The solid typeface and train logo of Gutter Punk Coffee have been traded for a bird in flight and a new name, Wildflyer Coffee. In a way, you could say this brand evolution is reflective of the company’s mission.
Gutter Punk Coffee was first discussed in 2016 with the hopes of providing employment to youths experiencing homelessness in the area, as well as sharpening tools that could help them keep work in their adult lives. Co-founders Carley Kammerer and Ben Griswold had both worked with unhoused people before starting the company. Kammerer graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a social work degree and worked in that field prior to taking on the coffee company full-time.
Kammerer says Gutter Punk is a slang term used to describe some of the youths they help, but Wildflyer is meant to represent the capability, sky-high dreams and potential.
“We just felt like we had come up with a better name that fits all of what we’re doing,” she says. “We want a name that really speaks to all the youth that we work with, and what we want for them in the future.”
Kammerer began working with youths experiencing homelessness after she moved to Colorado for her first social work job. She had volunteered to work at a homeless shelter in her off-time, and noticed a gap between the programs available for adults and those available for youths.
“A lot of the youth I worked with could get jobs, but couldn’t keep them or progress in them,” she says. “They were just making minimum wage and cycling through a new job every few weeks. I wanted to make something that would be a place to learn skills they would need to maintain work. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to work; they were just struggling with the skills.”
Kammerer grew up in coffee, was a barista for 10 years through high school and college. Coffee shops offered communal spaces and relaxed learning environments, she says, so it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine a coffee shop helping her realize her goal. It also helped that Denver had a coffee shop, Purple Door Coffee, operating with the same mission in mind.
Shortly after moving to Minneapolis, Kammerer met Griswold at a get-together she and her roommates were hosting. Turns out, the two were attending college at the same time at UW-Eau Claire. Griswold graduated with a finance degree and moved to Houston after college.
Griswold’s ambition from the get-go was to someday venture into entrepreneurship. He also had a passion for coffee and was roasting his own home-made blends using a re-engineered stovetop popcorn popper. “Whirly-Pop,” he called it. He explained how he drilled some holes in into the popper, devised a way to get temperature readings, and then stood at that stove cranking an arm so the coffee beans would keep moving
As for the coffee it produced, Griswold says it was “really bad” but also says it was better than what was available at the time out in Eau Claire – “90s coffee shops,” he says, with the darkest dark-roast coffee.
When he moved to Minnesota, he was looking for ways to get plugged into the social sector and contribute. When he and Kammerer first met, they realized just how much their – and their goals – had in common, and how much their skill sets complemented each other.
That set off a months-long run of conversations, business class sessions, and paperwork. During the process, Kammerer and Griswold decided to sell their coffee at farmers markets via mobile cart versus go all-in on a brick-and-mortar space. Then, about a year after the two were first introduced, the Twin Cities was first introduced to Gutter Punk Coffee. This was summer 2017.
“It was the situation I was looking for,” says Griswold.
Like several roasters in the area, Wildflyer works with Cafe Imports for coffee procurement. Making sure they source coffee from organic-certified farmers who pay their employees a fair wage is a focus.
“We’re trying to do good work here with the community here,” says Griswold, “but if we’re neglecting the entire supply chain of the coffee, we feel a little bit like hypocrites.”
Three blends are available on their Wildflyer website as of this writing. Local Motive is their house blend, and the one used for their cold brew recipe in the summer and for revised batch brews in the fall and winter. Wildflyer’s first microlot offering is online, purchased earlier this year from Juan Carlos Navarro Ceciliano, who runs a farm in Costa Rica.
The Peruvian Centrocafe is the blend I’ve enjoyed most. It was the cup I tried when I first saw their coffee cart last fall, and it was the bag I brought north to share during a weekend trip when I stopped by a fellow coffee head’s house. The Centrocafe carries a hint of citrus and chocolate, and drinks smooth. If you happen to drink this coffee immediately after having a mug full of the Folger’s sand trap variety, the difference will be drastic.
The Wildflyer team is hoping to someday have a shop of their own, but they’re still working their way up to that. For now, Griswold roasts in St. Paul at Bootstrap Coffee Roasters. He roasts once per week, he says, and roasts about 300 pounds of coffee per month.
The team has four employees now besides Kammerer and Griswold. Kammerer says their employees help out with coffee cart setup and operations, assisting customers, and serving coffee. They’re hoping to eventually open up back-of-house positions for packaging and assisting Griswold with roasting.
“We try to have them do as much as possible, and just kind of oversee the interactions,” says Kammerer. “They’re getting skills in customer service, and how to prioritize, and work with each other, work with management.”
Wildflyer Coffee is available at the Fulton and Linden Hills farmers markets. Coffee can be purchased by the individual bag, or via subscription, on the Wildflyer website.
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