Friends of Downtown coffee maven raise funds after motorcycle crash

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May 10, 2004 // UPDATED 1:32 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Coffee John, owner of the Coffee Gallery in the Open Book literary center, 1011 Washington Ave. S., is known for his generosity and outgoing nature.

Now he's depending on the generosity and kindness of others to raise money for his medical bills. A car hit Coffee John April 1 after he left his North Minneapolis home on his motorcycle, leaving him with a serious brain injury.

He has medical insurance, but the medical bills are still piling up, friends said.

Coffee John, who attracted a caffeine-crazed fan base when he started traveling around to city festivals with a coffee wagon he labeled "Caffeine Propulsion Laboratories," has since had a tracheotomy, said girlfriend Kat Corrigan.

The new tube is making it easier for him to talk, friends say. Before the procedure, he could barely speak because his voice box was so dry.

Corrigan said the doctors tell her Coffee John should make a full recovery. His brain injury has made it difficult for him to process information quickly, she said, but he remains lucid and hasn't had significant memory loss.

His friends and family members said they prefer his full name be kept out of the newspaper to keep his home secure as he recovers in the hospital.

The crash happened on a one-way residential street. The car pulled out of a side street and hit Coffee John, who was wearing a helmet, Corrigan said.

Corrigan and several friends have organized benefits and started a fund-raising drive to pay his medical bills. They are also selling coffee beans with white ribbons at local coffee shops to raise money.

On a recent afternoon, Corrigan, an elementary school art teacher in St. Paul, spoke about Coffee John's giving nature standing near John's coffee wagon parked in his backyard.

"He's an incredibly generous guy," she said. "He has friends everywhere."

His friend Steve Harris, one of the fund-raising organizers said Coffee John "shows up anytime someone needs anything. He doesn't need to be prodded."

Whether it's a friend or a next-door neighbor, he's quick to offer a hand, Harris said.

Coffee John, 43, started the Coffee Gallery on Franklin Avenue in Uptown's Wedge neighborhood in 1991 with his friend Lori Harris. It became a popular hangout and a spot for new artists to showcase their work.

Harris called her long-time friend a "very vibrant person."

He then started selling coffee out of the back of an old mail truck, starting with Loring Park's summer Movies and Music series. He then upgraded to a large milk truck that became "Caffeine Propulsion Laboratories."

The Coffee Gallery later moved to Downtown in 2001, taking up space in Open Book's lobby. The coffee shop serves handmade soups, sandwiches, pasta salads, pastries and

a full line of gourmet

coffee drinks.

Corrigan plans to keep the coffee wagon on the road. Among several other state festivals, it will appear at the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden's "Rock the Garden" with David Byrne on June 18 and then at Loring Park's "Movies and Music Series," July 19-Aug. 23.

Those interested in helping out are asked to make out checks to the Coffee John Fund. Checks can be dropped off at the Coffee Gallery or mailed to First National Bank of the Lakes, 3100 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn., 55408.