WESTERLY — Thanks to Lady Gaga, you can now sip a cup of craft coffee or cold-pressed juice on a peaceful patio overlooking the Pawcatuck River and relax in an environment with a friendly, West Coast surfer kind of vibe.

Brian and Chiyoko Samuelson, owners of Stick & Fin, a gem tucked away at 163 Main St., met in 2017 when Brian was working as a tour photographer for Lady Gaga. Chiyoko, who is Canadian, was the contact person for the Toronto venue where Lady Gaga's concert was held, and one of the first people to greet Brian. The two hit it off almost immediately.

"We've been inseparable ever since," said Chiyoko with a smile as she bent over to pet the couple's puppy, a Bernese mountain dog named Amiga.

Well, almost inseparable. Brian, 41, and Chiyoko, 32, were apart for much of the spring while she worked out issues associated with moving to Westerly from her hometown outside of Toronto — all during a pandemic while Ontario was still in lockdown — and he busied himself with the business, a hip and inviting café in a space once occupied by Terry's Beauty Hut. 

Stick & Fin, although primarily a coffee shop where the brew is made using a reverse osmosis process, also serves such nourishing items as avocado toast made using hand-crafted, artisan breads from South County Bread Company and other wholesome baked goods and pastries. It's also a dog-friendly spot, and a gallery where colorful surfboards from Rhode Island Surf Co. are on display and for sale and where large attractive ocean photos hang on the walls.

The Samuelsons also plan to show the artwork of friends on their shop walls and have rotating exhibits. The Samuelsons have been talking about the shop — its design and vision — from their former home in Santa Monica for a few years now, they said, with Chiyoko in charge of the interior design.

"It started with a few sketches," Brian said. "This is our first project to come to life."

A few weeks ago, when Chiyoko's papers were finally in order, she called her mother-in-law for advice and the two hatched a surprise plan. Then she hopped in her car and drove for nine hours straight until she reached Mystic. Patiently, she waited at the bar of a restaurant until her husband walked in to find her sitting there.

"It was the hardest thing keeping that secret," Chiyoko said with a smile.

"It's been a real adventure," said Brian with a laugh. "A real fun adventure."

Building a new business in your new hometown during a pandemic is also an adventure, added Brian, whose parents, Frank and Lynn Samuelson, are Westerly residents ... "an interesting and challenging adventure," he said.

Frank Samuelson, who owns the building occupied by Stick & Fin and it's next door neighbor, a branch of the Edward Jones Investing Firm, said he's excited about his son and daughter-in-law's new venture.

"I think it's a great idea," said Frank, a former Oxford, Conn., school teacher and principal, "and it's also a little bit different than a traditional coffee shop."

"It's diverse," he added, "with the artwork, the juices, toasts, bowls and teas. And we love the location."

Watching the rebirth of that section of Main Street "has been nice to see," added Frank, who first started coming to Westerly when he was a college student at Southern Connecticut University.

Although Brian and his siblings — a younger brother, Todd, and a younger sister, Lauren — grew up in Southbury, Connecticut, they spent summers with their parents in Westerly. It was during those Westerly summers that Brian's interest in surfing began and grew. 

"I surfed a lot growing up summers in Rhode Island," he said, "and then later ... in California and in Costa Rica."

The name of the Samuelson's shop actually comes from the surfing world, he explained.

The term "stick and fin," he said, is short for surfboard. The first surfboard ever made was made of wood,  he said — as in a stick — and it was designed with a single metal keel — as in fin.

"The name kind of rolled off my tongue one day and it just stuck," said Brian. 

"We wanted to marry a surf culture theme with everyday lifestyle needs, like craft coffee, healthy cold-pressed juices and various on-the-go bites," he said.

The name gets people talking, he said, and "it’s kind of fun to get people thinking about it."

Brian, a "self-inspired photographer," moved to Southern California in 2006 and focused on his work which he described on his website as "embodied by music, lifestyle, portrait and event photography."

He traveled the world, he said, in his "creative passion for seeking light," from 20,000-seat arenas to the tranquil coastline of Costa Rica. His work, he said, was "guaranteed eye candy with a creative twist."

It was during that era that he traveled as a tour photographer with musicians like U2, Sting, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, The Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, Sebastian Maniscalco and Boyz II Men.

Always in the back of his mind, he said, was the idea of returning to Westerly. 

"And I absolutely fell in love with Westerly," Chiyoko said. 

In 2012, when he was working as the tour manager for Axe Body Spray's "One Night Only" tour featuring Diplo, Brian asked Josh Behan, a Westerly-based photographer, to be the tour photographer. The two ended up touring the country for a couple of weeks "in a tiny, overcrowded RV," Behan recalled on Monday.

"I think Stick & Fin is a great addition to our community," said Behan in a text. "Surfing and surf culture are a big part of this town for me, and Stick & Fin fits right in there with Rhode Island Surf Company, High Tide Juice Co, Civil, and others."

Dan Riordan, a partner at the Westerly-based company Gnarly Bay productions, said he is "so happy and excited for Brian and Chiyoko."

"We look forward to having more amazing options nearby with great vibes for coffee, snacks, and conversations," Riordan said. "We’ve done creative projects over the years with Brian ...[and] he is an incredible human."

"Westerly is lucky to have him channel his great energy, creativity and passion into a downtown business," he added. 

Stick & Fin will open officially on July 1, with a full menu, although they will welcome guests today for their "soft opening" from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be serving coffee, espresso, and pastry.

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