Arts & Culture » 1st Thursday

Flying M Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Memory wall commemorates two decades downtown


Like every coffee nut, Shirley Sanchotena had her daily ritual. Each morning on her walk to work through the streets of downtown Boise, she would swing into Moxie Java for a cup of caffeine. But that all changed in July 1992, when she breezed by the newly opened Flying M Coffeehouse.

"One morning as I was walking by, Kirk [Montgomery] was waiting for me and wanted to know why I didn't come in and try their coffee," remembered Sanchotena. "And I've been going there ever since."

The original Flying M was located next to its current spot at 235 N. Fifth St., in the much-smaller space that houses Guido's Pizzeria. It was opened by Montgomery and husband-and-wife duo Lisa and Kevin Myers on July 14, 1992.

In an early Idaho Statesman article about the months-old business, Marianne Flagg wrote, "The scale of the place is intimate and so is the scope. Flying M doesn't sell beans or offer a wide selection of flavored coffees."

But that didn't last long. Flying M staff soon started hearing comments from its expanding customer base--they were cramped, bumping knees in the small shop's mismatched chairs. So in 1994, Flying M expanded into the recently vacated home of High Country Sports, owned by Russ Stoddard of Oliver Russell.

"I was crazy to have this big of a space," remembered Lisa Myers, who sold the coffeehouse to longtime employee Kent Collins in 2011 and still owns Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa. "But then we put in the kitchen and started baking our own stuff and decided to start roasting our own beans."

Now, 20 years later, Flying M is a cultural landmark and artistic haven in downtown Boise. And Sanchotena still stops by daily for a "triple, skinny iced and blended," or "Shirley's coffee."

"I still walk there everyday at noon. ... Sometimes if I can't go pick it up, [my co-workers] get my coffee for me, they just go in and say they need Shirley's coffee and get it ready for me," said Sanchotena. "They all think it's pretty cool."

Collins has heard a number of similar stories from customers as the Flying M's anniversary creeps closer.

"Everyone is saying, 'I was one of your very first customers over there,'" said Collins. "It shows you how long they've come here."

To celebrate the anniversary, Myers and Collins are co-curating an exhibit of Flying M memorabilia, which will open First Thursday, July 5, and include old T-shirts, past cup designs, staff photos and a book for patrons to scribble down memories.

"I have a habit of stashing everything away--every article--so we'll go through and it'll be kind of like our scrapbook on the wall," Myers said.

In addition to the exhibit, Flying M will also host a week-long celebration from Monday, July 9-Saturday, July 14, featuring drink specials, merchandise discounts and give-a-ways, culminating in a big, cake-filled birthday party. Kevin has also brewed up a special anniversary coffee called Ka-Pow! at the M's roasting facilities in Nampa.

"It's a blend of two Central American coffees highlighted by coffee from Zambia," Myers explained. "Kevin describes it as hints of cocoa, blueberry and 20 years of elbow grease."

But Flying M isn't the only downtown business entering its early 20s. On June 21, Bar Gernika turned 21 and celebrated by serving some of its classic menu items--like cheeseburgers, solomo sandwiches and croquetas--at 1991 prices. Not to mention, Boise Weekly is also celebrating its 21st birthday in style with a reader-submitted photo contest.

Downtown Boise Association Executive Director Karen Sander said achieving this kind of longevity is a "huge accomplishment" for a downtown business. In her opinion, First Thursday, which has been around for 23 years, has helped keep downtown businesses in the spotlight.

"I think it has provided an opportunity for people to experience downtown in a different way," said Sander. "Especially with the businesses staying open late, it gives people a chance to explore and see what's down here. ... All those types of events certainly help."

But even outside of First Thursday, Flying M has made showcasing local artists and selling handmade items a priority since its earliest days. Boise State art professor Laurie Blakeslee has been a regular at Flying M since she finished graduate school in 1993. She has also participated in Valentine For AIDS--the M's annual fundraiser for AIDS and HIV research--every year since its inception.

"They're really great people and really nice to the artists," Blakeslee said. "In a smaller town that doesn't have a lot of galleries, or can't support as many galleries, it's great to have a coffeeshop space. And there's no shame in that at all."

Myers said the Flying M's small art wall has helped strip some formality from the arts scene (for more on this, read Arts, Page 42).

"I think it's made it more approachable and more of a community, more accessible," she said. "I think it's helped encourage people just starting out in the arts to have a voice and have a place."

Collins piped in, adding: "It's encouraged people to buy art at all, because here it's so much cheaper. Almost every piece of art I have in my house came from here. I grew up in here and 12 art shows a year add up," he said.

But overall, Collins, Myers, Blakeslee and Sanchotena all emphasized one essential ingredient in the Flying M's continued success: the staff.

"We've seen quite a few weddings through our staff and lots of kids," said Myers, holding a former staffer's toddler in her lap at a well worn Flying M table. "I would've never, ever thought I'd still be here in 20 years, but I guess you just keep going day-to-day and it'll add up."