Scott Ervin of Norseman Distillery

We walked down into a dark cellar and we saw the Norseman Distillery logo hanging on a banner over two grey industrial doors. Scott Ervin, the owner and lead distiller of Norseman Distillery, was waiting for us with rolled up khakis, flip flops and open arms. He welcomed us into his workspace. The noisy metal doors lead us to a leather couch, his two dogs, Max and Rocket who he calls his “team”, and Netflix projected on a big white wall. Scott does it all, distilling, testing, packaging, labeling and branding. His operation is humble, smart and wonderous. For a moment, it made us think we could do this, but once we began our interview, we learned that it takes a special person to pursue such a venture. Learn more about Scott Ervin, his “team” and Norseman Distillery.

We did a little research before coming to see you. So, you were an architect building wee houses before you started Norseman? How did all of that happen?

We did a  brewery project in St. Paul. They have a space about the same size as mine. We did their bottle layout, the tanks and everything else up there, super cool people. I thought to myself that there are so many people going into breweries right now. Before this, I looked into buying into someone else's brewery saying like, “oh man, what do I know about all this stuff?”

You had done some brewing at that point, right?

Yes, I did a little homebrewing stuff. Technically brewing this stuff at home is illegal.

I was going to say, this is legal, right?

We go through the Department of Agriculture. That’s what’s crazy about it, this isn’t regulated by the Health Department, Department of Agriculture, or the FDA.

How does that work?

All of the guys who started the large distilleries out there in the 1940s bribed everybody and changes all the rules because they didn’t want to deal with it anymore.

You have quite an operation here, is your equipment historical? Did you design it?

We started it with a Summit beer keg right over here, and made into a still. There’s another one over here.

You made grain alcohol in this thing?!

The first batch we ever made down here, packaged and sold, came out of that Summit beer keg still.

How much of this stuff are you making?

Right now we are just selling the gin and vodka, soon we will have a strawberry rhubarb gin and we’re making some rum right now.

Photo by Eliesa Johnson

When you say “we” who do you mean? All I see is you down here.

Ha! the “we” is just me and my dogs. It sounds like a bigger show, but it’s just me and the dogs.

Do you work eighty hours a week?

Its 100 hours a week, at least. I had no idea it was going to be nearly this successful when I started. I was starting to make quite a bit last summer. At that time, I wasn’t able to sell any of what I made, but I said let’s set up a couple barrels and get this thing going! Then when Christmas comes around we can take a break.

What was the tipping point for you? What brought you from the Summit keg still to these giant stills?

We have cut out stills into pieces and remanufactured them a few different times to keep up with growth. Everything was organic, as we grew, we make-shifted new stills, made additions and brought in new, larger ones. Each still has paid for the one before it. We have pretty much bootstrapped the whole thing.

They call you Minneapolis’ first micro-distillery, what constitutes that? What makes your operation “micro”?

Technically in Minnesota if you make less that forty-thousand gallons per year you’re considered micro. There are even two tiers in micro, there are forty-thousand and twenty-thousand. We make around ten-thousand gallons about one quarter the amount of a true micro brewery.

Is it important to you to be considered a micro distillery?

I think it’s interesting, I wanted to build from scratch with my own blood, sweat and tears. I wanted to do something that I was completely proud of. We wanted to work on every piece of it. We designed the box and their special folding pattern.

The packaging is amazing and the branding is spot on.

Thank you! Most people would hire all kinds of people to do these jobs, but why give all of that fun stuff away? There is a ton of cool stuff to do here.

What makes your shipping boxes special?

They are double walled so we can ship. If we’re going to ship it to like five different states we need to have a box that better protects the product. We can barely keep Minneapolis stocked right now so we want to take care in every step of the process.

Where can I walk into a bar and ask for a Martini with Norseman Vodka?

The closest place is probably the Hilton downtown. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has it over there too. We’re also supplying twenty restaurants at this moment. There’s a place in St. Paul called Harvester that, they have it there, also.

How do you ever know how much you have to make?

Right now we just make as much as we possibly can. I spoke to my distributor recently and he asked how much he could get tomorrow. I listed everything we had and he was here the next day to pick it all up.

If you have no vodka today, how much could you have ready in a week?

Right now we products one-hundred to one-hundred and twenty five cases. But, some weeks we’ll make two hundred and twenty cases and some weeks it will be zero. It all depends on demand. We fit six bottle per case.

Do you have plans for expansion?

We’re always trying to go as big as we can. We have double capacity about every three weeks. Now we’re maxed out for what we can get for power here and space. Right now we don’t have any inventory because it is always going right out the door. We don’t have a grain warehouse or anything like that. Many larger distilleries will have a silo full of grain.

Where is your grain?

It’s in these sacks over here and we grind it all in these two Burr Grinders.

We use the same ones at Urban Bean!

Awesome! We use corn, barley and rye. Our rye comes from Forest Lake, MN. The Burr Grinder gives us a lot of freedom to grind our gains to the perfect consistency. There is a perfect grind in distilling just like in the coffee world.

Do you get all of your products from Minnesota?

Yep! We have taken the approach that we are going to get the best stuff we can get out hands on. So if it comes from Minnesota, that’s great. We were able to find good stuff here, especially for the grains.

I come from the school where vodka doesn’t have a flavor, but yours truly does. What is it that you’re doing that gives it such a distinct flavor?

We have a very grain forward vodka. If you look at the vodka shelf at any liquor store, most of it comes from a regular ethanol plant where they take number two yellow corn, the cheapest stuff they can get, and they turn it into ethanol. The goal there is just to blend it with gasoline, it’s cheap.

For example, Phillips hasn’t actually made any liquor since 1941. They’re a bottling plant, they actually started across the street here. In their process, they don’t have any of this equipment, just bottling lines. They buy all their liquor from the ethanol plants. Its much cheaper that way.

People get what they get and they just expect it to be flavorless. It doesn’t have to be flavorless.

How do you keep that grain flavor in your vodka?

One thing that we do that is pretty unique is that we over malt it. Most people will take the barley and barley has this magical ingredient called amylase. Its the amylase that converts all of the starches into sugars. Barley is actually very sweet with many floral notes to it, generally its not used that way. Rather than just using it for the amylase, we use it as a flavoring compound in the actual product.

At an ethanol plant, they don’t select the best parts or batches, they just dump into one big vat. Here, I can pick the best of the best and run with it. We’re able to slow the process down and build some character into our product.

Are the ingredients in gin and vodka basically the same?

Yes they are, the distilling process is a bit different, but the actual base ingredient is the same.

When can we expect to see the rye and bourbon whiskeys on the shelf?

We’ll probably have the rye out sooner than the bourbon actually, but they probably won’t be out for another year and a half.

Because it needs to sit for a while, right?

Yes, exactly. Even then, if its not ready we’ll just hold onto it. I built this company to last, so I would like for it to be here in twenty five years, so I don’t want to just sell out and rush any processes.

How do you put the labels on your bottles?

We used to put them on by hand, but now we have these really sweet machines.

I’m going to quit my job and come work for you.

This is the best job you can have, it’s like cooking, chemistry, design, everything! Except the crazy long hours, this is best job ever.

It doesn’t feel like work, does it?

No, not at all. We have a projector in here so we can watch Netflix, we’ve got a radio and we can get the tunes goin’.

I overlooked the names of your dogs, can you introduce us?

This guy is Rocket and that’s Max.

Photo by Eliesa Johnson

So, does your day start pretty early in the morning?

Yeah kinda, we tend to stay pretty late. Last night we were here until 1:30 in the morning.

So, you left a position that was giving you an income.

Yeah, I said to my wife that I had to do this, there’s nobody doing this. It’s prime. Ten years from now, people will be saying they wish they were doing it this way. So I was like, how can I do this and how fast can we get it done?

The time when people started to really come onto us was when we were doing blind taste tests last summer. We would line up like ten vodkas and nine out of ten people would pick ours every time. It was then when I knew that when we actually get there we will have something special.

I spent six month doing taste tests to get the vodka to where I was happy with it. Most of the guys that I talk to who want to start distilleries, they plan to have a product out right after the distillery is open. I hope to god it’s good stuff and you know what you’re doing, but if it’s shit you’re going to take us all down with you. take it easy, slow it down a little bit.

Like, we tried to make a wild rice vodka last summer, but it was awful. It was as bitter as bitter gets so there was no way we were going to sell that.

Will you be able to do tastings and events here?

We will do the tastings eventually. We sold fifteen hundred tickets on this groupon for a distillery tours through November on Saturdays and Thursdays. Now I’m going to be a tour guide for two days a week.

How long has it been since you officially became a business?

We came in here and started painting last February. We were in here for nine months before we could actually sell anything while we waited for the permits to come together.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

Nathan Beck of Natedogs

Nathan Beck aka Natedogs, is known around town as the wiener guy. He is passionate, outgoing and always remembers your name or where he met you for the first time (we still don’t know how he does that). Not only is he all over the state serving up high quality, locally made wieners, Nate is a father of five girls and a husband to his lovely wife who you will serving up hot dogs as well. Nate is driven by providing a delicious product, giving to charity and running his business that is built on integrity. In our interview, Nate shares how he started Natedogs, his passion for style and how to make and enjoy the perfect wiener.

So Nate, tell us how everything started.

When I started prior to opening Natedogs I used to manage two high quality shoe stores who used carried only Birkenstocks. I had been in retail for a long time so I always enjoyed dressing up, clothes, all of that stuff. Greg and I have a lot of that in common, we’re both dorks about that stuff. I have always loved shoes especially, leather goods, anything like that. Birkenstocks were really cool because they fit that niche, I liked working for a company with a lot of history, stuff that has nostalgia to it, craft, that’s all very high quality, everything about it appealed to me, and it was a cool shop. Towards the end, it wasn’t nearly as fun, but I wanted to actually buy the stores, take them over, rebrand them and keep them in that same niche. The guy I worked for really wanted his kids to take it over and as I started to see that I had to do something on my own. I cooked for a while, I had done amateur chef stuff on the side, and I would cater for church events, dinner parties, that kind of stuff just for fun. And then I realized that I was probably going to be out of a job, I was like well I don’t really want to work for somebody else, so lets see if we can do something fun.

So a couple of food trucks had started in 2010, like Chef Shack. They had been at the Mill City Museum and farmers markets for a while, maybe two to three years prior to that. World Street Kitchen had started in 2010; the Turkey To-Go guys were out there. So, I met with them, took a peek at how they were doing it. I thought it would be a lot of fun doing it because it fits a lot of my personality strengths very well, but as we started looking at investing and starting a business I realized that it was very important for me to start with little to no debt and to have something that hasn’t been done in the Twin Cities. Hot dogs are far and away my favorite food. Like on the about page of my website, I talk about eating tons of foot longs at the State Fair. They’re one of my favorite things, I love hot dogs. People know me as a foodie, so when I tell them that my favorite food is hot dogs they’re like what?! But, they’re my favorite food.

What’s the story behind your cart?

So, I started looking at hot dog carts and thought, maybe I could afford to do a hot dog cart? It was actually my wife that came up with that idea. She said, “Honey, what about a cart?” So I started researching carts, I found a company that made highest quality cart I could find and would fit all the state guidelines I needed to follow for licensing and what not. Then I got a chance to work with a really cool local designer named Jeff Holmberg. He designed Dogwood’s packaging, branding and all their stuff, did a bunch of stuff for Rustica. So all of his aesthetic of what he liked to design really fit the niche of what I wanted the business to look like. I wanted the logo and overall branding to look very 30s and 40s baseball. A really nostalgic kind of cursive script, simple, very clean looking logo. As we started planning it, I was like wow we could actually do this! So my job came to an abrupt end in March, I took April to get ready then in May 2011 we took off with no safety net, no nothing. It is now the start of my fourth season with Natedogs, but as we started Natedogs I wanted to make sure that I had the highest quality product on hand, but still have a hot dog that a foodie or food snob would say that it’s really high quality stuff, but your average person who doesn’t give a rip about heritage breed, organic locally raised pork would eat and say, whoa that’s a really great hot dog. It was very important to me to catch both ends of that spectrum. I worked at every possible place I could find to simply get my name out there, but one niche that really helped me grow was when I started making mustards out of local beers because at the time the food trucks were really blossoming, all of the taprooms were starting to buzz. Like back to 2011 when Surly worked to pass the law so tap rooms could open in Minneapolis and right about that time these tap rooms opened up within the year and early spring of the next year then suddenly we were super busy because we were constantly serving at these tap rooms. Now I have a product that I am making from their product to serve on my hotdogs, so it became a great partnership. It was very important to me in starting the business, if you don’t base your business on relationships with your vendors or with your customers you’ve got squat. No matter what you do whether it is hot dogs, if you produce software, if you’re in advertising, if you don’t have those cool relationships and great friendships you’ve got nothing.

So one of my favorite things about the business is when you come to my cart, you’ll be standing on one side of the cart, and I will be serving hot dogs on the other and we can still be interacting, I can still be serving, we can still be having a conversation, you still feel part of the group. Where as when you approach a food truck or in a restaurant there’s either a counter, a window and you’re elevated up so can’t really comfortably talk, you don’t really have an interaction with the customer. My favorite part about actually having a cart even with all of it’s limitations, it creates much more of a theater aspect, and having a degree in music and a background in theater, that fits all of those same strengths. So when people come up to the cart, we put on a show, we make them feel welcome. I try and remember as many names as possible.

We don’t know how the hell you do that…

Because that’s a huge thing in business when you remember somebody’s name or if you say I met you at such and such event, I’m sorry I don’t remember your name, but I know we talked about this. Even that is enough to have people go, “dude, that’s awesome!” You know, it’s a small thing, but it really makes people feel special. It all adds into that relationship. For me, I am using this business as a way to engage and reach people, touch a nerve emotionally and get them involved in something that is more that just food. Because when you go to a cool restaurant, it’s rarely about the food. If they create an environment that is really special, you go back regardless if the food is the best or not. For instance, like a Mickey’s Diner or an Al’s Breakfast.

Photo by Eliesa Johnson

Charity is very important to you, right? Could you tell us why and how it integrates into your business?

I originally was planning to give away the value of one hot dog for every hot dog I sell to charity. You run out of places you can serve free hot dogs and there are only so many hours in a day. Due to the restrictions in the licensing around my truck, I wasn’t able to sell hot dogs inside local taprooms, but instead I sold everything for charity. I don’t know if that is technically legal or not, but I’ll wait to the city tells me to stop. Now we have decided to do all of our charitable partnerships with Feed My Starving Children in Coon Rapids where I live. With that, I can donate one meal for every hot dog I sell and we’re almost to 30,000 meals donated in two and a half years. I’m hoping to donate another 10,000 - 15,000 meals this year. It’s important for me to show my kids that giving is important, even when things are tight, but it just feels really good to give stuff away.

When I looked to start Natedogs, one of the things that I remember seeing was SurlyFest in 2010. I thought to myself, how cool would it be if I could do SurlyFest with my hot dog cart? In the first month that I opened the hot dog cart, we had the idea to make is as charitable as we possibly could and still survive. So it was the second week of May in 2010 when the tornadoes went through North Minneapolis, my wife said to me that we should go out and serve food to these families whose houses are destroyed. We did three to four days of serving with a couple other trucks and evidently someone from Surly came by and saw us serving food then invited us to participate in the Surly Power of the Pint Party. When we started the business we said that if this business is going to work people will appreciate who we are, the path we’re trying to forge and we are going to work really really really hard, but it has to authentic and genuine. I didn’t want to be the guy out there who was calling people asking to set up in their business because to me that it becomes too aggressive it makes me nuts. So it all started at Surly, we got to know a few people there, and then it all grew organically. Since day one I have not called, asked or e-mailed anyone to be a part of an event.

Photo by Eliesa Johnson

Tell us about your mustards!

I have one packaged mustard now, I intended to release another last year, but the catering became such big part of my business that I had no time to release a second product. I did twenty-three weddings as the late night snack last year, eight graduation parties and catering all these lunches so it ended up we were just trying to survive. Being a dad with five girls and a husband it ends up being a lot. Hopefully now with getting both carts going and I have an employee to go out and to the cart while I do something else will hopefully free me up to develop that side of the business. I would like to release a series of beer mustards. We pretty much have everything to go for that I just have to pull the trigger and get them all approved which is just time. Also, I will have to figure out how I will produce them whether it will be me or someone else.

I’ve got a new topping that is a spicy chili relish that people love! I could package that also. The sweet, tangy slaw is something else I would like to package and sell. I want to be smart in the whole process so it will need to build and grow with time.

I would also like to brand the hot dogs with my logo also. You can get their brats and such and a few local grocery stores and co-ops, but now that the cart has a nice following the Natedogs logo would be great on them. I’m wouldn’t make much on them, but it would be cool to help them get more exposure as well as to tell people where they can go pick up my hot dogs.

Where are your mustards available now?

You can buy our mustard at Kitchen in the Market, Kramarczuk’s, the Electric Fetus and the Golden Fig.

Would you work with them to make your own specific dog?

Yeah! Right now they’re already making my brats specific to me.

What is the best way to experience a hot dog in your opinion?

There are lots of different toppings that can be good on a hot dog, but I always like to keep things simple. So, maybe two toppings at most and some type of sauce like mustard. Otherwise you end up overpowering the flavor of the hot dog.

The basics are, find the highest quality, cheap hot dog bun you can find. What I mean by this is that best, highest quality white, soft and squishy hot dog bun because when you bite that hot dog you want that bun to seamlessly fuse with the hot dog and all of the condiments.

Then you want to sparingly top the hot dog so you down drown the hot dog. I don’t particularly care for a Chicago Dog, the flavor is fine, but there is too much on the dog so you can’t eat everything all together, it makes a huge mess.

My favorite way is a classic Natedog wiener, the honey spice mustard that gives it that sweet and sour zing with just enough heat so its not overpowering and the salty, buttery caramelized onions. You get the salty and the sweet.

Ugh, that sounds incredible! So what’s your drink at Urban Bean?

Good cup of pour over, I like to keep it simple.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

Liz Abene of Canteen Girl

The four of us (Eliesa, Chris, Greg and Joe) pile into Lizzy’s, aka Canteen Girl’s, Kitchen. She’s buzzing around the kitchen with flour on her cheek, baking her kid’s favorites. Lizzy is camera shy, worried about her lack of makeup, and between questions she continuously asks us if we’re hungry. Her kitchen is warm, drawings by her children cover the walls. You know that this is the most important space in the house. Her famous Holly Bars are available at both of our locations and for wholesale. She was nice enough to let us interview her while she was baking. With that, we dove right in, asking all kinds of questions.

What is that stuff?

This is coconut oil. I buy the Louanna kind because it’s all natural, non-hydrogenated and its been around since 1894. I like it, it’s from the south. It’s not that fangled, I’m organic, I’m this, I’m that. It’s the real deal.

So, the deal with coconut oil is, if it’s above 74 degrees it becomes a liquid, but if it’s below it stays solid. So at this time of year I still have to melt it. It’s also a natural anti-bacterial so it’s really good for your skin.

How long has Canteen Girl been around for?

Since, last November. That’s when we decided on the name, but I started making granola in the summer. August probably.

How is your granola different from other granolas in the store?

My granola only has nine ingredients. My granola is not as sweet. My granola has a salty part to it as well that I think gives it a better flavor profile than the granolas in the store. I use whole almonds, I break up the walnuts, whole oats, a mixture of cinnamon and salt and I use maple syrup as the sweetener. Oh, and molasses.

And there’s my assistant… (Lizzy points to her beagle, Foxy).

Is Foxy your kitchen manager?

Yes, she’s my kitchen manager. She keeps the floor clean. Keep up the good work, Foxy! Excellent job!

How old is Foxy?

She’ll be ten next month! I’m so sad, she getting so old. She keeps walking to window sill and sniffing, wondering why it smells like squirrels.

(Lizzy turns on her mixer, making us all have to talk very loud. Foxy gets annoyed and goes outside.)

When did you start baking?

I started baking when I was little, but I started baking even more when I had kids.

What would you bake for them?

Everything. Even my first child’s baby food was made from scratch, then put into jars, then frozen. When my daughter got a little bigger, she would help me in the kitchen. She would get all covered in flour no matter what I was making, whether it was bread, pizza, or muffins, she was always covered.

So this has always been a passion of yours?

Yes, and more baking than cooking. I like to cook, but I like to bake more.

Why is that?

I don’t know, I just like it better. I like sweet more than savory, but baking is more exact and cooking can be more free. I prefer the constraints of baking. Certain amounts of this to that.

Do you have a favorite thing to bake?

My favorite thing to bake is probably a pie because it is the most satisfying when it’s finished because they’re so beautiful. And, when I actually succeed at making a good cake that’s very satisfying too. Cake are really hard, but I can do cupcakes very easily.

And then I make homemade pizza a lot. That’s the other thing I really like to do. I actually made some last night!

(Lizzy puts her mixer into second gear)

You said your daughter helped you a lot in the kitchen, how old is your daughter now?

She is 17 now. Starting from when she was one and a half she would be right in there. I recently found a picture of both of them in there (her son also) with their own bowls and flour everywhere and they’re both making their concoctions. My son gets a little too carried away, he always wanted to eat it so I didn’t let him use Play-Doh. Then, I always had to make homemade Play-Doh so he could eat it if he really wanted to.

He also loved the smelly markers. I would leave him alone for five minutes then I would find him with a ring around his nostrils and mouth.

If it smells like apple, it tastes like apple, right?

Ha! I guess so!

What are you busy baking right now?

I’m making Holly Bars, the regular ones with cranberry.

(Lizzy puts her mixer into third gear, drowning out the remainder of the interview)

Keep up with all of Canteen Girl's cooking escapades and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram !

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

 

 

P.O.S. of Doomtree

We caught up with Urban Bean regular and local rap star P.O.S. aka Stef Alexander (notice our menu board) about how he started rapping, his latest projects and life outside music. This past week he released a new album with friend Astronautalis called “Four Fists” that can be ordered online through Doomtree. Read on to learn more about local punk, rap fusion artist, P.O.S.

When was the first time you sat down and wrote a rhyme? Would you give us a bar?

5th grade. Well, I probably wrote before 5th grade. The first thing I remember recording was on my tape recorder that I got in 2nd or 3rd grade. I remember banging on my football helmet while rapping into my tape recorder and I said, “ I’ll hit you in the head with a piece of cornbread, dude.” That was like the first bar I remember.

Then, I wrote rhymes for me and two other friends and we made a cassette tape for our group called “The 5th Grade Crew” which was me, this kid Mikey and the other kid I forgot, but I just wrote everybody’s raps.

Then I stopped caring about rap music until I was twenty.

What was your first band? Was it Building Better Bombs?

Nah, it was the Degenerates.

Was it a punk band?

They were almost all punk bands.

Did any of the people involved in Doomtree take part in any of your early work?

Yeah, like my first serious band Om was with Kai and our arch nemesis band was Plastic Constellations, which was Lazerbeak, Matt, Jeff and Jordan.

Some of those guys were in loud bands and quiet bands, were you ever in a quiet band?

No, I’ll probably do that when I’m nice and old. When I’m like fifty-five or sixty. I’ll probably get into my bluesman era.

How did Doomtree start? Did you set goals as a group in the beginning?

Nah, I think it was how are we going to make music and put out records. The idea of coming from punk rock, underground and DIY area, was not to make demos and send them to labels, it was to just make albums and figure out how to put them out. With every release we figured out a clearer idea of what we were trying to do.

So one year we would put out like five records, the next year we would put out one record. During that year of one record, we would be handling the business of fixing all the mistakes of the year before. Then the third year we would put out six records, then the year after that we would put out one or two records again and figure out the mistakes from the previous year, until we got a nice ball rolling.

How did you guys figure out the best combinations and groups to make and perform your music?

At first, it was just Cecil Otter and I as the rappers. Doomtree was originally going to be just a production team. We met a bunch of people and things developed from there, but our original intent was to just make beats. Like, an in-house production team.

What made you call Sims and say stop being a carpenter and come rap? How did you connect with Mictlan?

Mictlan was from Los Angeles, but he went to the same high school as us for a year. He got kicked out of house to go live with his uncle in Minneapolis, all "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" style. We met at a party called Sethtoberfest, I ended up rapping and from there we just got along really well. Him and Lazerbeak kept in contact. Beak would send him beats in the mail, he would write to him. Then after we got the ball rolling a bit, we told him that he had to come move here so we can do stuff.

Sims was one of those things where when he was in his first rap group, I think I was giving him beats or something like that. After a minute, I realized that he was really good and I liked working with him. So, he quit school to start rapping.

So, how did Dessa join Doomtree?

Dessa and Sims were a couple of the last people to join Doomtree. Me and Dessa we dating at the time and I didn’t know how to ask her to be in the crew because we were dating, but everybody else asked her to be in the crew without telling me.

You have a thirteen-year-old son that you had with a woman when you were pretty young. You live with this woman, but you’re not together, right?

Yeah, we tried to move everyone we cared about into one place and see how it worked. It doesn’t necessarily work all the time, but as far as me and kids’ moms we all live together in a house trying to make it work. We all get along.

Who’s to say that your arrangement is better that a traditional set-up.

It’s better than traditional. It’s better than what we can do traditionally.

So that arrangement makes more sense than them living somewhere else and you visiting or having trade-offs?

Yeah, right now it makes a lot more sense to me just because when me and Christin had Jake, I was seventeen and she was nineteen, I was afraid of all the resentment that would come from having a baby-mama. All of that drama usually comes from what they’re doing, who they’re with now and stuff like that, like jealousy. A lot of things that are irrelevant to us. We’re adults, we’ve kind of gotten past a lot of that stuff. There were definitely years when we didn’t get along, but since getting past it we’re really close friends and it makes sense that now we can both be in Jake’s life and there for each other.

Could you tell us about the Marijuana Deathsquads project you’re currently apart of?

Marijuana Deathsquads are doing a residency at Ice House in Minneapolis, Friday, Wednesday, Friday, Wednesday, this may be the fourth or fifth residency we’ve done. Marijuana Deathsqauds are from the ashes of our hardcore band Building Better Bombs. We got sick of playing guitars and started doing dancy, digital kind of stuff. I rap primarily; it’s my job so I’m on tour all the time, when I go on tour with POS, Building Better Bombs won’t be able to play shows. The plan was to make this band a revolving door of our friends where anybody can sit down and as long as you’re familiar with what we’re trying to do you’ll be able to pitch in. So it’s kind of everybody’s band.

Can you give us the core group rundown of who’s in it?

Isaac from Building Better Bombs, one of the better video directors in the city, Ryan Olson, Drew and Ben from Policia, Jason from Slapping Purses, Mark from To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie, Jeremy from Spyder Baybie Raw Dog, that’s the core. Then we have floating drummers and other members. Channy from Policia plays with us sometimes.

I have yet to make music with someone I haven’t liked.

On that note, have you ever been approached by someone to make music and it hasn’t clicked?

There are a lot of upcoming rappers who hit me up to get guest verses and stuff like that. If I feel what they’re doing and I have the time, but if it’s going to be a lot of extra work and I don’t have that extra time I won’t do it.

I am big on collaborating, but I’m mostly into collaborating with friends. I make lots of music, but I make it really slowly. I take forever on my rap records. I take forever on pretty much everything I do. I want to be really good and I want to represent what I’m all about.

Does that come from making some mistakes in the past?

I’ve only gone on two tours that I didn’t really love. I love touring and I love playing shows. I want to be able to represent well and I want people take my lyrics as a real thing. I don’t want it to just be dumb (Stef chuckles).

Are most of your lyrics inspired by life?

I talk about my ideal life as much as I talk about my real life. But, I don’t glamorize garbage, and I think a lot of things are garbage. I brag about shit that I think is cool, as opposed to money and hoes. That’s not cool.

What’s your drink?

My very favorite coffee drink is probably a spicy mocha. Some kind of mocha that has hot peppers, some of spice to it. Like, Sebastian Joe’s has that chocolate with cayenne ice cream? (Everyone in the room gasps in excitement and says in unison, “so good!”) If I can get that as a coffee drink I’m set. I like a little sized coffee, I’ll sip on it then I’ll ask for another one. I’ll blast it then I’ll see where my jitters are at.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

 

David Schwen of Dschwen

David Schwen looks like an unassuming Minneapolis creative. He’s incredibly soft-spoken and doesn’t like to brag. But, did you know he’s rocking over thirty-five thousand followers on Instagram? As of late, he has been receiving some serious recognition for his unorthodox “Pantone Pairings” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Limes” series. His voice is low and slow and you can feel him conjuring up his next big, yet ingenious idea when you’re near him. Established publications like, Wired Magazine, GOOD Magazine, Fast Company and more have recruited him for his clever talents. In our interview, we asked him about how he keeps his creative juices flowing and what it was like going out on his own as Dschwen LLC. Also, he put together an original Pantone Pairing just for us! Read on to see what life is like for the Insta-famous. 

Here’s a good question to start with, what is your degree in?

I went to school for illustration, but switched to graphic design. That’s where I fell in love with typography. I wanted to keep doing illustration, but now I do all of it.

How many years out of college are you?

I graduated in 2005, so 8 years.

Was modeling your first job out of college?

Ha! Nope, it was Carmichael Lynch in their design department. I started as a junior designer. You learn a lot of new stuff at your first job, especially what design for advertising is all about. It was a lot different than just art coming from art college. 

Sounds like you found yourself working for a corporation, what was that like for you? Stifling? Creative? Fun?

It was different; I knew I had to do that a little bit of that kind of work to make some money at first, but ever since then I was making my own stuff on the side.

Your on-the-side stuff, was it freelancing or just making art?

Mostly, just creating stuff. I started using Threadless, a t-shirt company that lets artists make whatever they want, it goes up for voting and if the community loves it and if they feel like they can make money by selling it, they’ll print it your design on a t-shirt. It was fun to have no clients and just make fun stuff.

What did you do after Carmichael Lynch?

So after Carmichael Lynch, I was there for almost four years, then after that I went to Fallon. I was the associate design director there, I was going to help build up the design department. It was great. Then Mono called me up wanting to know if I was interested in talking. I worked at Mono for almost two years as a design director, and then from there I went to Target in-house where I was the senior art director. I wanted more time to do my own stuff and that’s why I went to Target. I wanted a little more nine to five, relaxed job so I could focus on making more of my own things. This was a great progression, because now I’m just full-on working for my own company called Dschwen, it’s been great!

So you did a little contract work for Knock, and you recently picked up a cool project. What’s the project?

I’ll be working with an agency out of Chicago to develop a new brand identity for a college over the summer. I’ll work on that while I continue to do all my editorial illustrations for magazines and all my Instagram fun stuff. 

You have four kids, don’t you?

Yes I have four kids. They’re great, I have three boys and my youngest is a daughter.

Poor thing.

No, don’t worry. She rules them. She’s a boss. I get to spend more time with them in the summer because of my new schedule.

You got some recent press and a lot of attention for a project you were doing on Instagram. Can you tell us about that project? How did that idea come about?

My Pantone Pairings! As a designer you’re always pairing up Pantone swatches when you’re picking out colors to see how they look together. I always write them down in my book that I use here (reaches for his Minnesota Field Notes Notebook in back pocket). I was looking through my books one time and asked myself, what else can I do with pairings? I do a lot of work with food and everyone really enjoys food pairings. So I did a bunch of silly, not too serious, Pantone pairings with food.

What was the first one you did?

The first one I did was ketchup and mustard. I almost didn’t even post it! Jess, my girlfriend, and I were on our way to something, I showed her the picture and asked her if it was gross or weird. She said, “no that’s awesome, you should post it!” So I posted it! I noticed that it was getting a lot of attention, tons of ‘likes’ and great feedback, so I just kept making them.

Instagram featured one of my photos where I made an “Insta-grahm Cracker” so that one had a lot of likes on it also. 

Didn’t you make some prints of your Pantone series? 

Yep! Twenty prints of the whole series. I have been shipping them out to places all over the world. I sent some to Hong Kong, Germany, Ireland the UK and all over the US. It’s been getting a lot of fun buzz. You can find them at foodartpairings.com. The milk and cookies pairing is almost sold out. I didn’t think that one was going to be the most popular, but people love it.

I might have a sale coming up called “Leftovers” so be sure to keep your eye out for that.

What else do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to go on bike rides, especially now that it’s summer. I just moved to Northeast Minneapolis, it’s nice being closer to more people. I’m also in the process of training for a half-marathon coming up in a couple weeks so we’ll see how that goes.

Now you’re your own brand, do you see that being your future?

I think so, yeah. As long as I can keep it going I’m going to do it because it’s great to have freedom and have variety of work instead of going to an agency full time.

How do you go about hustling, marketing yourself and getting work?

When I first started up on my own I contacted a few people, started networking a little bit, but ever since then I haven’t done much. So, I might need to figure out a plan if there’s a quiet time.

What was your biggest struggle moving from an agency to doing your own thing?

Just trying to make sure that I have enough going on and to have very little downtime. It wasn’t too hard; I feel like I should have done it sooner because everything I’m doing I love so much. I’m not as restricted, it works a lot better with my lifestyle because I have kids and I want to spend time with them, I’m able to be my own boss, and everything is great.

Do you have any cool projects on the horizon that you can talk about?

I need to do another series; I’ve got some stuff in the book that I need to go through (David pulls out his Minnesota Field Notes notebook and flips through the pages quickly). I’m going through these things like crazy. I’m always writing stuff down in here or in my iPhone if I just come up with an idea out of nowhere. I’ve got this list on here that it titled “Ideas”. It’s super long list. Some days I’ll go through it and say to myself, “that seems like an O.K. idea” or “man that idea really sucks what was I thinking?” Ha!

This all kind of started from a project that I was doing where I made something cool everyday, something that a lot of artists are doing nowadays. The goal is to make something cool everyday for a year. So I set out to do that, I made it seven months which I’m still proud of, but I think by taking that project on myself, it kind of trained me to be like this. During that process I was always thinking of stuff, it was very freeing moment as an artists and designer. 

Where do you find inspiration for your design?

I’m very inspired from being in a community of people whether they’re artists, photographers or designers, the fact that everyone is making something and all the different mediums that they’re using. A lot of my work is very multimedia, I’ll be making something out of clay, then I’Il be making something out of food then I’ll be doing something on the computer, it’s a big range and I think that’s why I don’t ever try to get in a set style. It’s very important to me to never get stagnant like that. I don’t want to be known as the Pantone guy, which it’s kind of already becoming that (David laughs). Whenever I post something that’s not from the series everyone comments, “more Pantones!”

Where did the idea for your “Teenage Mutant Ninja Limes” come from?

That literally happened when there were some limes out on the counter in the fruit bowl and my daughter’s bright colored hair ties were lying on the counter next to them, and I looked over and saw that and it just hit me. I started cutting all her headbands and just dove into it.

Was she pissed that you ruined her headbands?

No, she was napping so it worked out (David grins and everyone laughs).

What’s your drink?

Americano, every time. Very consistent. You make the best Americanos. Jess loves the Miel! Every place she goes to she says that it doesn’t compare to Greg’s Miel.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson, taken at the Walker Art Center

Satchel of BlackBlue

Satchel B. Moore is the most infectious person in St. Paul, in a good way. His engaging personality, genuine care for everyone and passion for his work, compels customers to come back time and time again. Satchel is the shop manager at BlackBlue in St. Paul, a store geared to bringing men and women the best quality clothing that is made in the U.S.A., driven by durability and with the long term in mind. You won’t find anyone in the Twin Cities who knows more about jeans than Satchel, ask him anything, we dare you. He loves his hometown of St. Paul, his Saabs and everything crafted with purpose and intention. After reading this interview, you’ll never look at your ratty pair of jeans the same way again.

 

How do you choose what to sell in Black Blue?

Well a lot of it is trying to have this store be an extension of ourselves. We would prefer to be out in the woods all day everyday as opposed to working in the store. If we can’t be out in the woods, we should sell things that remind us of those wonderful places that still exist and to bring some of that into the store with us so that these clothes feel more at home, where they’re supposed to be. These clothes aren’t designed to be here in the shop, they’re designed to be out in the woods, fishing, hunting, climbing mountains, taking pictures of Denver (Satchel points to a landscape photo on the wall in the store).

Do you do any of those outdoor activities personally?

Yeah, I do all those things! Except for hunting, I am deathly afraid of guns. In high school, we played airsoft assassins. There were ten groups of two, it got so serious and scary. You’re not going to get killed or anything, but you were figuratively going to get killed. I would come home at night, I lived half an hour away from anyone in my high school, and there were three different cars driving around sticking their guns out the window following me around the city. It was a good thing I had a driveway and a garage, or else I would have been frickin’ capped! That mentality scared the shit out of me. I had a gun under my pillow and under the seat in my car, all while trying to hide it from my mom. I was living in fear!

I love fishing more than anything in the world. Other than maybe my Saabs or playing soccer.

What’s up with your Saab obsession?

Growing up, my mom always drove Saabs. They’re made in Sweden. I will never drive an American car. I had a Volvo for a while, I love Volvos too.

Which Saabs do you own currently?

I own an ‘87, a ‘99 and a 2008.

Wasn’t 2008 their last year?

2011 was their last year, but they hadn’t updated my model when they stopped making them. It’s just fine, I love my cars. Even though they don’t love me back, they just take my money. They’re like really hot ladies. They just want your attention, they want you to show them off. Then they’ll have a breakdown in the middle of a bar in front of all your friends.

Do you know why Saabs are designed with the ignition in a weird place?

The reason for having the key in a weird spot is when they were designing their cars they did a ton of research. They found out that a lot of people fuck up their knees in accidents by hitting the ignition. Every other car company seems to be ok with that. Saab was like, we’re gonna save your knee and move the key. It’ll probably cost about one-hundred bucks more per car to move it down there, but it’s worth it.

What is your position at Black Blue?

Shop manager, I think that’s my position. I do whatever needs to be done. CEO of alterations and sales. It’s just me, Steve (the owner), Andrew and Tori, who does a lot of our merchandising.

Many people come to the store by referral and to interact with you. How important is that to your business?

Extremely important! We don’t advertise, so we need everyone to have a frickin’ awesome experience. Either with the clothes themselves or just hanging out here. People can’t help but talk about it. Customers want to be the one who tells their friends.

Do you know that you have created a culture of impassioned people who love to talk about you and BlackBlue? How did you do that?

Yeah, I don’t know. I wish I knew. Part of it is that we don’t sell anything that we don’t love. For example, for nearly two years we didn’t sell shorts because we didn’t really wear shorts ourselves. It’s kind of like decaf, if you don’t drink it, why would you serve it. It’s a similar idea. We love every single thing in here and we want you to know about it. Then it feeds itself. We could never tell you everything we know about our stuff because we don’t have infinite time. I’m always trying to absorb things and geek out with people in Japan on the internet about different types of thread. Part of it is the joy of learning. I didn’t know that these things were important about clothes, or the reasons why I liked this kind of clothing or why I didn’t like another. This is why my jeans fit better now than they did two weeks ago. The reason why I thought another pair of jeans were great, but never really worked out. Why I love a certain brand and why I don’t like another. Don’t forget the clothes themselves, like what they’re made out of, the thought that goes into making them and the thought that goes into selling them.

It’s also the joy of appreciation. For example, if someone gives you a shot of Jack Daniels and says, this is Jack Daniels it was made in Kentucky. Then, another person gives you the sane shot of Jack Daniels and says, it was made in Kentucky in cherry oak bark barrels and the guy that bottled this is eighty-five years old, his grandpa worked for Jack Daniels way before they were Jack Daniels, and his last dying act was to write a letter to Jack Daniels telling him to hire his grandson. Then you’re going to love that shot of Jack Daniels more. You know more about it, it’s more familiar to you. You become part of the story when you take that shot. It’s hard, we don’t have infinite time to learn everything and have everything explained to us. Others don’t care where their gasoline is from, you know? We have to pick our battles. But, if I was to find out about this awesome kind of gasoline, that comes from a guys farm in Texas where the filmed Giant and it was the farm Jet Tex was based on. You would only be buying that gasoline.

What lead you to Black Blue? Will you share your background with us?

Yeah! I got into jeans being left handed in high school. I remember not being able to find a pair of jeans where a sixteen year old would shop that didn’t have a fake wallet fade on the back right pocket. I thought that was stupid. I don’t want evidence of something that never happened in my life on my pants. I just wanted to buy jeans. I would go into mall shops, anywhere a sixteen year old would want to shop. I didn’t want to shop at Fleet Farm. I didn’t want to shop at Walmart. I didn’t want to shop at Target. I wanted to shop at Abercrombie or Urban Outfitters, but there were no jeans without the fade on my right pocket. So I started doing research. What’s up with distressed denim and why is that a thing? It took me five years to find a pair of non-distressed jeans that fit. That weren’t made for farmers or sixty year old fat dudes. I found them in Sweden for thirty-eight hundred Swedish Kroners, or whatever. It was a sixty dollar pair of jeans and I paid forty dollars of shipping. They were skinny, raw and frickin’ tight. I ordered them thinking the measurements were in inches, not in centimeters or something like that. My first pair just exploded in the crotch after a month. So I ordered another pair because I still couldn’t find them here. Then I would order two pairs, one size up, then two sizes up. The one size up also exploded, so I took them to Tom (tailor) and had them fixed. I realized that I liked these jeans enough, I could get them fixed! I don’t need to throw my money away and buy new jeans only to have stack of jeans with holes on them that I don’t really like. So, slowly I realized that I have a pair of jeans I liked. I started wearing the jeans everyday, watched them age, watched them become part of me. Then, I did more research. Nobody in my life was into this, they thought I was stupid. They all thought my jeans were too tight and I was a frickin’ idiot. Then, I started geeking out on the Internet, and people told me to try Red Wings, leather shoes and more.

When I would come home for winter break from college, I would have four days to find a Christmas present for myself. I literally could not find any clothes in Minnesota that I liked. Then, I continued to order stuff from Sweden, getting my Christmas presents in January. Then I came home, worked in the Levi’s store and hated it because all the jeans were stupid and beat up. They had selvage jeans, but with fake right back pocket fades! One day, there was a Catholic good store that came in 2008 because they named the Cathedral an international catholic monument. They thought there would be all the pilgrims or something. I thought this was a great spot. I drove past here every couple months to see if something would replace this Catholic goods store. Then, one day I drove by and saw two people putting together what looked like a shoe store. I slammed on my brakes and thought, oh my god maybe they’ll sell jeans here. So I came in, talked to the people and they said they were starting a design studio and clothing store. So I asked, what kind of jeans are you going to sell? They said, what are you talking about? So I told them about the jeans I was wearing, Samurai jeans from New York City that were made in the Okayama Prefecture in Japan, it’s selvage and raw denim. If you’re going to be selling Red Wing boots and Filson, you have to have something awesome to complement. You’re not going to sell 5 Hour Energy next to your Dogwood Coffee. You have to keep the bouquet consistent. So now it’s about bringing people up, showing people that we can get these things in America and telling them why it’s better.

Even before I was employed here, I would hang out on the couch, mooch Internet and worked with him to create my dream store, in tandem with him to create his dream store. I didn’t want to buy my jeans from Sweden or New York, so when I met Steve and saw this store I saw a perfect opportunity and it was in St. Paul. I love St. Paul. I’m happy to shop in Minneapolis, but if my dream store can be four blocks from where I was born, that’s even better. It seemed too good to be true.

Do you ever feel like you’re working when you’re at Black Blue?

To be honest, I was once dumped because I wouldn’t take time off work to spend time with a wonderful, very attractive young lady. That was a huge wake-up call, it made me feel very grateful because I couldn’t stop working because it never feels like work, I don’t want to do anything else. Even before I was paid to be here I was sitting on the couch stealing internet and helping Steve. Then Steve was like, I haven’t eaten today, would you mind watching the shop for a bit? Then it was, I have a dentist appointment, could you watch the store for the day. Then, I’m going to New York, could you watch the store for the weekend. Then, hey I’m going to France for a family wedding, could watch the shop for two weeks. I was using my vacation time at my other job to work here. So I would go home, talk people on the internet. Get jean shit sent here from Philly or Tennessee to get hemmed. I wasn’t getting paid for that, but I couldn’t help it. It’s what I do, I nerd out hard on this stuff. I love it, part of me can’t believe that I get to sit here and geek out on jeans. It doesn’t mean I don’t work hard, it doesn’t mean that I’m folding clothes all day, it’s fun.

I hope it’s true that because I love my job people have a better experience in here. It’s like, I don’t care if you’re not going to buy anything, but I want you to know everything about it because once you know everything about it, you’re going to want to buy it. It might not be right now, today or this year, but eventually this click goes off in your head that you want to buy jeans and I want to buy them when this dude is in the shop because he’s not just interested in selling me a pair of jeans. He’s interested in selling me a pair of jeans that I’m going to love. I think that’s pretty cool and it comes naturally.

How do you break in your jeans?

At this point, I break jeans in differently than I did in 2006. In 2006, it was like, get your jeans then try to beat them up and faded as much as possible. They way to do that is to wear them all day everyday. Then it becomes, how long can you wait until you wash them. The sooner you wash them the more you’ll get that fade, the longer you go the better those fades will be. You can get it at any number of washes, but the true awesome fades, the high contrast fades, come with time. When it’s dark then light. The dark blue can only stay by not washing them. But, that being said at this point it’s my job just know what happens to all the jeans, it’s like how you taste every cup of coffee. For example, I would tell customer that these jeans are tight now, but in thirty days they’ll stretch “X” amount and I know that because here’s my pair hanging on the wall. I also need to know what would happen if you bought them, washed the right away then threw them in the dryer. I would never do that, I would never recommend that, but some people are going to do that. They’re their jeans, they can do whatever they want to them. It’s my job to sell them jeans they’re going to love, I have to know what happens in every situation. I can instruct them on a size and fit to, make sure that it’s long term.

What’s the deal with distressed jeans then?

The reason people sold distressed jeans was to keep people buying jeans all the time. Distressed jeans fit you best in the dressing room, when your money is on the line. Then they never fit after that. They’re designed to fit you the first time you put them on, they’ll form fit to you, making you think that this is going to the best pair of jeans and how could they not fit like this forever. They’re designed to stretch out.

But with raw denim, it’s not my job to make you love your jeans when you walk out the door. One, you probably won’t walk out with your jeans because I’m going to hem them on a machine you’ve never heard of that is really important to me. It took us two years to find it, it cost a ton and there’s only one in the midwest, and we have it.

What’s it called?

A Union Special Chain Stitcher.

Sorry to interrupt, continue.

Ok, so it’s my job to make you love your jeans a month from now. Then, even more six months from now. I want to be there for you at the nine month mark when they’re starting to get so worn out that a new hole pops everyday. It’s denim, it’s cotton, it’s not invincible. If I’ve done my job right, when your crotch blows out or your pocket has a whole, you’ll go to Tom’s on Grand, to the Lost & Found on Nicollet, or your favorite tailor, to get them fixed first. Then, once your girlfriend or boss is like, yo don’t wear those jeans anymore. Only then come in and get a new pair of jeans. Because you loved that pair so much you can’t wait to spend your money here. Boom. Done.

That’s really fun for me. There have been guys who will buy two pairs of these, its a five-hundred dollar sale. It’s like yo dude, just take this two-hundred and fifty dollar pair, wear them for six months then if you want something else get yourself a sweatshirt, jacket or bag. See what you think about these, then come back to buy that other pair. If you have too many jeans you’re not going to get what I want you to get out of it.

It’s so much fun, I love this stuff.

Why jeans?

Denim is probably the best fabric every created. There’s a reason why everyone in the world wears jeans and for the past forty years, jeans haven’t been made to do what jeans were made to do. Which is, to get better every time you wear them, last longer than any other pants, and really take your shape, something that jeans do really well. By the late 60s and 70s it became more about what your jeans said about your shopping habits, telling your friends how your money and what your place is society was. Then, all these denim companies decided to beat up your jeans for you so you would need to spend more money on jeans.

For me, I love the honesty of raw denim. It’s not about how you spend your money. Of course there are jean companies that sell raw denim that are all about how you spend your money, like special pocket designs. Some people will argue that the selvage is an example of that, but that is a functional piece, it comes naturally, it’s not added. Selvage means that the loom was really wide, so it’s one white thread that goes back and forth, when it get’s to the edge it turns around. As opposed to getting cut then shot across the factory at the speed of sound. These old looms are like pour overs, you could make coffee in a drip machine all day for much cheaper. When you use a pour over, you’re taking more time, there’s more love there, it’s a better product.

We have homeless guys come in here who need a jacket that’s going to be their house. They don’t have rent or car payments, they want to spend three hundred bucks on a jacket and make it last. He smelled like piss when he came in here and that jacket is going to smell like piss in a week, but that jacket is going to hold up for a long time. Then we’ll have guys pull up in Maseratis and say I’ll take a pair of jeans. I’ll ring them up and they won’t want to spend the one-hundred and ninety eight bucks for a pair. They like their Lucky jeans, seventy eight bucks. You just never know.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

 

Leah & Carrie of Blackjove

Leah McMullen and Carrie Erickson of Blackjove, a personal shopping and styling duo for men, are a lively pair, always bringing the party. They frequent both Urban Bean locations where they slam back black coffee and espresso while the plan, plot and strategize  how to revitalize  their frumpy, unfashionable clients. They frequent places like Martin Patrick 3 (where we found them shopping) and roll around town in a pristine white retro SUV, bumpin' tunes as loud as their personalities. Below they share the vision of Blackjove and a few styling tips. So guys, take note.

 

Who are you guys? What is the origin of the name Blackjove?

Jove is another word for bird of prey, so Blackjove is the silhouette of a bird in the sky. Also, we’re both from Minnesota, we grew up here, it’s a spiritual connection for us both.  

What do you do?

We are personal stylists and shoppers just for men. We help guys find their look, shop for them if they’re too busy, or give men a little bump up in the style department. We also, work with a lot of guys who are in transition.

What do you mean by transition?

For example, trying to start dating again, or someone far along in their career and they don’t know what happened along the way, or they have a wife and bunch of kids and they lost sight of grooming and their style. They get stuck in a rut and don’t realize what’s going on and all of a sudden they look up and you say I want to look better and want to take better care of themselves or be different.

What brought you guys to being stylists? What did you do before you became Blackjove?

Leah: I was a buyer at a boutique for a while and had my foot in a couple doors for of jewelry and handbag design. Also, I worked in a mens store for a little while, I got the hang of styling along the way.

Carrie: I have always thought about styling, especially after I finished my degree in entrepreneurship, but instead I went down another avenue, which was my passion for coffee. I owned and operated two Dunn Bro’s coffee shops for five years. I sold them about a year ago, and that’s when Leah and I decided put the peddle to the metal with Blackjove.

Who is your ideal client? Do you have a specific style you like to work in?

Leah: We have tried really hard to not have a certain style aesthetic that we put every guy in, because it doesn’t work for everybody. For example, not everyone is a businessman.

Carrie: Not everybody is the right person or lives the right lifestyle for raw denim, two-hundred dollar shirts or thrifted jackets. So we really cater to each individual client, their lifestyle and their budgetary needs. A very tailored approach.

Leah: So right now we’re working what a guy who’s mid 40’s who works as an investment banker, so his look is very different from another client we have who is at the X-Games right now, into graphic design and is a photographer. So our clients' interests and lifestyles really differentiate.

What’s your ideal day in Minneapolis?

Leah: Wake up and have tons of Urban Bean coffee!

Carrie: I have a dog, so I like to walk him around the lake. In the summer I’ll paddle board on lake harriet, I love that.

Leah: Biking around the lakes or down to the falls, that’s a Saturday afternoon activity when there isn’t much going on.

Carrie: But, we have our favorite haunts that we like for night time fun. We’re good friends with bartenders or other staff members, so we tend to end up at the Butcher and the Boar a lot, hanging out with Gerald, Adam and the guys there or Jesse at Parlor. Also, We’ll go to Tin Fish, sit in the big chairs, drink beer and watch people go by.

Leah: In the winter, Bar la Grasa is one of our favorite spots, we drink wine and eat shit tons of pasta.

Carrie: And we’ve been hanging out at Pat’s Tap a little here and there. As long as nobody is playing skeeball. We’re sensitive to sound.

Leah: We tend to hit places for a while then switch it up, but we spend a lot of our time together. We work together, we hang out a lot on the weekends, we also vacation together, with or without the kids.

Carrie: We're together all the time.

How old are your kids?

Leah: I have four year old, he just turned four.

Carrie: I have a daughter who’s about to turn four, and a son who’s about to turn seven. Sometimes, I think back to when I was twenty-seven or thirty, when I didn’t have kids, when I was busy running around the city. I would never want to go back to that. It’s so much more fun to go out with them or be out all day for work and come home to be a mom.

Do you have a philosophy behind who you are as a pair and how does that affect your work?

Leah: We started seeing hawks and eagles during all the crazy times in our lives, haunting us and flying over us. This was something that we both experienced at the same time.

Carrie: Some people think that clothes are superficial, but in fact they do matter. Our goal for our clients is for them to feel good in their skin everyday and teach them to do what they need to do to feel good as a person when you’re out in the world.

Leah: It’s really cool! When we decided to work only with guys we had a much stronger impact on them than the women we worked with. The girls were appreciative, they liked it, but the fun thing about working exclusively with men is how their confidence grew so much, it was so obvious.

Carrie: It felt more like a lifestyle makeover, so we quickly became very passionate about that side of our work because we felt like we were making a difference. When we talk about Blackjove, it’s not about making guys look better, it’s about making guys feel better. When guys feel better, their families feel better and their business associates feel better. It’s a ripple effect that we talk about a lot.

Do you guys have plans for Blackjove?

Leah: Not really, we are taking things as they come. Our work and directions seem to be constantly shifting.

Carrie: This work goes against everything I have learned from my business background. Most people would say, make a business plan and project it out five years, run the numbers and do all these things. Every time we sit down to do plan, we end up not wanting to put limitations on what we can, and cannot do, or put ourselves in a box that we can’t get out of. So, we work day-to-day and talk about it day-to-day and figure out what our next best opportunity is.

Do you have any tips to help a guy get started in changing his look?

Carrie: If you don’t know where to start, buy new t-shirts and new jeans. For shoes, buy new boots, pick up a pair of Redwings. They work in every season and will always be cool.

Does Blackjove thrift?

Leah: Not really, we usually can’t return thrifted clothes. Also, it’s much more a process. There is a lot more to go through when thrifting.

Carrie: Sometimes you’re not doing their budgets any favor by thrifting because they’re spending hourly. Our hourly wage is going up, clothing budget stays down, but it’ a wash in the end.

What’s you drink at Urban Bean?

Leah: We get more than one usually. It depends on the season. Now, it would be be beer.

No, at Urban Bean!

Carrie: Oh! We’re black coffee with extra shots of espresso.

Leah: When I’m feeling fancy I will have a cappuccino.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson in Martin Patrick 3

 

 

Stephanie of Dogwood Coffee Company

When you first meet Stephanie, she's very unassuming, soft-spoken and laid back. But, don’t be fooled, her little frame does not match the vast knowledge she has regarding everything that is coffee. She has traveled the world, learned from the best and has worked extremely hard to develop the skills, palate and understanding that have earned her the title of Director of Coffee at Dogwood Coffee Company, where we get all of our beans. All Stephanie wants to do is work, and continue to solidify Dogwood's spot as the best roaster in the Twin Cities. So listen up and maybe you’ll learn a little something about what goes into your favorite drink at Urban Bean.

 

What do you do here at Dogwood Coffee Company?

I do our coffee buying, which means I organize and make decisions on the coffees that we’ll offer, and I oversee the roasting and production. I used to roast, now Eddie does all our production roasting. I’m also the warehouse cleaner. I do a lot of dishes and mop.

Your title says, you’re the Director of Coffee, What is that?

That’s just anything having to do with our actual coffee products—I have some part in it.

How did you start in coffee?

I had always wanted to work in a coffee shop. When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, like Pandora’s Cup on Hennepin. I would stay there until 1:00 AM several nights a week.

I went to school in Chicago for journalism and I got a barista job on the side. That was always the job I had with my schooling and while I was writing.

What was your first barista job, what company?

It was for this really shitty cafe, and I actually forgot the name of it. I only worked there for a month.

Really? You wanted a coffee job forever and you can’t remember the name?

They were psychos.

So, what was your job after that?

So, I quit those guys and I got a job at an Intelligentsia account, that was my first specialty coffee experience, really. After a few years I started working at Metropolis Coffee Company, which is another specialty roaster in Chicago.

Was the craft coffee movement in full swing during that time? Did they teach you all the techniques?

I was introduced to it at the Intelligentsia account I worked for in Chicago called Savor the Flavor. It wasn’t really focused on latte art and stuff like that, I kind of figured all that stuff out on my own cause it was a fun thing to do at work. When I started working at Metropolis it wasn’t exclusive or overly “barista-y” or anything, but it was the first roasting company I worked for. Metropolis is where I was introduced to cupping and I got close to the roaster/buyer there, Chris Schooley, who now works for Coffee Shrub, a little coffee sourcing company that’s an extension of Sweet Maria’s. He was the first person to show me that coffee could be interesting.

Was he your mentor?

Well, I didn’t do any roasting under him, but he was kind of the first person I connected with, he and showed me that there was more to coffee that just working in a coffee shop.

Out of nowhere we hear a crash behind us. Jon Ferguson dropped a lap top behind us in an attempt to mess up the interview (don’t worry the laptop was already broken).

Was that for real?

Nah, he’s been doing that all day.

So what goes into green buying? And what drives the decisions you make for Dogwood Coffee?

Green buying decisions are different for every company, we’re pretty small. Some of our coffee is stuff we’ve been working on with people we’ve traveled to and met. I didn’t have much formal training to do this before I started, so all the training was from cupping a lot of coffee and figuring things out as I went. You have to taste a lot of coffee to build a palate and mental backlog of coffee and understand what you’re tasting and how to taste it. There are all kinds of other things that come into play like contracts, financing, usage and growth, figuring out how to get the coffee imported or exported and who you need to work with.

If we were some kind of tiny boutique roaster that only roasted 20 pounds a week, maybe we would buy ridiculous expensive coffee all the time, but I think that the buying goals for us are to buy really good coffee that fits in many different areas. I don’t mean that all coffees necessarily have to be crowd pleasers— we do like to try to push people to try new things.

Since we started I think what where we have really pushed people is in the roasting, because we don’t do any dark roasts and people are very dark roast focused here, or they were four years ago. I think we’re pushing coffee drinkers here to be more critical of roast and hopefully encouraging other companies around here to become better roasters as well.

Why don’t you do dark roast?

Because we’re not really interested in that flavor, its kind charred and chalky and burnt. It takes the flavor away. You can do a really good dark roast or a really bad dark roast too, but it doesn’t really highlight the characters of the coffee. It makes it more about the roast and not the flavor of the coffee. We’re more focused on the flavor of the coffee, but also we don’t under-roast either.

There’s a trend of the Norwegian style or Scandinavian style of roasting which is to roast super, super light. You could argue that it’s coffee true form, but it’s not really, because we believe the roasting is a value-add to the coffee. We’re not just buying the coffee and everything is within the coffee and we’re trying to leave it as it is, we interpret that flavor with the roaster.

I like to think that we have well developed light roasts.

When you do a sample roast, are you actually trying to figure out the way the bean tastes the best?

The sample roasting is mostly used for buying, to see if we like enough to buy it or to evaluate a sample. You can change the way a coffee tastes by roasting it slightly differently at the same roast level with a sample roast. It takes a lot of practice and an understanding of what you’re doing to the coffee, and how to taste that roast of that coffee. I’ve done that sometimes just to see what flavors are available in a coffee. But the reality of the sample roast versus the big roaster is that it doesn’t translate. It’s a totally different roasting environment. The way that the coffee is actually going to taste when we do a production batch is going to be different than anything we do in the sample roaster.

What are your favorite parts of the coffee culture?

The reason that I liked working in a coffee shop was that everybody had other interests, and other interests we encouraged. It wasn’t just that people were only baristas. Dogwood is a lot like that. Our focus is coffee obviously, but we’re all individuals—we all have other things that matter in our lives. I love that it’s one product, but everyone takes part in it at different levels and in different areas.

Traveling really helps me put everything into perspective. I’ve learned the most about coffee from traveling.

Coffee is an organic product so it changes with time, weather, how you roast it etc. It’s not a constant. When I visit places where coffee is grown, in some places I see that thousands of different people have contributed to a coffee that we buy, with slightly different methods, attention to detail and conditions. It’s not this organized, isolated, perfect thing.

There’s a place for people to agonize over one gram here, or one gram there, and there’s a place for the opposite. There’s a place where it’s more natural, but I like it because there’s a place for everyone who wants to do something.

Where’d you travel last?

Honduras. This is our first year for that origin. I went there twice, once with Jon in December and again in February. We’re trying to focus on relationships, knowing people, working closely with the people growing the coffee and understanding their process more and get great coffee for our customers. Because of that, we’re slowly adding origins in that fashion. We are quite small, so travel for us is pretty expensive and it’s not possible to travel extensively for all of our coffee right now.

If you compare the same coffees but from different roasters, will they taste the same?

No, they’ll be different interpretations of the same coffee—because while companies may be receiving similar beans, they’ll be roasting on different equipment and they’ll roast it however they decide that coffee does best in their environment.

Would it be worth buying another roast from the same origin and comparing it?

Yeah! I love doing that. A year or two ago Heart Roasters in Portland had a couple of the same coffees we had, so we asked them to trade. It’s fun to see what they did with a similar coffee.

Who are your favorite roasters?

I really like Stumptown. When I moved to Portland for four months in 2008, I had only heard of Stumptown, but I had never had any. When you get that big, you have to deal with inconsistency, but really there’s inconsistency at every level in coffee. They’re a bigger company, so there will be places where they might seem to fail or be spread too thin, but in the same vein, they’ll succeed much more in a lot of areas because they’re a big company. I think they buy really great coffee and I really like their roasting style.

One of my favorite coffee shops is the Stumptown Annex. In this shop, they’re displaying all the coffees they’re offering at that time, and it’s just pour overs—no refrigeration, no milk or anything. It’s just coffee.

People don’t just like a particular brand only because of the coffee. For Dogwood, want a big part of it to be because they like our coffee, the way we source and the way we roast it. But, it’s also the way we present it, the people who work for the company, what kind of support and attention we give our customers, and what kind of attitudes those people have about coffee and life in general. It’s more about a commitment to understanding the product as a whole.

We’re a young company so we’re learning. If we go long on a coffee, or we run slim on offerings because we’re trying to be careful about going long or something is delayed, or if we try something new and risky, we want customers who are going to stick with us because they trust us and they know that we’re working hard to do a really awesome job, but we’re not perfect. You don’t want someone who is going to dump you because you’re trying to figure something out. There’s so much more to a relationship than that.

When you leave the warehouse, what do you do?

I just go home.

No way, come on, what do you do around town? Where do you throw one back?

Alcohol?

Yes alcohol! Do you only drink coffee?

No, I drink alcohol. We get a lot of free beer here. We trade coffee for beer with Indeed Brewing, so that’s nice.

I’m kind of a homebody introvert type. I think all of the times I’ve gone out you’ve seen me (Looks at Greg).

What’s your drink?

I just liked plain old good brewed coffee. Urban Bean has great Air Pot batch coffee. Espresso just makes me feel like shit. My brain, my whole everything is bad. I do a lot of tasting and spitting out, but it still messes me up.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

John of Patissiere 46

When we first set foot in John Kraus' kitchen at Patisserie 46, it looked like chaos. His staff was working quickly, baking, mixing, kneading, all in rhythm. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing and where they were in relation to everything in the room, Every movement made with care and intention. At the other end of the room, John was standing calmly at a table overseeing every process, moving smoothly from station to station helping, inspecting and perfecting. The Twin Cities are lucky to have John and his tasty talents. Patisserie 46 is always bustling with people who appreciate his craft and perfectly prepared croissants, chocolates, cakes and more. For a few years now, Patisserie 46 has been our source for baked goods, and we always enjoy when John personally drops off our order and stays for his to his favorite espresso drink. Here's a look into the man that brought classic French pastries to Minnesota.

 

What got you into baking in the first place?

I actually wanted to be a chef. One night I made my way to the Dorchester in England and I was chopping bones in the basement, they had this huge football field sized kitchen. One day, I started talking to one of the bakers, just because they’re there at ten o’clock at night. It just so happened that he was my age, we started chatting away. All of a sudden it was seven o’clock in the morning and I just started baking bread with this guy. I decided at that point that my idea to be a chef wasn’t fulfilling, I really enjoyed making the bread. After that, because I kept seeing guys like him staying later and later and later in the day, I saw the case at the Dorchester. All the fine pastries, bread and stuff, it was sort of mind blowing. From then on, I never looked back. 

So when I came back to the US, every job I applied for said we don’t have any space for line cooks, but we have a spot in the pastry department. This was like twenty years ago when the pastry department consisted of an apple tart and crème brûlée so I just said well...I really want to work here, so I took the job. So after one year, the move to the line never happened and I just stayed in pastry. That’s kind of how it went down.

When I got to the US, not many of people had pastry experience because it wasn’t something widely accepted. There weren’t a lot of people trained to make the pastries the way I did.

I don’t mean to back track, but what did you mean by chopping bones?

Oh, I was literally chopping bones. Doing the menial tasks to make stock. At the time it was cool, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

So what was the path from England to today at Patisseire 46?

So lets see. I came back, worked a couple odd jobs in Houston, Texas. Then, I moved to Florida and worked on a beach resort, which was incredible. Then, I decided I wanted to move up to Kentucky, thats where I’m from, to be closer to home. I moved to Nashville to work at a classic French driven restaurant, with a French chef. He offered me a job, so I stayed there for five years. Then, I got a job in Chicago at the Park Hyatt near the Water Tower for two years. Next, I got a job as a teacher at a French pastry school in Chicago. I worked at the school for eleven years. It was a great job. I also traveled, consulted, I went all over the world. It was pretty cool.

Then I came up here. One day, I was teaching a class at the Art Institute, because part of my role at the school was to travel and teach classes, like weekend classes. So I was teaching a weekend class at the Art Institute and Dawn (wife) had a lot of friends up here because she lived here when she was in high school. When we visited it was May or June, it was spectacularly beautiful. All we did was ride around the lakes, went out, sat on Lake Minnetonka. We had talked about opening up a business, so I was like, maybe we could move to Minneapolis. We saw Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet and we thought this was great. The next thing we knew that economy tanked, so we stayed in Chicago for another few years, then tried to sell our house, finally did and almost over night we came up here. It was somewhat serendipitous.

What is your favorite part of the baking process?

It’s really all encompassing. I really enjoy using my hands, the artisan aspect and teaching something that is one-thousand years old. It’s hard to pin point one specific thing that otherwise I’ll be looking for that one specific thing all day. It’s everything, from start to finish. Just flower in the bowl to the final product. Whatever we’re working on at the time is my favorite.

Do you have any overarching philosophies behind what you do everyday that drives everything?

Don’t settle. Everything has to be perfect, if you come in and want a croissant on Tuesday it has to be just as good as the one on Wednesday or else you’ll stop coming back. 

What does a day-in-the-life of John Kraus look like?

I’m usually up between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. Then I get on it. Sometimes I run deliveries, sometimes you just do what you gotta do. When we get here we start mixing the doughs, prepping the tarts and cakes, then organize the shop that opens at 7:00 AM. Everything has to be baked fresh everyday. Then, at about 10:00 - 11:00 AM we’re pretty well wrapped up. Then, we start prepping for the next day. So, it’s almost like a train. Then around 2:00 PM, we have specific things we have to feed. At about 6:30 - 7:00 PM I go to bed, maybe eat something. I take Wednesdays off, and I come in a little later in the day on Thursday.

Where are your favorite places to go out to eat and in Minneapolis?

Lets see, I like to change it up. I like the Corner Table, I like Tilia, The Kenwood, Bachelor Farmer is cool, Butcher and the Boar. There are so many great places here. I love Saffron, that place is awesome. It’s easy to find something great to eat around here. Somedays I just want a sandwich. Anywhere with food that has some soul is good for me. 

Describe your perfect day in Minneapolis?

My favorite time is right at the end of fall, right when the winter is almost here. It’s cold, you can put your flannel on and pants, but you still have the sun. I like to get up, go for a little run around the lake, take my little guy out for breakfast. I have two boys, four and eight, but one is in school on Wednesdays. Sometimes I’ll pull him out of school. It’s such an easy city to hang out in. Just grab a coffee and chill out.

Speaking of coffee, what’s your drink?

Well, I love the latte that Greg makes, but I will typically drink black coffee. But, at Urban Bean I almost never do. I always get a latte. It’s a little bit of stretch for me because growing up when I’d get coffee, maybe you would get a little sugar, but probably not.

credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson

 

INTRODUCING "I ♥ MPLS"

0C4A8877.jpg

"I ♥ MPLS" is a blog dedicated to our community. Individuals who we believe to be compelling, inspiring and unique. People who live with passion, work hard and value craft. Each month we will be featuring four exceptional people, presenting a new one each week.

This month, we would like to introduce our first set of interviewees. The first, John Kraus the owner and mastermind behind the award winning French bakery, Patisserie 46. Second, Stephanie Ratanas, the Director of Coffee at Dogwood Coffee Company.  Third, personal stylists Leah and Carrie of Blackjove. Fourth, Satchel B. Moore, the shop manager of BlackBlue in St. Paul.

We hope you enjoy.