Dan Anderson and Greg Hoyt, owners of Dogwood Coffee, wanted to create something different when they started their company in October 2010.
Anderson, a St. Anthony Park resident, began his voyage into the coffee world as a hobby and a passion. “I was a home roaster,” he said recently at Dogwood’s newest shop at 825 Carleton St. “I loved all the nuances and variables of coffee. It’s always different, you can never conquer it, which makes coffee a fun adversary.”
The business idea grew slowly when Anderson was introduced to Hoyt, who had extensive experience in the commodity coffee business. Anderson was in commercial real estate, but it seemed like a good time to pursue their mutual interest in high-quality coffee wholesaling and retailing.
“When we first started Dogwood we knew we wanted to do coffee differently than how most were doing it six years ago,” Anderson said.“We knew we wanted a retail space because we felt like we needed a place to show customers how we care about coffee, more about our personality, not just wholesale.”
The first retail space in Calhoun Square in Uptown Minneapolis was eventually joined by a shop on Lake Street and in January 2016, the largest of their cafes opened in South St. Anthony.
While wholesale remains the biggest portion of Dogwood’s business, the Carleton Street cafe highlights the company’s laser-point attention to quality on every level. From the size of ice cubes that go into your cold press to the exact temperatures of the dairy products, every little detail is watched and studied in order to perfect each cup of cappuccino served.
“We take the approach of striving for the highest quality in every step. From studying the chemistry of milk and heat and sugar development and how that interacts with our coffee, we really want all those nuanced notes to shine in every cup,” Anderson said. “We have a stewardship mentality of bringing the best of what is possible in this coffee, what these amazing producers work so hard toward, to the public. The producers we use care so much and we should carry that level of effort all the way through.”
It’s all about making a little extra effort. Or a lot.
Dogwood carefully sources its beans under the watchful eye of director of coffee Stephanie Ratanas, then roasts the coffee in Northeast Minneapolis as well as in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Canadian connection is relatively new, brought on by the challenge of meeting demand from our neighbors to the north.
“It’s pretty tricky for U.S. roasters to send their coffee to Canada,” Anderson explained. “We learned through experience that even when you do everything right, the product can get held up in customs for a couple of days, and that doesn’t work well if a shop that is expecting beans on Monday doesn’t get them until Wednesday.”
Producing in Canada allows Dogwood to more reliably serve the needs of their customers there. “It also enables us to be more competitive price wise,” he said.
Sourcing the highest quality beans and perfecting the roasting process is only half the battle. As is the case with any artisan product, educating the customer is the other half.
“I genuinely believe if a customer tries our cappuccino, it might be smaller than they are expecting, or the milk might not be as hot, but once you try it you see the difference those details make,” Anderson said. “It’s not the overly frothed, overly bitter coffee they might be used to.”
“I think hospitality is so important, to make everyone feel welcome,” he continued. “Sometimes this type of coffee can come off a little intimidating. We are not saying that the coffee they’ve liked in the past is wrong, rather we are trying to meet people where they are, make them comfortable, let them try it our way.”
Just like it took a while for the dining public to connect with the locally sourced, ultra-seasonal, higher priced items on their plates at restaurants, it might just be a matter of time for the everyday coffee drinker to become accustomed to this type of high-end, high-quality approach to their cup of Joe. Or not.
“Maybe we are not for everybody, but everything we try to do is in a warm and engaging and authentic way,” Anderson said. “Our spaces are a natural collection of the relationships and connections we’ve made.”
Anderson has gotten to know the folks at Loll Duluth, who crafted the custom furniture in the cafe, and Dogwood’s roasting facility is by Minneapolis designer Blu Dot, who supplied the softer chairs that anchor the space. Even the wall hangings are connected to the community, including work from local, and world-renowned, photographer Alec Soth.
“It sounds cheesy, but I look around the space and I see relationships,” Anderson smiles.
As the new shop finds its footing in the community, Dogwood is planning a few exciting developments. While they already carry pastries from Rustica Bakery, which is owned by Hoyt, the menu will be expanded in October to include sandwiches featuring meats from Lowry Hill Meats on Rustica breads and vegan options from the Herbivorous Butcher in Northeast Minneapolis.
“We want our food to be at the level that we try to have our coffee the importance of quality sourcing the best products and serve commodity level meats on prewrapped sandwiches. Our food offerings have to be consistent with our coffee.” Look for these sandwiches to debut at the St. Paul location in the beginning of October. They are also looking into the possibility of carrying beer and wine. A new espresso blend called Bear Hug will also be launched in October, joining longtime blend Neon. While Neon is brighter, intense espresso, Bear Hug will be a more chocolaty, big-bodied blend.
“We love it here. We had wanted to be in St. Paul for a while,” Anderson said. “When Ben Levitz from Studio on Fire bought the building, it was a great opportunity to come here.”
The coffee shop has large windows overlooking Studio on Fire’s unique presses for a behind-the-scene view of the artisan printing process. Studio on Fire created the new retail bag labeling for Dogwood, which are also debuting this fall.
Other than the addition of their new mobile coffee trailer, Dogwood has no other plans for expansion any time soon. Slow, steady growth is just fine with Anderson.
“Where we are now, I am really proud of Dogwood,” Anderson concluded.
Alex Lodner writes about food and community news regularly in the Park Bugle.