In August, a new Starbucks location opened up at the intersection of Snelling and Stanford, not far from the stadium side of campus. It is a big store, with dark wood panelling and lots of outlets. This Starbucks location joins a number of chain coffee shops near campus; Dunn Bros, Caribou, Spyhouse, Dunkin and another Starbucks. And so I asked myself: how is this new chain store affecting local, independent coffee shops? Is this having a significant impact on their sales?
As it turns out, there isn’t much of a real threat.
Pete Poire-Odegard owns Roots Roasting, a coffee shop on Snelling and St. Clair only a few hundred feet from the new Starbucks. He claimed that the new Starbucks had no significant effects on his business. Although growth has slowed somewhat, Roots saw no decrease in sales. The area near campus is fairly concentrated with coffee shops but Poire-Odegard sees the coffee he sells as totally different from Starbucks’.
“We can all find our grooves,” Poire-Odegard said.
So, what is Roots Roasting’s groove? This is a coffee shop for people who really love coffee. The walls are covered with maps, charts and diagrams about all things coffee. Across from the counter, there are a variety of different coffee-related machines, with short pro-and-con review cards displayed for each one. The store is bright and quiet, with huge windows and classical piano music. Each table has a bright red extension-corded outlet for easy laptop access. This is an ideal quiet study spot.
Poire-Odegarde also described his store as more approachable than others like Spyhouse, especially because it is independently run. The drinks at Roots can be a bit on the more expensive side. I ordered an iced green tea, which was $4, and also very good. The focus at Roots is on the beans themselves.
“We are a small-batch, bean-focused coffee bar,” Poire-Odegard said. “We’re built on regularity and community.”
Further south on Randolph Avenue is JS Bean Factory. JS is short for “Just Steve,” named after the owner. I was unable to speak to Steve himself, but interviewed manager Michelle Ferrian. She has been working at JS Bean for five years, while the store has been operating for just over twenty.
In terms of JS Bean’s niche, it has acted as a community hub for the neighborhood. This has changed somewhat in recent years, which Ferrian attributes to the pandemic, as well as new coffee shops opening nearby.
“For us, especially before the other places were open, it very obviously acted as another living room,” Ferrian said. “Families would meet up here, large groups of friends would meet up here. We played the meet spot for this general area. With the pandemic, a lot of things changed. Maybe it’s not as strong, but I feel like we definitely still have that vibe.”
The coffee at JS Bean is typically dark-roasted. The shop also has a vintage coffee roaster from the 70’s, visible from the dining area through a window. I drank a chai-der, which was chai mixed with cider. I did not pick up on a lot of chai flavor, but the drink was delicious regardless, especially with whipped cream. It was perfect for the fall weather.
Ferrian did not see Starbucks as existing in the same niche as JS Bean. She remembers the Spyhouse location opening on Snelling in 2017 as more direct competition. Spyhouse, as a small-batch roaster, has drinks more similar to JS Bean’s.
The decor in JS Bean is somewhat offbeat and mismatched. There are googly eyes on the bathroom sign, handwritten signs for the many different bean varieties and a cork board full of photos. The walls are decorated with paintings from local artists. They also sell CD’s from local musicians and carry copies of the Star Tribune and Women Against Military Madness newsletter. Ferrian said that JS Bean will sometimes get popular with study groups, though she does not think it is the best study spot.
“It’s a very chatty environment,” Ferrian said. “It’s hard to concentrate on your homework because everyone’s trying to start conversations with each other.”
I would recommend JS Bean to those looking for a lively neighborhood spot, but not a quiet study space.
Starbucks, meanwhile, has its own niche. Poire-Odegard described Starbucks’ coffee as uniquely accessible. For Ferrian, Starbucks is hardly an authentic coffee shop.
“Starbucks is turning into one of these boba tea spots,” Ferrian said. “You go there for the specialty drink, it’s not necessarily for the coffee. The only time I ever go to Starbucks is for basically an ice cream milkshake with coffee in it.”
So, is Starbucks competition for boba shops? Simplicitea, which is next door to the new Starbucks, sells both bubble tea and coffee. Owner Thanh Bui told me that coffee sales have dropped more than bubble tea since the Starbucks opened. Bui wanted people to remember his shop for their specialty tea drinks, and did not see Starbucks as a threat in this area. Coffee has never made up more than 10% of Simplicitea’s sales.
Although Starbucks is not a large threat for Roots or JS Bean, it has affected their customer interactions somewhat. Poire-Odegard said that fewer people have asked for Starbucks-style drinks that Roots does not offer, like blended drinks. He has appreciated a nearby place to point customers who want them.
Ferrian, meanwhile, has seen the opposite trend at JS Bean. There are more customers (generally young) who request sweeter, blended drinks. In general, Ferrian noticed fewer young customers, though she is not sure what of that can be attributed to the pandemic.
The Mac-Groveland neighborhood is highly concentrated with coffee shops, but the new Starbucks is not much of a direct threat to small businesses. These small coffee shops in the area each have their own distinct atmosphere for customers. If you are looking for coffee in the area, think about what you want from the experience.
If you are looking for well-researched coffee and a quiet place to get work done, head over to Roots Roasting. If you want to have conversations with neighbors and a wide variety of old-fashioned roasted beans, check out JS Bean. And if your friend wants boba but you want coffee, then Simplicitea can make it work. If nothing else, rest easy knowing that all of these different avenues for caffeine can peacefully coexist.