Together in Coffee

- By Colby Wegter - coffe-cart-webIt all starts with a conversation. I’ve had more than a few over a cup of coffee and admittedly, I find myself constantly on the lookout to learn more about the people who’ve decided to make coffee their life. Enter Coffee Cart MPLS. An undoubtedly cool idea, I thought I’d sit down with the couple behind it, Jesse and Alta Keller, and learn a bit more.

I did. But what really captured me was them. Jesse and Alta surprised me.

Like anything else, I’d found them on Instagram. Their photos pulled me in, as each and every one had a bit of whimsy, simplistic beauty and a perspicuous amount of fun. So what’d I do? I hopped onto the website, sent an email and crossed my fingers. What I said at the time I can’t quite remember, but it was something to the effect of, “You guys look really cool and I’d love to meet you. Open to talking with a stranger about your life?”

Lucky for me the answer was, “We’d be honored.”

Where to meet was obvious. A coffee place in their neighborhood, Anelace Coffee in Northeast Minneapolis, was the place for the conversation.

It was just before noon on a mid-October day. The sun was shining through the window at the tightest angle, about to sit directly atop the building. Walking in I grabbed my usual, a piping hot dark roast, no room for cream and sugar. Jesse was already sitting down at a table, and Alta arrived soon after. As she asked Jesse what he wanted to drink, I unpacked my notebook and recorder. “Coffee’d out” was how Jesse put it, as he encouraged Alta to grab what she’d like. It was one his first statements and internally, I was refreshed. The comment instantly made me feel like he was down to earth. Meeting someone new is always an anxious moment and I sensed a bit of anxiousness in him so I jumped right in to say that it’s completely casual. “Not like an interview or anything,” I mentioned.

“Perfect,” he replied, leaning back in his seat. We both knew then we were simply in for a friendly conversation in a coffee shop. A place we all felt comfortable.

As Alta rejoined us, having gotten her drink, I figured the best place to start was how they met each other.

North Central University was where it started. Alta wanted to pursue a music degree. Growing up in Willmar, Minnesota, it was her first experience at city living on her own and she absolutely fell in love with it. “I’ll never move back to the country,” she says laughing. Jesse had a different story. He grew up in Australia, just south of Sydney. His father is from Minnesota and at the age of 16 they moved stateside to be closer to family. “I have a recording degree, so I wanted to go to a school that had a recording engineering program , a baseball team, and was in the city.” North Central was it.

They hit it off quickly and started dating soon after meeting. Dating turned into engagement. Engagement to marriage. In February, they’ll have been married for six years.

Talking about music wasn’t a conversation I was expecting to have and I instantly followed up asking if they are still playing and recording. “We have a band called The Prams,” Alta replied. “As soon as we got married we started writing and doing various things but we were never really serious about it. We lived in Dallas for two years and when we moved back here we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a shot.’ So we’ve been working on recording and we put out an album last year. It’s like folk and electronic music and is kinda a random mix. Now we’re going more pop-electronic but… we’re trying to play live as much as we can.”

“So the dream would be coffee and music,” added Jesse. “We enjoy doing it and we’d love to do touring more, but we enjoy coffee too. It’s amazing how many music connections we’ve made over doing Coffee Cart.”

Writing furiously in my notebook to check out The Prams on Spotify or Soundcloud, I tried to keep the conversation going. “So how did Coffee Cart MPLS get started?” I ask.

“Two years ago this last August we started it,” responded Alta. “We started it because we wanted a coffee shop and we kind of had that idea, realizing that we weren’t ready for that commitment, especially with music going on. So we thought ‘What can we do that’s a step in the right direction but not that big of an overhead investment?’ We had seen a catering company that did a coffee bar on the side and it was an awesome idea, but it was pretty boring. So we were like, ‘Man, what if it actually encompassed what we love about coffee shops?’ Which is the look and feel of the local coffee shop and where the coffee’s done really well. ‘What if that was a part of it so people could have that feeling at their event?’ So we designed and built our set up to look and feel like our favorite coffee spots. Our first event was at North Central, at that time Jesse was doing some audio work and engineer stuff and we were like, ‘Hey, if you guys are looking to do some sort of event, you can book us!’ Ever since then it’s been a word of mouth snowball. We started our idea with very low expectations. We were thinking, ‘This will be super fun to get our feet wet’, so when it got started, we reached out to a bunch of local roasters like Dogwood for instance.”

And Dogwood responded with a better deal than they could have asked for. Expecting to just learn about the equipment they would need, Jesse and Alta were propositioned by Dogwood to let them train the duo for free. It was a simple agreement. They’d sell Dogwood’s coffee out of their cart and Dogwood would train them on how to do it really well.

“We’re loyal, diehard Dogwood fans now,” says Alta with a laugh from Jesse. “They took us under their wing and set us up… so it’s been incredible.”

A calling in coffee was what I wanted to know, but as I sat across from them in Anelace, it was clear to see how close of friends they are.

Always together, whether it’s travelling to Paris, (where the idea for Coffee Cart MPLS materialized) playing a show at 7th Street Entry, or chipping away at their various house projects (like building a garage in a weekend) they’re each other’s best buddy. Even buddies butt heads now and then and I ask if they ever get sick of each other.

“We’re in the same circle,” Alta replies. “If there’s ever any tension, it’s done in five minutes. We’re such a good team that way.”

“She’s OK,” says Jesse sarcastically, sparking a bit of laughter from Alta.

Minutes later, Alta is telling me the ultimate reward of Coffee Cart is that they get to do it together. The bond translates into their music, which you should definitely listen to, and of course their coffee.

It’s a fascinating thing to experience, kindred spirits in their purest form.

With time winding down and our beverages cooling, I feel like I’ve met two genuinely cool people. People you want to root for. “What’s the plan for you guys tomorrow?” I ask.

“We’re very simple, so we’ll put on a pot of coffee, which is kind of embarrassing to say,” Alta replies sheepishly.

“We’re like the least snobby coffee snobs,” Jesse adds to help her out.

“We really appreciate coffee and we always have really good coffee beans but we’re kind of all about easy at home… normally we’d go out for coffee. We’d do that every morning if we had the time to. We get coffee…”

“A lot,” chimes in Jesse.

“Yeah, we get coffee a lot,” Alta laughs.

I tell them I do too and we fill Anelace with a bit of laughter.

We had a conversation. About coffee and its many pulls on our lives. For a lot of us, coffee is a mood alterer, a “get up and go” device. For some it’s a life source and for some, it’s a way of life.

Although it’s a way to make a living, for Jesse and Alta, it’s mostly fun.