Dan Zielske gets to go to work everyday and drink all the coffee he wants. The owner of Espresso Royale, located at 1229 Hennepin Ave. S., claims he is one of Minneapolis's senior "baristas" (a trained espresso maker, from the Italian word for "bartender").
Formerly a corporate employee of the Michigan-based Espresso Caf/ Corp., Zielske jumped at the chance to buy Espresso Royale from the company and branch out on his own. He now owns the three local Espresso Royales; one in Downtown, one in Stadium Village and one in Dinkytown.
"The only thing I really don't like about my job is when you own three coffee shops, sometimes you feel like you never leave," Zielske said. "The phone rings at 6 a.m. and I'm frozen for a second thinking 'Is it one of the shops? Is it the alarm company?'"
He still works behind the counter, which he has done since 1987 when he began working at Caf/ Global (now called the Hard Times Caf/) on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus.
He never thought he would go into food service, but coffee shops offered fewer of the complications restaurants had.
"I train people to do everything here because then there are no issues with front-of-house, back-of-house people. We just have the counter and that's where everything happens," Zielske said.
The idea behind Espresso Royale is to maintain the concept of the Northern California coffee shops it was patterned after. There was a lot of competition going on in those shops and owners were trying to create their own signature drinks, Zielske said. The goal was to get your shop's drink so well known that people would go into other coffee shops and order it even when it wasn't on the menu. Espresso Royale's signature drink is the cappuccino royale, which is a small cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso.
As one might expect, Zielske drinks coffee everyday. He said he doesn't drink as much as he used to and tries to cut himself of by early afternoon.
If he could do anything other than own coffee shops, Zielske would be an elementary school teacher. He said he tells himself every year to take a few classes and work toward his teaching degree. Coffee shops have something special that teaching doesn't offer for Zielske.
"There is a whole different thing in how to satisfy the customer and how they feel; I get instant gratification from this job because I know right away if someone is happy with their experience. In 2nd graders, I might never see the outcome," Zielske said.
Zielske loves the social aspect of his job most because he encounters so many different people in a day. It took his family awhile to come around to what he does for a living, but once they saw how much he loves what he does, they were OK with it, Zielske said.
Zielske's wife, 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son are all supportive. While he may have longer hours these days, his family likes that he
is home every evening after work. Zielske said his daughter wants to work at Espresso Royale someday.
"There's something really great about the ability to make someone's day with a cup of coffee and a smile," Zielske said.
Editor's note: Are you a Downtown barista? Skyway News is working on a new feature and we need you! Shoot an e-mail to dbrauer@ skywaynews.net if you want to know more.