Coffee Talk has been open 24 years now, and has became a central gathering place for locals and the perfect save point for those venturing through the region. Before the OPEN sign was first flipped around in the mid-90s, though, this beautiful Victorian-style house was in shambles.
Coffee Talk co-owner Mark Falter asks me while we chat one day if I know what Hoover Brick is. I didn’t. Well, it’s asphalt siding made to look like a brick facade. Try to imagine that, then try to imagine a beautiful Victorian-style home covered in that stuff. Now imagine that house’s front steps caving in. Falter uses the phrase “garbage house” to describe it at one point.
If you’ve ever been inside Coffee Talk, or sat in their paradisaical back yard space, it would be difficult to imagine this house in that state. Despite its condition at that time, Falter saw it and thought, “I could do something here.”
He brought his partner, John Coffey, to see it. Coffey’s first thought: “Really?”
“I was not enthused but, you know, it had potential,” says Coffey. “So we foolishly bought it, and then you realize how much [the previous owner] didn’t do to the house in 40 years.”
Things not done by the previous owner included: removing a rotting wall that had apparently been suffering water damage for years; installing ductwork through the house so the basement furnace heated more than just the basement; making that basement accessible from inside the house, rather than having to go outside to access it; and removing the nine-foot-long, family-sized clawfoot bathtub. And have you seen Hoover Brick?
“I have people all the time I tell this to and they’re like ‘What kind of feasibility studies did you do and all that?’” says Falter. “I didn’t do any of that. I went by my gut.”
That was in December 1994. The couple bought the house in January 1995 and got right to work fixing it up. I’m about to write the phrase “Fast-forward to July 1995,” and please don’t take that phrase lightly.
Fast-forward to July 1995, and Coffee Talk opened for business.
Falter and Coffey met in 1981. Prior to opening Coffee Talk, they had both worked for several years at Minneapolis’ Litin Paper Co. They were living in Forest Lake when they decided to branch out and start their own business together. The two were inspired in part to open a coffee shop by Peter Kirihara, who had opened Moose and Sadie’s in Minneapolis’ North Loop a few years prior.
Having a last name like Coffey, says Coffey, helped push the needle that way as well.
Coffey left Litin in May 1995 to work with a crew full-time on finishing up Coffee Talk. Falter worked at Litin for another year and a half while the shop opened up and gained traction in the community. They found a roaster through Moose and Sadie’s. Coffey says they followed the roasting machine after it got sold to a new owner, and then to another new owner after that. The roaster is now in River Falls.
“It’s the same roaster, and it seems to be doing a really nice job,” says Coffey. “I love the way it roasts coffee.”
Falter says the region’s proximity to the Twin Cities can make day-to-day traffic unpredictable. Interstate Park draws tree-viewers in the autumn; having Wild Mountain seven miles away brings in steady traffic year-round; and they’ve got the locals, many of whom stop to say hi during our chat. The skies are overcast that day, and our seats on the front porch had to be dried off before we could sit in them. Not many new faces seem to appear.
The main floor seats, at a guess, 20 – and good luck getting one of those. You’ll most likely end up on a couch, at a counter, or at one of the tables upstairs. For now, there’s a rocking chair in a corner next to the desk in the main room up there. It fills fast, but stays peaceful. If you wanted to offer an example of a coffee shop where you could get some serious work done, Coffee Talk is the one I would offer.
Falter is originally from a little town called Park River, North Dakota (Pop. 1,373). It’s about an hour north and west of Grand Forks, and about as far from Winnipeg. He calls it a great place to grow up and a great place to be from, but says the allure of the big city drew him to Minneapolis.
Coffey is from Sheboygan – “another good place to be from,” he says – and went to school at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. He finished at the University of Minnesota, but not before getting his first shifts in at a coffee shop in Seattle called The Antique Sandwich Company.
Coffey is an espresso guy. He says a double shot is the first thing he has in the morning at the shop when he gets in, then follows that up with a good cup of drip coffee. The best seller here is the mocha, he says, and they make blended drinks. If you came for the nitro chocolate lavender bourbon coffee, bad news. Coffee Talk doesn’t dabble in fads.
“Don’t fix something that isn’t broke,” says Falter, who prefers the house coffee ( a blend of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Brazilian varieties).
By the time I speak to them, Coffey has already had a double shot of espresso and two cups of coffee. Mark has had one cup of the house blend. The aforementioned O., vanilla lattes. Your humble author prefers the house blend. No cream, no sugar. I drink it until I can shoot lightning out of my fingertips.
“I actually find the older I get,” says Coffey, “the less coffee I’m drinking.”
“As you get older, your body changes,” says Falter. “I mean, sometimes it doesn’t wanna sleep. You have coffee after 3, 4 o’clock in the afternoon, you might be up for a while.”
Coffey works the night shift a lot, so his cut-off is a little later: seven.
“I’ll be here until 9:30,” he says, “so yeah, I’ll have a cup until 7. People come in, they want to have coffee with you. There’s a fairly decent business in the evening.”
Coffee Talk opens at 7 a.m. and goes until 9 p.m. daily. More information can be found on the Coffee Talk Facebook page.