The Ruffos and Blythes

Sylvia and Doug Ruffo, owners of Benezette Wines, are pictured with their daughter, Kristi Blythe, and her husband, Eric, in front of Elk Life.

BENEZETTE — “Elk Life” apparel took over the Old Bull Cafe building on Church Street Aug. 1 of this year, a dream come true for founders Eric and Kristi Blythe.

Kristi’s father, Doug Ruffo, is also part owner in the company, and has historical ties to Benezette Hotel. Ruffo and his wife, Sylvia, now own Benezette Wines, a previous location for Elk Life apparel products.

Elk Life clothing was created and trademarked in 2018, Kristi said, and sold at the wine store. It outgrew that space, though, so when they heard about the cafe building opening up, it was meant to be, she said.

The store, located in the heart of elk country, offers clothing, specialty coffee, boba tea, Perry’s Ice Cream — an Old Bull Cafe favorite — and simple foods like hot dogs or meatball subs, she said, all things customers can enjoy at outdoor picnic tables.

Appealing to the tourists and visitors of Benezette has been a great experience, Kristi said. Eric added that it’s enjoyable to watch people see the elk that sometimes graze near the building.

Expanding to this location during the COVID-19 pandemic has worked out in their favor, Kristi said, since less people have been going on their vacations to the beach, and more are camping.

“It has actually been busier during COVID,” she said. “People like that we are open.”

Being that the fall season is the elk’s “rut season,” too, the Blythes say business is booming.

The goal, Kristi said, is to expand where the clothing line is available for purchase.

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“We have reached out to elk tourist areas in different states,” she said.

Elk Life also supports other local businesses, offering elk jerky from Ridgway, Elkwood Arts products and clothing made at “TEE-Riffik” Screen Printing and Embroidery in Big Run, Kristi said.

Elk Life also teams up with the Elk Country Visitor Center and Benezette Hotel for certain efforts, she added.

The Blythes, who have five children, say that all of them help work at the store, and their daughter runs the Instagram page, “@realelklife.”

Eric says after living in Houston, they brought back some things with them, including kolache breakfast pastries. Elk Life is also known for its mini hot donuts.

Kristi says she can remember talking to her father as a teenager about owning a business together — something that has now come to fruition.

Working at the wine shop taught the Blythes a lot about hospitality, Eric says, something they pride themselves on at the Elk Life store.

“We love the area, and we love the people here,” Eric said. “We are very blessed.”

The store is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visit Elk Life on Facebook or Instagram or for more information.

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