Christian Johnson, tallish, tattooed and blond, with the light build of a coffee drinker, searched for espresso. He’d brought about 20 pounds of espresso and coffee to his yet-to-be-opened new coffee shop; when he found it, he wondered if it was too far gone.
Maybe. It came out of the training espresso machine at the barista training spot and Johnson tapped the antique glass on the counter, staring at it from inches away. It was a bit too bitter, though not that bitter on second taste, however, the date on the bag said it all: the coffee was flat.
Johnson is the owner of The Bad Waitress and three locations of Spyhouse Coffee, three of which are in south Minneapolis. His latest endeavor is a Spyhouse Coffee location in Northeast, which opened this morning on the corner of Broadway and Central. It has an antique coffee roaster and will allow Spyhouse to become a wholesaler of the coffee it roasts.
Spyhouse Central is in the former Land O Nod Mattress factory at 945 Broadway St. NE; the renovated building is called “The Broadway.” Spyhouse shares the building with 612 Brew, Seventhsin, a digital creative agency and Steller Hair Co.
Johnson said he looked at more than 20 locations, from Powderhorn to Northeast, until, by chance, he said, motioning towards his new front door, he saw “a wheelbarrow coming out this [crummy] door,” signaling renovation and an opportunity.
Inside, Spyhouse Central is a culmination of lessons learned at the other locations.
“You hear what customers like and you include your style and design into what people may like,” Johnson said, adding, “You try to be as smart as you can.”
The shop is large with varied seating arrangements; the coffee bar is the centerpiece, while sets of two stools face Central Avenue (Johnson said people never utilize a three-stool-set-up) and set-in-place tables line a back wall. Some seats are close to outlets, some aren’t.
“I had to have somewhere for myself,” Johnson said, “no outlets over here.”
Overall, the interior is warm, inviting and wood-paneled, similar to the feel of a period room in an art museum, most likely because much of the wood on walls and elsewhere could tell a story; it’s reclaimed from an Amish barn, which once stood in Wisconsin.
Johnson said he’s an avid antique shopper, a lover of “the hunt,” and has stocked Spyhouse Central accordingly. Notable items include a tabletop which dates to 1789 and a rare, 49 star American flag, which dates to a small window of time in 1959.
The floors in Spyhouse Central are original and match the deep-décor, though Johnson said they had been heavily reinforced, at the behest of his architects, to handle the thousands of pounds of coffee that will be wheeled to the roaster.
The roaster, on which everything waits, is a late-1950’s model, currently being serviced out of state. Johnson likened the work to “restoring an old car.”
Once installed and roasting, the roaster will prepare coffee for all three Spyhouse locations. Come November, Johnson said he’d “reach out” and start establishing Spyhouse as a wholesaler.
“I’m really excited for this wholesale thing,” he said. “Retail got easy and I got antsy. I needed something challenging.”
Another challenge, which Johnson is ready to take on, is bringing 3rd Wave coffee, an idea that arose in the mid-aughts, to Minneapolis.
As Johnson explained, 1st Wave coffee was the Folgers and instants, “the coffee your grandparents drank,” that was of middling to low quality. 2nd Wave coffee is the Starbucks and its spawn, the, as Johnson said, coffee that was “freshly prepared in a timely manner.”
3rd Wave coffee, as Johnson explained, is the jump from a “Honda to an Acura,” the car-to-car analogy following 2nd to 3rd wave coffee. It’s an attention to detail at levels of production, preparation and brewing that put it a step above the rest.
“[Spyhouse Central is] definitely the first of it’s kind for the whole city,” Johnson said, citing competitors only on the coasts, like Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco, and Café Grumpy in New York City.
Spyhouse Central will stick to serving 3rd Wave coffee, “five to eight different kinds of coffee at a time,” along with sandwiches and other eats with local origins, along with things like Mexican Coca Cola (no high fructose corn syrup but real sugar) and kegged iced coffee.
Johnson said he would have liked to serve a small amount of booze—whiskey by the shot, only—but said a “full liquor license is too much work.”
He said he plans to have some Specialty Coffee Association of America events at Spyhouse Central, like barista competitions, and, overall, to make his vision of better coffee seen.
“We want it to be a public engagement to see the whole process at work,” Johnson said, “[many] take it for granted.”