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While the coffee and the quality of product are at the forefront of our wholesale partners’ goals, we know that all is lost if the service and atmosphere aren’t of parallel importance. Mary Hogan-Bard is the woman behind two adorable shops in St. Paul, Claddagh Coffee on West 7th and the more recently opened Wee Claddagh Coffee on Selby. She’s created a welcoming space for specialty coffee that puts quality in focus, while championing the historically important community vibe the coffeehouse can offer. Mary has been a close wholesale partner of Dogwood Coffee since she began the process of opening her first shop, when we were just starting out as well. A 28-year resident of St. Paul, the neighborhood called to her. She interviewed other independent shop owners, put in time working as a barista in other neighborhood cafes learning what it took to work the counter, and what she wanted in the coffee community space she would eventually build. Claddagh Coffee is truly a place for everyone, we’re honored to be on the bar there. As part of our ongoing wholesale partner feature, we sat down in the kitchen with Mary at the Wee Claddagh shop on Selby for some heart to heart.
You were not involved in the coffee industry before you started exploring the idea of opening your own place, tell us about how you got to where you are now.
I used to be a special-ed teacher. I taught until I my third child, and I quit. I was a stay at home mom for 17 years. Did a little subbing, but only at my kids’ school. I was very selective. My kids were getting older, I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher and that I wanted to do something different. Coffee—I have always enjoyed it. I always had friends over for coffee. They would tease me and say, “When are you going to open your coffee shop?” I was always looking for the next thing, and then it became a reality. I bought my LaMarzocco espresso machine before I even had a space. I thought, oh my god, what did I just do? I told my husband,
“Okay, I bought the machine.”
“How much was it?” he said.
“Kind of like… the Volkswagen. But it’s not that much money!”
I had a spot on Selby… when I was going to go sign the lease, [the landlord] said no to me. It was a roadblock. That was hard because I thought, where do I go? Where do I want to be? Then Jeff (the landlord) who owns the yoga studio down at West 7th called me and said, “I hear that you’re looking for some space for a coffee shop. I have some space down on West 7th.” At first I said no because I didn’t really know that area. He was persistent, and I thought, you know, “It doesn’t hurt to look at it.”
He took me into the yoga studio first to see what he had done there. He does a really nice job with renovation. Then he took me over to the place next door and it was in bad shape. We talked about ideas and he said he would expose the brick, he would trim things out, get it ready for me. I had somebody who believed in me, and thought that I could do it. So, that’s where I went.
I figured it took me 10 months; I kind of compared it to having a baby. People kept saying, “Are you almost ready yet? Are you almost ready yet?” and in the end it did take 10 months. It kind of was like a baby. My fifth child.
Tell us about the evolution of the food and bakery component at Claddagh. You invited your friend to take charge of the baking and through Claddagh she has basically become a professional baker.
I started out with Bars Bakery which used to be here (where Wee Claddagh is now.) She was here for five years and just quit last May. I’m kind of picky about my scones. She had really good scones and had a name. When I opened my shop, I carried Bars Bakery and it was helping—but I also couldn’t afford her after awhile. It wasn’t even a full year into it that I called my friend Carol Stutzke and said, “Here’s an idea, just listen, because I think you could do it.” She was all for it. She was always a great baker. We always had girl’s weekends at cabins and Carol just brought the best of everything. She’s a foodie.
When I was in Paris in 2012, I was sitting outside a cafe having a scone with some Devonshire cream with a dollop of jam next to it. I sent her a picture and I said, “We’re going to get this Devonshire cream. We’re going to figure out how to make it and we’re going to serve it with our scones.” I was gone for 10 days. When I came back and she had already had it made and we already had it in little cups and putting it on plates.
When your first shop opened on West 7th, the specialty coffee scene in the Twin Cities was much younger and smaller than it is now. What was it like for you then, introducing a new way of coffee to St. Paul?
One thing that was hard for me was my age. I was 53 when I opened the shop and there I was, starting out with specialty coffee. The one thing that I was really conscious of was of was not to be too cool. You think of specialty coffee or cool coffee shops, it’s a crowd, you know? I have a lot of older people down the hill. But, I get old and young…you have followers. You get followers when you’re staying true to your product.
I wrote my own mission statement and I questioned myself, “Why am I doing this?” I really had to think, “Okay. 1) I really like this coffee. 2) I like good food. But, what is it? Why do I feel this is what I want to do? What’s this doing for me?” It’s community. That’s what came out. I’m not a coffee shop owner, but a community builder. I really believe that people need that place that’s their place. You’ve got your home and your work and then… where are you going to hang out? I want to be that place!
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