Bean Scene downsizes to survive

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In many ways, it served as a second office for Calvin Littlejohn, a North Minneapolis resident and business owner. Not only did the Bean Scene on Penn and Broadway provide great coffee, it was a wonderful place for networking as well.

Bean Scene Too
1101 West Broadway
Minneapolis, MN 55411
http://www.beanscene.net/
Open Monday through Saturday 7 am to 6 pm
612.76.ROAST

Also in the Daily Planet, read Jay Gabler on spoken word at the Bean Scene.

The closing of the Bean Scene is “devastating to all the business in the community,” said Littlejohn, who now frequents Bean Scene Too, the remaining location on Broadway and Emerson.

On April 1st, 2008, owner Dean Rose and manager Lynda Baker quietly closed the doors to Bean Scene 1, their first of two coffee shops in North Minneapolis. The closing of the coffee shop is just one more indicator of the economic difficulties faced by a struggling community. Rose had great intentions for the local coffee shop, but even the best intentions can’t pay the bills.

When the Bean Scene opened in 2003, it had one of the strongest openings its distributors had seen. This might have seemed surprising, considering Starbucks and Caribou had been contacted to encourage them to put a shop in the neighborhood but both franchises had declined. Rose, who has an accounting and marketing business degree, decided running a successful coffee shop in North Minneapolis was doable.

“I’ve been saying for so many years, ‘Something’s got to happen,'” said Rose, “and finally I decided, I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is.”

Business was strong for about 6 months and then they began to run into difficulties.

“Cost of operations in general kept skyrocketing,” said Rose, “and business was not growing.”

With multiple school closings and nearly one thousand foreclosures in North Minneapolis alone, a large part of the customer base simply disappeared, and the Bean Scene’s business dropped by half.

Despite its struggle to stay afloat, the Bean Scene continued to offer top quality coffee and food, while providing a gathering place for the community. They received accolades from Mayor Rybak in his 2006 State of the City address when he described the Bean Scene as “breathing life into an essential intersection.” In each of the four years the Bean Scene has been open it has been awarded the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s prestigious Golden Cup award, the first in Minneapolis to win it in ten years and the only cafe in the area that has received the award for four consecutive years.

However, mayoral accolades and coffee awards aside, the Bean Scene was faced with a problem.

“The property is too large for that small type of business,” said Rose. “When it was clear that the property was going to swallow us up, that’s where the idea of creating a second location, Bean Scene Too, came around.”

A development by The Ackerberg Group, a real estate development organization, at 1101 Broadway provided that opportunity. Ackerberg had agreed to place a coffee shop at the location, a $4 million dollar renovation, and Rose wanted the Bean Scene to be there, “to keep the brand on the avenue and in the community.” The location is smaller and more sustainable in the long run for a local coffee shop.

With Bean Scene Too firmly in place, it came time to close the Penn location. Despite admitting defeat, the location continued to provide community space until the last hour. The week before closing, they hosted their final Wednesday night Open Mic, hosted by Tish Jones, local Spoken Word artist. The following day they served drinks and hors d’oeuvres to a standing room only crowd for the Great Ideas! Exchange, hosted by Councilman Don Samuels, a North Minneapolis resident, to support a local community art project.

Now, the old Burger-King-turned-coffee-shop building sits empty, but Rose insists something positive will be happening with it in the next couple years. The West Broadway Alive plan became official city policy March 21 when it was adopted by the city council. In the coming months and years the city will begin putting resources into redeveloping key “nodes” in North Minneapolis, one of which will be Broadway and Penn. Rose declined to comment specifically on what he plans to do with the property, but indicated it would be a part of the redevelopment process.

Though the economic downturn forced one location to close, there is still hope for this local coffee shop on the Northside. Bean Scene Too, at Emerson and Broadway, is a smaller location, making it a more viable business model for the coffee demand. They currently offer soup, sandwiches and baked goods along with beverages and are open Monday through Saturday.

“Everybody is pulling for us, because, we represent the community,” said Rose. “We’re not there to send our money off to wherever it goes; We keep our money in the neighborhood and we hire locally.”

Ariah Fine is a freelance writer in North Minneapolis.