Winter is the perfect time to cozy up with a steaming mug of coffee. With so many wonderful coffee shops to visit all along the St. Croix River Valley, we stopped by four venues in Stillwater and Hudson this month to chat with the owners and find out what they have brewing this winter.
When Megan Palm moved back to Stillwater after college, she admits to having felt a bit lost. Palm was looking for ways to establish her own sense of community and to replicate the family-style business her parents, Steven and Lynn, owners of Keister and Keister Insurance Agency, had established over nearly 35 years in business. “I grew up listening to my parents talk about selling insurance, especially my dad, who was definitely the salesman. They had an agency down in the Brick Alley. I got used to talking to people through [Dad],” Palm says.
Palm found what she was looking for at the Daily Grind Espresso Cafe. Kelly Christopherson, the first owner, took Palm under her wing. After working as a barista for two and a half years, Palm, the coffee shop’s third owner, purchased the shop from the Itaines family, who had purchased it from Christopherson. The shop had been a longtime fixture in the River Exchange Building on South Main Street in Stillwater when the landlord chose not to renew the lease. Palm says it was a blessing in disguise. “We were talking about remodeling anyway,” she says. “We had been there for 23 years and needed a restart.”
As it turns out, the current owners of Valley Bookseller, Molly Rice and Dan Priebe, were good friends of the Palms and had unused space in their building. The bookseller was more than welcoming, Palm says, and soon her husband, Tim, began renovating the new space. Combining a bookstore with a coffee shop proved to be a winning combination, and the addition of ample parking and stellar river views proved more than the couple could have hoped for.
The success of The Daily Grind is dependent on several ingredients, but coffee is the key. Palm believes it starts with their European-style roaster and shipments of fresh coffee beans that arrive weekly. Palm transforms the beans into caffeinated heaven just as the shop’s customers begin pulling into the parking lot. Tim creates homemade breakfast burritos and sandwiches, while Megan bakes scones, biscotti, cakes and breads to complement the flavorful brews.
A unique element of The Daily Grind is the shared space with neighboring retailers. Palm said it isn’t unusual for customers to grab a sandwich from the co-op and enjoy it on their deck. Additionally, Valley Bookseller hosts “Authors After Hours” events at the coffee shop where attendees can enjoy a beverage while listening to visiting authors talk about their books.
For Palm, everything comes back to community. “When you give The Daily Grind a chance, it becomes part of you and your daily routine. It’s all about making connections.”
Harriet Ryan has always enjoyed what she calls “the espresso arts.” Her first job at a Hudson coffee shop instilled an early appreciation for good quality coffee. Several years ago, Ryan had the opportunity to partner with a friend when they discovered a business space was for sale in Hudson. “We wanted to offer something above par from what was currently available in the area. We focused on organic coffee and locally sourced goods, and tried to keep the focus more on what’s available close to home,” Ryan says.
For personal reasons, Ryan chose to explore healthy product alternatives for her new business. Six months before opening Joe to Go, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, and through the course of the treatment and recovery process, Ryan and her family dedicated themselves to minimizing the amount of processed foods and chemicals in their diet. When it came time to choose her products and menu items for the coffee shop, Ryan knew taste and quality would be a winning combination.
For example, one of the shop’s bigger vendors is Crystal Ball Dairy Farm out of Osceola, Wis., which supplies organic dairy products. The shop’s coffee beans are sourced through Peace Coffee in Minneapolis, one of the first in the metro area to provide fair trade coffee.
As a freestanding coffee kiosk, Joe to Go is based on the idea of quality and convenience. The shop relies on repeat traffic to keep the business buzzing. The experienced barista team pays close attention to their customer base, often having drinks ready before customers pull up to the window. “We have gathered a pretty good crowd of regulars. We have a quick chat in the morning and then send them on their way with a good cup of brew,” Ryan says.
Joe to Go boasts an extensive specialty menu, with over 35 different flavors of lattes and mochas, and a variety of taste combinations not available elsewhere. The fact that drinks are made from scratch with fresh grinding is a difference customers appreciate, as well as knowing that all of the ingredients used are organic.
“The one thing I wanted to prioritize from day one is that the better the quality of ingredients, the better your drink is going to be,” Ryan says. “I’m a huge believer that you have to be diligent and have pride in what you’re doing. The quality is there, and we are supporting local businesses, too. It’s been fun watching the business grow.”
(Harriet Ryan enjoys “the espresso arts” as a barista at Joe to Go in Hudson.)
Bert’s Coffee Cafe
Walking into Bert’s Coffee Cafe in Hudson is like entering the kitchen of an old farmhouse. The heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread, a collection of favorite antiques, and patrons playing a game of cards or curled up with a good book all add to the homey atmosphere. Owner Roberta “Bert” Brill runs the shop with the assistance of her aunt, Roberta “Bert” Gherty. “Our customers joke that you have to legally change your name to Bert if you want to work here,” Brill says.
Brill, a life-long baker, makes all of the menu items from scratch. Whether it’s bread for the much-requested breakfast sandwich, a variety of muffins, Norwegian specialty items such as frystakake or an occasional kranzakake during the holidays, everything is made on-site. “You can always smell something baking,” Brill says.
Brill also knows serving a quality cup of coffee is what keeps folks coming back. The shop roasts their own coffee beans and also offers a menu of hot and cold beverages.
When asked what sets Bert’s apart from other coffee shops, Brill is quick to reply. “It’s the other Bert. She’s been here forever. People need to come in and check out her hats, bows and aprons. She’s the ‘hood ornament’ here. She gets along with everyone. We both like to sit down and chitchat with customers, but she is the social part of the shop.” Bert’s Coffee Cafe, 431 Second St., #201, Hudson
(Roberta “Bert” Gherty and owner Roberta “Bert” Brill enjoy coffee warm-ups of their own at Bert’s Coffee Cafe in downtown Hudson.)
Rick Weber of Hudson Bagel & Coffee Co. was operating The Daily Grind Espresso Cafe in Stillwater when he was approached by the builder of the Prairie View Center in Hudson about his interest in opening a new coffee shop. The space had already been reserved for someone else. “He called back a month later and said the bagel shop guy fell through. He said, ‘Why don’t you take the end cap, and combine the bagel shop with the coffee shop,’ which is what I did,” Weber says.
Weber’s previous coffee shop experience proved invaluable in creating a comfortable ambiance for his guests, whether they’re stopping in for a quick cup of coffee and glance at the paper or are part of a larger group. “I built a separate room that customers can reserve for meetings. We also have hard-wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections at stations throughout the dining room.” With plenty of comfortable seating and a blazing fire, the space is especially cozy on cold winter days. For those on the go, the drive-through proves a lifesaver.
Customers are quick to comment on the quality of the coffee and bagels.“They say, ‘I’m from New York and this is the best bagel I’ve ever had,’” Weber says. Patrons can choose from 18 signature bagels, offered with fresh cream cheese made on-site. There is also an extensive sandwich menu, with options such as roast beef panini or Mediterranean pitas.
Weber is appreciative of his loyal customer base and is proud to support the community in return. “We are connected with the schools, and they have volleyball, swimming, football, and baseball, so we try to help out those groups. On an individual basis, people will come in because they are having a silent auction or benefit or fundraiser. I think we are generous with that as well,” Weber says.
Hudson Bagel & Coffee Co. received a Sustainability Award from the Hudson Sustainability Group, the Best Coffee Shop award from Hudson Patch, and supports the Go Buy Local initiative. Weber credits this to his staff, who he says always make customers feel welcome. “It’s a place where people can come in and sit down and not feel pressure to move on.”
(Rick Weber, owner of Hudson Bagel & Coffee Co.)
The Daily Grind Espresso Cafe
The Grinder: Frozen milkshakes with espresso and any flavor you choose
The Whitney: White chocolate and milk chocolate
Mexican Mocha: Chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and almond flavor
Bert’s Coffee Cafe
Naughty Norwegian: Vanilla and cinnamon latte with whipped cream and cinnamon.
Dirty Dog: Mocha with chocolate, caramel, and Irish cream with whipped cream and drizzled chocolate and caramel.
Hudson Bagel & Coffee Co.
Regular drip coffee: French or Breakfast Blend
Espresso Chiller: Blended coffee drink with ice
Joe to Go
Mocha: Made with white or dark Ghirardelli chocolate, or a vanilla, caramel, hazelnut or raspberry latte.
In addition to these coffee shops, there are many other places in the St. Croix Valley to grab your favorite caffeinated beverage, such as:
• Tin Bins, Stillwater
• Morningstar at the North End Coffeehouse, Stillwater
• Lumberjack Café, Stillwater
• L’Etoile du Nord, Bayport
• Caribou Coffee, Stillwater and Hudson
• Dunn Bros Coffee, Stillwater and Hudson
• Starbucks, Stillwater and Hudson