The North American cities of Winnipeg and Minneapolis have more in common than you might think. Separated by just a short 7-hour drive across the I-94 and up the I-29—European Sprudge readers, a 7-hour drive is NBD in these parts—the cities share a love for winter life, arts and culture, and most important for our purposes, good coffee. In Winnipeg, brands like Little Sister Coffee Maker and Parlour Coffee helped put the city on the Canadian culinary map for its small but vibrant coffee scene. In Minneapolis, there's no shortage of tasty coffee and good eats, but even in a competitive market our longtime friends & partners at Dogwood Coffee have been able to stand out in all the right ways: smart design, a distinct brand voice, interesting cafe experiences, wholesale partnerships with like-minded folk, and a green coffee sourcing program that punches above its weight class.
The cities are, however, separated by the longest international border in the world, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Somewhere in the middle there you'll find the border between Minnesota and Manitoba (technically, North Dakota is in the mix as well, as you cruise up I-29), and that's where the differences start to disappear. All that's left are hockey rivalries and fewer politicians in common, as if these things matter in the long run. America and Canada don't always agree, but Minnesota and Manitoba? Folks from these places get along like long lost woodsy kin.
So here now, then, is some news: Dogwood Coffee of Minneapolis, Minnesota is expanding operations to the Canadian city of Winnipeg. They've formed a partnership with several local Winnipeg (and Greater Manitoba) business folk, including Nils Vik of Parlour Coffee, Vanessa Stachiw of Little Sister, and Chad Ermel of Flatland Coffee. Dogwood Canada will share sourcing and brand ethos with their partners in Minneapolis, but will execute production roasting and distribution from a brand new roasting HQ in the Winnipeg Exchange District. Cafes across Winnipeg will begin serving Canadian-roasted Dogwood Coffee; the two wings will operate together as part of a larger unified Dogwood brand.
This kind of thing doesn't happen every day! For more about the project, we sat down with the principals involved: Dan Anderson, Dogwood Coffee USA's owner; Nils Vik, of Parlour Coffee and partner / director of operations for Dogwood Canada; Vanessa Stachiw, of Little Sister Coffee Maker and partner / sales & training director for Dogwood Canada; Chad Ermel, of Flatland Coffee, and partner / head roaster for Dogwood Canada; and Stephanie Ratanas, Dogwood's green coffee guru.
But first things first, this here video by Nate Larson and Nathan Dale Studios helps set the scene for what's about to happen. Curling never looked so cool.
An exciting Minnesota coffee brand is partnering with some of the top coffee minds in Manitoba to helm a Winnipeg expansion. Is this news? Do we want to learn more? Yeah, sure, you betcha.
Hello all you Dogwoods. Please give us an overview on the expansion, in your own words.
Dan Anderson: Dogwood is going to be opening a roasting facility in Winnipeg to do roasting there. One thing to be clear about is—it’s not an American company going to put up a location in Canada. We’re partnering with Canadians. Dogwood was started in Minnesota but we’re partnering with our friends in Winnipeg and moving forward in it together. We’ll maintain our roastery in Minneapolis and open a facility in Winnipeg.
So the Winnipeg company will be branded as Dogwood?
Dan Anderson: Yeah, one of our big things is that it’s one unified company. It’s a partnership but also the coffees—part of it that’s exciting is for Stephanie [Ratanas] to continue to grow the ability of our coffees, and that network of producers, so it’ll all be that unified Dogwood.
Tell us about your plans for Winnipeg headquarters.
Nils Vik: Essentially, we are in the midst of a large renovation to a historic warehouse building in the Exchange District in Winnipeg (downtown), right around the corner from Parlour Coffee. It’s a heritage building which was built in 1921. It’s being brought down to its bones and built back up again. We’re teaming up with great friends / landlords. We’re pretty excited about the build-out.
2000 square feet will house the roastery area, including a cupping room and training lab on the main floor. But we will share space with other tenants including a co-work space and cafe as well as a flexible events space with some small-scale amphitheater seating. The third floor will be offices, while the lower level will house an art gallery and cocktail bar.
Will there be a Dogwood cafe in Winnipeg?
Nils Vik: Right now the plan is to only focus on wholesale roasting and training. Currently, the cafe in our shared space will not be a Dogwood cafe.
Which shops in the city will be serving the coffee?
Nils Vik: All of our cafes (the Canadian folks’) will carry Dogwood coffee. All three of our cafes will remain multi-roaster for now, and we have a few cafes and restaurants lined up as accounts.
Will you share green coffee sourcing between the two companies?
Stephanie Ratanas: Yes. The sourcing that Dogwood is doing is just expanded by the Canadian operation. So it’ll be a different volume, but the idea is to have the same coffees and the same sorts of coffees in Canada and the US. Our Neon Espresso blend will basically be a duplicate; the expansion lets us buy more coffee from the same people and from the beginning of Dogwood. Through our growth, it’s become easier and more fulfilling to be able to buy more coffee, so it’ll just be more of a good thing.
Will you be trying to create distinct roasts and blends between the two HQs or trying to get them calibrated and close together? Will Neon in MPLS be the same as Neon in Winnipeg?
Stephanie Ratanas: The goal is to keep them as calibrated as possible. There will obviously be variables—you know, if you order from the Chicago Intelligentsia vs their roastery in LA, there’s going to be slight differences. But I’m really proud of our roasting here and I think we’re really good at it so I want to keep it that way as much as possible.
Where’s the Winnipeg coffee scene at? What does this represent?
Nils Vik: Four years ago, the specialty coffee scene was non-existent in Winnipeg. Parlour opened in 2011 and was received very well by Winnipeggers. Now in 2015, there’s 9 shops serving specialty coffee here, and about 5 really dedicated cafes (just coffee shops) and a couple of bakeries and sandwich shops serving really high-quality coffee. So from 0 specialty roasters being represented to now being able to get 49th Parallel, Phil and Sebastian, Stumptown, Matchstick, Heart, Detour Coffee, Intelligentsia…going from nothing to a lot in about 4 years is amazing. I think it’s about time to have a roaster around the corner to shed light on that aspect of the production, and give back to that growing community. It’s pretty exciting.
There’s a bit of roasting in Winnipeg but it’s coming from a different philosophy. Black Pearl Coffee is a longstanding small local roaster and tends to prefer fairly dark roast profiles. They’ve got their market and people love it. There are people roasting in and around Winnipeg but we are excited to provide an alternative with a different vision.
Americans and Canadians aren’t typically super close; there aren’t many brands I can think of that are doing American & Canadian collaborations. What’s different about this?
Dan Anderson: Ultimately, what this is is a natural progression of friendships that have developed. In a lot of ways, we have close proximity to each other, and a pretty shared life and outlook on life and experience of life, and so it’s quite natural—we just happen to have this international border between these two cities. From Dogwood’s perspective, it’s pretty exciting for us to have our coffees be more accessible in an area that’s completely like Minnesota—exactly like Minnesota in terms of love of coffee and winter northern life, and outlook on life and everything in that sense—it feels natural. These are the people I want to grow Dogwood with. These people are fantastic and we’re thrilled to work with them in growing Dogwood. Having more of a reach with the producers we work with and the systems we’ve been able to develop over the years.
Vanessa Stachiw: You mentioned a cultural difference between American & Canadians maybe kind of stopping partnerships between the countries, but I don’t know…Manitobans have more in common with Minnesotans than we do with British Columbians. Canada is such a huge country. The two states/provinces are quite similar and they tend to breed a similar kind of person. We’re really like-minded and we get each other, and it works.
Nils Vik: I think too, maybe the reason we haven’t seen US roasteries looking to expand into Canada is that from a dollars and cents perspective it’s a small market. There are more Californians than Canadians. If your goal is to make a ton more money, Canada isn’t necessarily on your radar. We’re after spreading good coffee and getting to know good people…we’re motivated by more than just a market. This is motivated by coffee and relationship and friendships, and having more buying power. This might not be tapping into the Japanese market or LA or something, but like, I'm being a little self-deprecating I suppose…we want to have fun and do a good job and that’s priority #1.
Your announcement video seems to celebrate stuff that gets parodied a lot—ice fishing, curling. You guys almost make it look fashionable and cool. Is this tongue in cheek? Are you all actually into curling?
Vanessa Stachiw: Yes and no. Some of it is put on a little bit…but Little Sister and Parlour are in a curling league and we play through the winter, and that’s our club. Dan plays a lot of hockey.
Dan Anderson: And we all eat a lot of great maple syrup. We all love the winter life, ice fishing or snowmobiling or sledding. When you’re raised here you learn to celebrate that. Hockey and curling are legitimate pastimes of this group.
Americans, if they know Winnipeg at all, know you for the Jets hockey franchise and The Weakerthans independent music group. What does Winnipeg have culturally that we might have no clue about?[much laughter from group]
Nils Vik: The curling rink from that video…John K. Samson of the Weakerthans, he organizes our curling league. He’s a really great guy and he loves great coffee.
Nils Vik: Winnipeg is culturally quite rich. Really amazing visual arts come out of Winnipeg…it's on people’s radar around the world. Marcel Dzama is from Winnipeg, as well as Wanda Koop. There was a recent show in Paris showcasing all Winnipeg work—Guy Maddin is from Winnipeg and directed the film My Winnipeg, which is probably more celebrated outside of Winnipeg than he is in our own city. In terms of a creative community it’s really incredible.
There's a restaurant on the ice every year, a temporary restaurant on the river and they bring in chefs from around the city and around the world on the ice. We have the world’s longest skating trail. We have bad roads, crumbling infrastructure, mosquitos, and it really is so cold. It’s the coldest large city in the world.
Dan Anderson: I’ve been spending some time up there and as an outsider, the people from Winnipeg are so endearing. I have 3 young boys up and we took them to see the Minnesota Wild [NHL franchise] and even in that atmosphere, everyone was amazing, I’ve never felt that level of hospitality even in an sporting event of a rival. The people and the city are totally charming and endearing.
Nils Vik: Our license plates say “Friendly Manitoba“.
When does the new Winnipeg facility open?
Vanessa Stachiw: Target season is this fall.
Nils Vik: The city, like many cities across North America, is very bureaucratic and slow. The permit process will take some time and so we are hoping that fall of this year is realistic.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and has some questions about ice fishing.
Photos of Dogwood Winnipeg courtesy of Dogwood Coffee.