Can you feel it? The long days are getting longer, the sunshine is getting shinier. The flowers, they bloom. Not to mention the baseball—did you know they’re playing it every day now? We’re almost—almost!—ready to gear up for an incredible Series Seven of our annual Build-Outs of Summer roving feature series, exploring the best and brightest in new cafes under construction around the world. Look for an open call for submissions on the near horizon, somewhere amidst the barbecue smoke and chilled sparkling beverages.
But for today we’re taking an in-depth look at a project built not during the summer, but across a long and frigid Minnesota winter. Our longtime partners at Dogwood Coffee just opened a truly stunning new roasting headquarters and cafe space in Minneapolis at 1209 Tyler St NE (just across the river from Downtown and not far from the University of Minnesota). It was an epic undertaking, involving creatives from a wide berth of fields and plenty of support from the local Minnesota specialty coffee community.
Photos of this place look truly wild. The wallpaper! The vibe! All that gorgeous neon! To learn more we sat down for this in-depth interview (a glimpse of Build-Outs to come) with Dogwood Coffee owner Dan Anderson.
As a start, let us know a bit of background about this project—how long has the new HQ space been in development? Who did you work with on this project for design and architecture?
Our new space was just down the hall from where we’d been roasting since our beginning in 2010. Truth be told, we coveted the space for a long time. It was originally a photo studio and I totally get it now. It’s a huge open space with just the best natural daylight. The photography studio had covered all the sides of this southern-facing space with large windows and glass garage doors, no interior lights really—just lots and lots of glass. So, that was the foundation of the space. Last winter (we tell time with seasons here), the tenants who had it under lease told us they were gonna let go of the space and we jumped right on it.
We worked with an architect for the city submittal plan, but most of the design we actually did ourselves collaborating with a lot of talented friends. First off, the space was vacant and just down the hall, so I really had unlimited access to sit/stand/walk and dream/stare/notice and of course, lots and lots of thick blue masking tape marking off every idea and option. My wife was my greatest partner in helping define and refine the design. She really helped me pull everything together. We wanted a space that was bright, playful, welcoming, reflective, layered, warm and uniquely us.
As I mentioned earlier, we had a lot of help from great friends and ultimately they are what allowed us to achieve the type of space we hoped for. Here’s a snapshot of some of those collaborations:
*Michael Brown, production designer for Bon Iver and The National—walked the space with me early on and shared thoughts on lighting, acoustics, and creating environments. Put me on to using wool felt as an acoustic material. Our lighting (Turf Designs) are large felt baffles with integrated LED lighting and some of them are even full RGB color adjustable, which allows us to play with light as color in the space.
*Ashley Mary, painter—worked with us on a custom mural to cover a long-running wall on the cafe side. Her use of color and forms create such a playful, bright and energizing space.
*Alec Soth, photographer—in between losing in ping pong matches to him, Alec heard out our vision and searched through his catalog of photographs for just the right one and was then willing to have us large-scale print his museum worthy work on FRP (Marlite.com) to use as the back wall of our bar. It was a first for both of us.
*BluDot, furniture company—their headquarters is just down the way in our same building complex. They worked with us on all our soft seating in the cafe and all our office furniture. Nadia (their Visual Creative Lead) and her team even personally helped us plan and execute the furniture layout.
*Loll & Intectural, furniture and architectural supply—these and companies are owned by our friends up in Duluth. With Loll, they created custom booths for us made from recycled bottles. Intectural supplied us with Richlite panels that we made our bar from and also all the thermally-modified wood we used for interior walls and our deck/patio. They even did a custom milling of our wall boards that allowed us to add ¼” strips of felt (supplied by the lighting company TURF that matched our felt lights) between each row of boards.
*Skyline Neon—Since Neon (our espresso blend) has been a core product for us since our beginning, we always have a neon installation in all our cafes, and they’re all made here in Minneapolis by Matt Thompson. This neon installation was by far our most ambitious and Matt made it happen. We essentially suspended four running tubes in mid-air that start at our bar, puncture through the wall that separates the cafe from our roasting space, and then stops above our roaster. On the cafe side, a separate neon tube appears and then wraps around/squeezes all the tubes together. I know it’ll be missed by many customers, but I also know my staff is aware of what the neon installation represents. Each of the four tubes start from a different place and connect both our retail and roasting spaces. For us, it is a visual reminder that encompasses all of what Dogwood does with a knowing that we are bound together with all the people involved along the way.
*Benoit Tardif, illustrator and fellow hockey fan—we had the wonderful opportunity to work with a longtime personal favorite illustrator. Benoit is from Montreal and as we continue to strive to express the humanity behind and in our business, he created the perfect illustration that is uniquely Benoit and uniquely Dogwood. The illustration is what we used for our signage on the outside of our space. It was hand painted by Forrest Wozniak and his team. They painted it outside in the middle of January here—single digit temps at best. We built a little structure covered in plastic with a heater pumping in. I’ll never forget running coffee out to them in super freezing weather, and there they were painting away wearing just t-shirts.
What neighborhood is the new space located in, and can you tell our readers a bit about it?
The new space is located in NE Minneapolis. It’s a great neighborhood with a lot of artists, breweries, creative businesses, restaurants, and even a local ice arena a block away. Most people affiliate a lot of our local craft beer growth coming from within a number of blocks from us: Indeed, Dangerous Man, Able, BauHaus, and several more. It’s about a five minute drive or a 12 minute rollerblade, depending on your preferred mode of transportation, across the Mississippi River to the north of downtown.
Talk to us about some of the gear at the cafe and roastworks—what roaster are you working with? How about cafe gear? Anything new or notable to play with?
Lots of new tools and toys!
First off for roasting, we purchased a new Mill City 30kg roaster with a tube loader from Cablevey and a 500g Mill City for sampling and profile development. We previously had Probat roasters, and spent time considering them, Loring, and Mill City. We spent a lot of time with Joe Marrocco and Steve Green here at Mill City and really liked what they’ve come up with and where they are going with Mill City. So far we’ve been really happy with their system and the coffee is tasting better than ever. We also got a few items that help in terms of the physical demands of being a roaster. We’re using a prototype hydraulic lift cart with a built-in scale from Mill City that is immediately being appreciated in terms of cutting down all the repetitive lifting and loading. We also have a new ergonomic lift workstation (Ergotron) that we use for roasting. It has a large screen and is running a beta version of Cropster developed for Mill City. It’s also on casters and can move between our sample and production roasters. We are big fans of Cropster and have used them for all our inventory and profile management.
On our warehouse side, we purchased a sweet little blue 1991 battery Mitsubishi forklift with pneumatic tires (need for driving in the snow here). So fun! Previously we used hand pallet lifts for all the coffee and we just can’t get enough of the forklift now. We also got enough storage shelving from Uline to qualify for the free chocolate covered peanuts that are so good. We built a new training and cupping lab on our warehouse side and have a Synesso S200, Mahlkönig K30 Air and EK43s, two Curtis Corinth water towers, lots of Chemexes and Kalitas, Acaia scales (including the Cinco for cupping), Fellow kettles, notNeutral cupping bowls, and a bunch of Umeshisho rainbow cupping spoons.
For the cafe coffee tools, we got a glitter stardust powder-coated three-group Synesso MVP Hydra, three Mahlkönig PEAK grinders (for espresso service), EK43s paired with two Modbar pour-over units, and a Curtis G4 Thermopro paired with an EK43 for batch. We use notNeutral’s Vero glassware for our espresso drinks up through cappuccinos. We have the rose color for our Neon-based drinks and the smoke color for our Bear Hug-based drinks. More Chemexes, Kalitas, Acaia scales, and Fellow kettles. We’re also using Square’s new register and so far, so great.
What’s something you’re especially excited about for the space that folks might not notice at first glance?
I’m especially proud of the thought that went into this space in terms of accessibility. I know ADA requirements will address a baseline of accessibility considerations, but we wanted to push it further in terms of thoughtfulness. One example is that we put the best seat at our bar at wheelchair height and included another chair right alongside it for a friend or special someone. The rest of the bar bumps up to the traditional bar height. I couldn’t think of any bars around that someone in a wheelchair could pull up to and it’s been one of my greatest joys in the space to see it when it’s used. We’re currently arranging a third party accessibility audit of all our shops to learn how we can better make our spaces accessible to all. More than anything coming from this interview, I’d love to encourage everyone out there to consider doing an accessibility audit of their spaces if they haven’t already.
What’s your favorite coffee right now in the Dogwood line-up?
I am a total sucker for our Andrade family coffee from Colombia. We’ve purchased all of their exported coffee since 2012 and do some day lot separations of the best days. It ends up supplying us with an almost year-round supply of constantly arriving small vac-packed bricks of stunning coffee. We roll out one day lot after another and they are a consistent favorite of mine. We’re on one lot right now that just has the juiciest tropical flavors—it’s such a satisfying cup!
Your previous HQ space was full of delightful nick-nacks and tchotchkes—we partied there a full time and the space had so much personality. How did you transfer that spirit into a new home?
I love trying to figure out fun little surprises to add throughout our spaces. Things you might not always notice in coming once, but the more you come, the more you might discover. In this space we have a full glassed-in room (racquetball court-esque) dedicated to just playing ping pong. It has a real tennis court floor with a center stripe, and the only music in the room comes from a custom Mixtape (Mixtape is also a blend of ours) cassette we made that’s played on an 80’s JVC Boombox.
We have two bathrooms in our space; one has this metallic tiger pattern wallpaper and only plays “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat and includes an early Balboa cardboard cutout on the back of the door, the other has a gold chain foil wallpaper and includes a vintage large photo of Run DMC, only plays “My Adidas” on repeat and has a vintage pair of Jam Master Jay Superstars hanging from their laces on a pipe running across the ceiling. I also had a pair of baby Superstars glued down to a lower shelf on a diaper changing table in the room, but someone already stole those, sadly. I think bathrooms are an easy place to have some fun with, maybe it can just catch someone off guard a little bit and make them smile.
Another fun spot is hard to explain without seeing, but is essentially a combination of a mirrored multi-angle wall, a glass wall and a wallpapered wall. The wallpapered wall is a reflective mylar galaxy design that then has a suspended ceramic astronaut and a separate small rotating globe coming off the wall. About five feet across from that is the multi-angled mirrored wall that reflects back into the retail space through the large glass wall that separates the spaces. Oh forget it! Too hard to explain. It’s a big mirrored wall that reflects the customers back into the space. They bring the color, the movement, the dynamism to the space, and at just the right angle for them as they walk by, they’re reflected back into this deep cosmic space.
A final little touch of fun is we’ve adorned a wall in our cupping room with all the national soccer scarves we could find from countries we buy coffee from. The only bummer is a quick realization that East Africa needs some better representation on the world soccer stage.
Are you going to make more hockey pucks?
We just made some new ones inspired by the old Minnesota North Stars logo. Kevin is our production manager here and one heck of a designer! He’s done a lot of designs for us, and this is one of my personal favorites. We like them as tamp mats, paper weights, and the obvious as hockey pucks.
The Minnesota (and specifically Twin Cities) coffee scene is really special—lots of personality, lot of cafes. What makes the coffee culture in your part of the US so great?
The Twin Cities at its best can pair humility with quality, something special from both the product and the experience. We do have a lot of great coffee here and some really wonderful shops. We’re also home to Cafe Imports, Mill City Roasters and the Northern Coffee Alliance, which are obviously huge assets here to the coffee community. We really have world-class restaurants (currently three women chef James Beard finalists representing us), baking (Rustica, Baker’s Field, Sunstreet, Patisserie 46, Black Walnut), and beverage communities (too many distilleries, cocktail rooms & breweries to name).
We’re also home to some people doing really special things, like Sean Sherman, author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen and a personal hero of mine, who is revitalizing Native American cuisine and currently building a new project here called the Indigenous Food Lab; Steve Horton, a gifted baker who has brought flour milling back to Minneapolis, sourcing various grains from local small farmers, stone milling it right here in Minneapolis and then baking naturally-leavened breads in a wood-fired oven; Tony Querio at Spyhouse, winner of the 2106 US Roasting championship; and the team at Gutter Punk, who works to provide employment and development for youth experiencing homelessness.
We’re very fortunate to be surrounded by such a gifted and collaborative community.
Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.