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Northern Coffeeworks moves into retail

The tile mural behind Caitlyn Sabrio, Josh Klauck and Jake Johnson is a depiction of the bounty waters of Minnesota and a reminder of the soon-to-come days of canoeing and off-bike-lane biking.

Technology is the future of coffee. “It takes the human error out of it,” Caitlyn Sabrio, Northern Coffeeworks’ roaster, asserts. “Manual pour overs (once the hip, hot thing in artisan coffee) are not efficient. It takes a person out for five minutes” to slowly pour hot water over freshly ground beans. And in a tight labor market that’s just not efficient.”

So Northern invested in state-of-the-art equipment for both the cafe, located on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, and for the roasting facility next door.

“The machine gives you a chance to see your customer and not get an elbow injury that sends you to a doctor you can’t afford to pay for,” Sabrio says. The machine’s name is Ursula, thus named because she was a bit ornery in the beginning. “She took some coaxing,” Sabrio says, knowingly.

Along with mugs and typical coffee bar merchandise is the new retail option for coffee lovers.

The crew at Northern Coffeeworks is young, idealistic and a bit quirky. They’re outdoor people with indoor jobs. 

There’s Sabrio—the liveliest of the three sitting down in their winter hats for an interview—who they refer to as a roaster extraordinaire. A Louisiana native, she put herself through college with “coffee jobs.” Her major was theater and she’s retained some of those theatrics, which means she tells an animated story when she talks about her life as a roaster. After college she moved to the other LA (Los Angeles) where she went to makeup school and was a nanny. It was here that she discovered that coffee could be more than just a way to make tips, it could be her career. She moved to Connecticut and started roasting, but her partner is from Minnesota and convinced her to move here. And it’s an exciting place and time for coffee careers.

“A lot of innovation is happening around coffee; technology meeting the barista,” she says. 

Their shiny new Loring Smart Roaster allows her to build a profile for a roast, program it into the machine and “then someone else can come in, load the beans and press a button.” The only downside is that when she experiments, “you know you’re going to mess up a bunch of beans which is sad for the farmers.” This is a group that takes waste personally.

They source their beans from all over the world, using Café Imports, an independent importer and developer of green coffees, headquartered in Minneapolis. While she doesn’t have a particular favorite source for coffee, “I have a soft spot for Ethiopia,” Sabrio says. “There are still varieties unknown there, growing wild.”

And like most coffee snobs, she has her biases: Cold brew—yes; ice coffee—absolutely not.


Not just Angry anymore

Josh Klauck and Caitlyn Sabrio in front of Ursula, the sometimes ornery roaster at Northern Coffeeworks.

Josh Klauck, who sports an impressive beard, is the laid-back co-owner of the business with Jeff Hilligoss. And he also is into coffee in a serious way. He started his coffee journey while measuring people for custom bikes at his South Minneapolis bike shop, Angry Catfish. After experiencing a “real cappuccino” at Kopplin’s Coffee in St. Paul, “my mind was kind of blown,” he says. He remembers, thinking, “Why can’t I have this experience all the time?”

Turns out, he could. He started learning about coffee from a connoisseur vantage point, rather than as a consumer. He teamed up with Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago and opened a coffee bar inside his Angry Catfish bike shop. 

That foray into coffee led him to open Northern Coffeeworks, a coffee bar and restaurant in the up-and-coming area of downtown Minneapolis near US Bank Stadium. While the neighborhood attracts visitors thanks to high-rises, businesses and Viking fans, everyday parking can be rough. “It used to be eight hours at 25 cents an hour,” says Sabrio. Construction changed that price break. Their two spots for staff are on a first-come, first-park basis, but most employees use transit. Except for Klauck who rides his bike most days he’s there, as a nod to that outdoors he craves.

While a bicycle hangs as decoration in the Northern Coffeeworks’ location, bikes are not for show at Angry Catfish, where serious bikers come for rides that can easily cost into the thousands of dollars. A cup of coffee must seem like a calming presence for jittery bike-buying nerves.

 Since they upped the food experience with the new establishment, Klauck hired Jake Johnson, who had previously been with The Bachelor Farmer’s cafe. Johnson says he envisioned the food as “simple, approachable and local.” His favorite thing on the menu are the biscuits, which he makes using his grandmother’s recipe.

He and Sabrio don’t collaborate on food and coffee pairings, but he does come up with inventive syrups to use to make seasonal drinks. Right now they’re working on a winter version of an orange mocha topped with homemade marshmallows. 

 The coffee Sabrio roasts is used in their café, as well as Angry Catfish. And now they’re taking it to the next level by starting a wholesale program. A big step in an area already hosting a vibrant local coffee scene, with brands such as Peace Coffee, Dogwood, Spyhouse, Five Watt, City Girl, to name a few, plus the Twin Cities’ larger chains, Caribou Coffee and Dunn Bros.

But Klauck believes they are bringing something different to the mix, and they are still developing their strategy. At first, he says, they were going to only do retail in their market, not sell to other cafes, but then decided competition is good. And the Twin Cities brewers tend to be supportive of each other, he adds. 

They are in the process of looking for “unique retail partners.” One of their concerns is with the freshness of the product. The problem with retail, he says, is that coffee is an unfinished product whose end result is dependent on how the customer brews it once they take it home. “So we can only control freshness,” he says of the process.

The packaging is eye-catching, forest green and lake blue with the “N” like a mountain and the “C” the sun. A cleverly named Flannel Pajamas has notes of dark chocolate and fruitcake, while the Juniper Blend’s notes are cola, wild blueberry and date. In keeping with their love of the outdoors, a portion of proceeds will go to Save the Boundary Waters. 

And in a work world where millennials like to feel good about where they work, the job is more than just a good cup of coffee. 

Northern Coffeeworks is a hangout for both residents and workers in east downtown Minneapolis.

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