Jake Nelson

... is the owner of Quixotic Coffee and Blackeye Roasting Co. His story is one that truly emphasizes the art of working hard and delivering an honest, beautiful product people are sure to love. Quixotic Coffee is located in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Quixotic Coffee delivers high quality hand-crafted beverages, made with local ingredients, and local character. Stop by to get the delicious Blackeye Cold Brew on tap!  Jake6

Talk about the beginnings of Quixotic. How about Blackeye Roasting Co.?

Everything all started when I was perusing Craigslist at the Dunn Brothers off Hennepin/3rd St, looking to find a local product or service to invest in, ideally something that I was already interested in. There was nothing I loved more than spending all my time at coffee shops each weekend, so I literally searched “coffee” and an ad for a “coffee roasting apprenticeship” caught my attention. I thought, “Not quite what I was looking for, but it sounds cool, so let’s roll the dice and see what happens.” That brought me to Matt McGinn—coffee roaster, caffeine addict, and the founder of Blackeye Roasting Co. We met at the coffee shop Matt previously managed, where he enthusiastically spoke about his new business for about thirty minutes before even thinking to introduce me to the rest of the people at the table. His excitement and passion for his product got me super fired up. Shortly thereafter, I actually got my first sample, not only of Matt’s Blackeye cold brew, but cold brew in general… and I was instantly hooked. This was the stuff that dreams are made of… it was smooth, refreshing and flavorful. Served in a classic amber beer bottle. I was obsessed.

From there, Matt and I spent all of our time day and night trying to figure out how to get Blackeye to market—design, prototype, test, modify, test, fund, modify, test, fund, market, sell, brand, sell, recall, modify, test, sell, invoice, collect, invoice, brand, service, invoice, expand—and the cycle continued. I would say 6/7 days per week I woke up at 7am to at least 10+ text messages from Matt (either from late the night before, or early the morning of) with thoughts, strategies, issues, ideas, you name it—trying to figure out what to do next, and every day was a new direction. If I got less than 100 text messages from Matt throughout my normal “work day”—I would feel like something was wrong.

One of those strategies for us was to buy a coffee shop that would give us a retail location where we could immediately start commercially producing and marketing Blackeye. So where did we turn? Craiglist, of course.


What makes Quixotic a unique shop? (Besides the name - I love the description on your website.)

The nitro cold brew has to be mentioned... but really, we’re not doing anything super unique here, we just try to focus on giving the customer the best coffee shop experience (<--emphasis) possible—that includes having a great space, creating innovative “coffeetails”, hiring and retaining friendly and helpful baristas, and having at least a 1:1 ratio of outlets to seats. The only thing we were missing was the great space, which is why the remodel was so important.

We wanted a space that was industrial and rustic, and would ultimately be conducive to serving a light food menu. Defining the requirements was the easy part. Letting the designer do her job, and then at the same time convincing everyone else that it would all be “okay” was the challenge.

The new space is very visually interesting and uses a variety of different textures and materials, the bar area is much more efficient (which helps provide better service) and generally the whole area is much more open, airy and welcoming.

Our goal has always been to be the best coffee shop in the Twin Cities and to do so, everything has to be perfect. After everything was all said and done, the customers and the employees were more than just “okay”—they were absolutely blown away.

I’m also seeing Blackeye Cold Press popping up in taps all over the city. What spurred this trend? Do you enjoy this new avenue?

Yeah! Sure is... the cold brew trend started in Portland/Seattle and has been migrating it’s way to cities all over the US over the past one, maybe two, years. Cold brew coffee is popular because it’s ultra-smooth and significantly less acidic than hot coffee. Cold brew also pairs well with beer and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. And I know I’ll continue to drink cold brew/nitro cold brew all throughout winter so I really don’t see the “trend” ending anytime soon! People seriously can’t get enough.


How has your business evolved? How have you evolved?

Quixotic has evolved from a small, lesser known neighborhood coffee shop to a more popular neighborhood shop and destination shop for coffee enthusiasts all around the Twin Cities. We also recently hired a customer-centric, highly experienced chef to design and implement a very small and health conscious food and beer/wine menu. The idea being that customers will have a place to feel comfortable meeting friends or colleagues, studying, or just hanging out during all hours of the day—not just when it's still within their caffeine intake limits!

As far as personally, I don’t even know where to start. Learning how to lead probably more than anything. And that there isn’t just one way that works—you don’t necessarily have to be super outgoing and naturally confident to be a successful leader—sometimes just being honest with people, and quietly backing up your words with real actions/results can be just as effective.


You also use local ingredients and talk about local character. Why do you think a localized economy is important?

I think a lot of people have the impression that using the local economy is just the right thing to do, and that you’re doing local vendors a favor by using them... When in all honesty, I see it as just good business. The (typically) higher costs that you might pay are usually returned back in droves by the cross-promotions and word of mouth advertising that you wouldn’t get from a larger, more centralized (local or non-local) company. That being said, all the local vendors we use have been AMAZING and it has been an absolute honor to be able to work with such genuinely interesting and passionate business owners all over the Twin Cities—Bootstrap Coffee Roasters, Patisserie 46, Autumnwood Farms, Sally’s Simple Syrups, Golden Fig, Fox Glove Market and Sota Clothing—just to name a few!


How has living in Minnesota impacted your business and products?

More so than living in Minnesota, I would say that it’s been certain Minnesota brands that have impacted/influenced my brand/shop (Quixotic)—specifically, Spyhouse, Five Watt, Tilia’s and (recently) Tattersall Distillery. These places all do everything flawlessly and are all just very small, manageable, clean and beautiful spaces that use older buildings that are built out of sturdy, heavy materials that have stood the test of time. It’s places like these that make people want to brag about living in the Twin Cities. I want people to feel that same way about Quixotic.


How has the world of coffee shops and roasting evolved in Minneapolis/St. Paul? Where do you see it going in the future?

I see the coffee shops evolving more towards the craft non-alcoholic/alcoholic drinks and food model not only to add additional revenue streams but because consumers are definitely preferring it. The ones that don’t go that direction will likely expand by quantity (think Spyhouse). I could also see the roasting scene trend more craft beer scene—with a heavy focus on branding. Some of the more traditionally “coffee shop only” shops with roasting access (again think Spyhouse & Five Watt) will likely start roasting on a more commercial level for local retail outlets and restaurants. The capacity and demand is clearly there so it’s just a matter of time and building the right relationships.

Over time, I can also see more and more restaurants and cafes will switch to local roasters instead of buying off a catalogue from larger commercial food service provider. Same with businesses, colleges, and other retail food providers. Especially as technology and social media makes it easier and easier to buy local (think Whole Foods and Co-ops). We are seeing it across all industries and demographics. It’s such a great thing and definitely worth the extra cost!


Talk about the fulfillment that comes from being the owner of Quixotic and Blackeye Roasting Co.

It’s just fun. I absolutely love it and wake up every morning actually excited for my daily meetings. I would never have been able to say that only six months ago. I know it is super cliché but being your own boss truly lives up to all the hype. And I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the Make It Minnesota community!