Loring Park coffee shop says 'No pants, no problem'

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Can kilts and caffeine co-exist conceptually?

The creative minds behind Loring Park's new coffee house, Kilted Coffee, have toyed with a couple of slogans to entice new customers to their Nicollet Avenue caf/: "Come see what's under our skirts" and the catchy, "No shoes, no shirt, no service. No pants, no problem."

Both were tossed into the ring by Kilted Coffee founder Dan Friedman-Shedlov and his partner George Heim. Heim, a former software engineer, sported a white t-shirt with Kilted Coffee's kilt-clad coffee bean mascot, McBean, as he explained the concept of the new business before its scheduled July 23 opening.

The employees wear kilts, but Heim stressed they aren't worn the traditional Scottish way -- Kilted Coffee staff will, thankfully, wear undergarments.

He joked about promoting the place with the line, "Come see what's under our kilts," but Heim said they want to keep their image family friendly.

The coffee house has opened in the old Eat Street Caf/ space at 1410 Nicollet Ave., across the street from the Music Box Theatre that is home to the play "Triple Espresso."

Kilted Coffee is replacing Lynn Smith's Eat Street Caf/, which occupied the space for just 10 months. Heim said they are optimistic they can succeed in an area that has seen significant business turnover by having more employees present to ensure high-level customer service.

But why kilts? After all, the Scots are not up there in the Coffee "A" League with the Colombians, the Ethiopians the Sumatrans...or even their espresso-drinking European neighbors, the French.

Friedman-Shedlov, the visionary behind the eccentric caf/, has dabbled in Scottish dancing for years. He also loves coffee and decided to marry his interests in a Scottish-themed caf/.

"I always thought kilts were pretty cool and I like hanging out in coffee shops," Friedman-Shedlov said. "I see a coffee shop as a meeting place -- a community place."

Friedman-Shedlov is also a former software engineer, which is how he met Heim. It turned out that both wanted to pursue other work for a change of pace, and they both liked the laid-back coffee shop work environment.

Friedman-Shedlov said he finished a business plan on Kilted Coffee last October and had been looking for a space for months when he found the Nicollet Avenue spot.

John Van Heel, president of the Citizens for a Loring Park Community and co-chair of the Nicollet Task Force, said he thinks Kilted Coffee will be a "great addition to Eat Street."

"It fits the international theme of the street very well. I think the new restaurants and coffee houses that have come to Loring Park's Nicollet Avenue in the last couple of years have helped secure its place as Downtown's premiere international and ethnic dining venue," he said.

Friedman-Shedlov said reaction to the idea has been mixed, "Some people say, 'It's crazy and you don't know what you're doing,' and others say, 'Wow, it's unique and wonderful.'"

Either way, he's not worried about the naysayers, "It's an opportunity to live out an expression of a dream."

Friedman-Shedlov got turned onto Scottish dancing by his wife, Lara, who lived in Scotland and took up the dance as a hobby. Now he belongs to a local branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society and kicks up his heels once a week.

He owns three kilts and has a hired a local seamstress to make him a special hunter green and orange construction kilt he can wear during Kilted Coffee's renovations.

International coffees

While billed as a destination point for plaid and kilt enthusiasts, the coffee house has more of an international flavor, explained Amanda Gardiner, Kilted Coffee's tea and coffee expert.

Gardiner has five years of experience working in coffee shops in Appleton, Wisc. and plans to bring Friedman-Shedlov and Heim up to speed on how to make a good cup of joe.

"I have yet to be stumped on a coffee question," she said.

Kilted Coffee will offer a range of beverages, including loose-leaf teas and coffees from Turkey, Armenia, Russia and East Africa. All the products are organic and fair-trade brands, she added.

Other offerings include sodas with natural syrups, smoothies, tonics (including some designed to soothe stress), soups, sandwiches and salads. Most of the food will be priced around $5, Heim said. On-duty police officers and firefighters will be entitled to a free cup of coffee, he added.

"They put their lives on the lines every day for us," he said. "That's the least we could do."

The entrepreneurs conducted market research in the neighborhood and most people interviewed said they didn't want to spend more than $5 on a sandwich. So the coffee shop will offer salads and sandwiches around that price, Heim said.

As for the coffee shop's vibe, he said Kilted Coffee will cater to a range of customers.

"We want to appeal to someone in jeans and a T-shirt or someone in a tux," he said. "It's casual elegance."

Besides an assortment of teas and coffees, Kilted Coffee will host a "coffee college" on the weekends and use a backroom lounge for Celtic and Scottish dancing, open-mic nights, "Bad Movie Night" (screening such classics as the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" series), and other events.

Other community groups will be able to rent out the space, dubbed the Thistle Lounge, named for a thistle mosaic they plan on adding to the floor. The thistle is the traditional emblem of Scotland.

The room will also feature a special "sprung" floor for dancing -- a custom-designed floor with extra cushion for dancers.

In the main coffee shop, the d/cor includes displays of traditional Scottish tartans -- a distinctive plaid representing various Scottish clans.

A mural by a local artist made for the Eat Street Caf/ will remain.

Kilted Coffee will also offer wireless access to customers and sell jewelry and gift baskets. Later this fall, they plan to add beer and wine to the menu and a local chocolate maker will sell her hand-made sweets.