB December 19, 2013 11:52 am

    Before Jim Bob declared war on the eyewear industry, the cabin housed another icon, Bru’s Buns and Breads. As a young single parent in the 70’s, that was the refuge for me and my baby daughter and the budding hipster population. At the same time, my bicycle shop was the only one within a hundred miles. Things change very quickly here, always have. Hustle!!

  33. Alisan December 19, 2013 3:18 pm

    Shades was my go-to coffee stop and their menus offered healthy, yummy food. Tragic to miss the quiches, the coffee drinks, the outstanding sweet treats. Wishing you the best Lisa; you gave it your all.

  34. Jim Stanford December 20, 2013 12:34 pm

    Shades lovers, here’s an easy way to give back and thank the Millers:

    A friend who set it up wrote, “Money is always tight, especially around the holidays, but I think if we can get enough people to contribute the cost of an eggs tomavo or even just a coffee, we’ll hit or even exceed our target.”

    It’s a surprise, so keep it on the DL.

  35. Kay January 2, 2014 11:26 am

    I always liked Shades, don’t get me wrong but the damn place was closed for AN ENTIRE MONTH at a time. After going there and being met with a closed sign more than a handful of times, I just started going elsewhere. At least I knew the other place would be open. Still sad to see it go.

  36. Alan Letson February 19, 2014 6:52 pm

    It is truly sad and disappointing that we have had to close Shades Cafe. As customers our group of ski/ backpacking/climbing friends always enjoyed eating at Shades when we came into town. When Jim Mitchell put it up for sale in 1992, myself and a school buddy, Warren Selman, decided we would buy Shades. The two of us purchased the business from Jim and took over in April 1992. Our goals were two-fold: 1) be active participants in the JH economic community and 2) create jobs. While we also hoped to make enough to pay off the investment and have a positive cash flow, money was not a prime motivator. We hired Lisa Miller as our manager. She had worked for Jim and was hard working and creative. For several years we offered additional service at the West Market in the summer and ran a very successful operation at the base of the Thunder chair at the Village in the winter. We were able to employ a full time crew year round and provide stable employment. For all her hard work, Warren and I awarded Lisa a 1/3 share in the business. She sure earned it.
    The beginning of the end began around 1998 when the ski corp decided they wanted the Thunder operation for themselves. With this loss of revenue we were no longer able to employ a full crew year round. Many other coffe shops came and went while Shades hung on. We never made any profit but we did break even, which was good enough. This pattern continued until the crash of 2008, and the business has been loosing money ever since.
    Starbucks is not the reason. Many other similar places have opened and are probably funded by deeper pockets. The nature of the community has changed. The space is too small if volume is required. People’s tastes change. Costs go up. While being featured by Giada was fun, it doesn’t pay the rent.
    Warren and I are doing things like trying to retire, put kids through college, etc and bottom line is we can’t keep pumping money into a business that isn’t supported by the community any more. We will never come close to recouping our initial investment – none the less it has been a fun run over the past 22 years.
    Warren and I would like to thank our loyal customers for their support through the years. We’d like to thank many of our past employees, especially Pam and Stephanie. Much thanks goes to our landlords who have been patient during hard times- there is still some kindness in JH. Last but not least we want to thank our partner, Lisa Miller, who has worked endlessly to make Shades go, and her family, especially Abbie. Lisa has made much sacrifice for Shades, but hopefully has had rewards as well. It is the journey, not the destination. Thank you Jackson for years of support. By the way, I travel a lot, and always get eggs Benedict. Shades was always the best EB !

    Alan Letson
    President, Shades Cafe

  37. Forest Wakefield March 6, 2014 1:54 pm

    Back in the summer of 1993 myself, my girl friend, and our two best friends were looking around Jackson on our off days from working at Signal Mountain Lodge in GTNP for a little business to transition out of our seasonal jobs. We came across both Shades Café and Dynamic Health. Ultimately, Dynamic Health was the right fit, and became Harvest Natural Foods, Bakery and Café. Harvest is no longer here, and I guess if it hadn’t changed hands and grown would probably have met the same fate as Shades Café.

    Forest Wakefield
    Past owner and co-creator of Harvest

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