The Get Down Is More Than Just Another Minneapolis Coffee Brand

The multi-talented Houston White’s latest venture is about to become the cornerstone of Camdentown
With a barbershop and a clothing line, entrepreneur Houston White now also has a coffee brand
With a barbershop and a clothing line, entrepreneur Houston White now also has a coffee brand

Photo by Kevin Kramer

Serial entrepreneur Houston White and Dogwood Coffee Co. owner Dan Anderson first collaborated on a couple exclusives in 2019—bold “Mixtape” blends that were sold at White’s HWMR shop. Talk of bringing a Dogwood cafe to HWMR’s North Minneapolis neighborhood eventually turned to an entirely different entity: The Get Down Coffee Co

First announced last fall, the partnership was launched as a lean product line and a brick-and-mortar beacon of the Camdentown community that White began fostering back in 2008 with his influential barbershop/clothing store. 

White’s fall 2021 fashion line was one of the main inspirations behind The Get Down’s future-shocked fusion of old-school hip-hop and cutting-edge culture. “If you came up through the ’80s,” he explains during an hour-long Zoom call, “you were informed and inspired by hip-hop in some way. Art and culture was a uniter no matter who you were—white, Black, Asian, gay, straight.

He continues, “My whole ethos is ‘human connection is the most powerful force in nature.’ Our differences make us dope.” 

White describes The Get Down’s menu in similar terms—as “elevated but approachable … like if James Beard created a rap restaurant.” While its focus is grab-and-go fare, “the goal is to remain as fresh as possible,” a “made this morning and gone this afternoon” matter featuring dynamic in-house dishes (a salad of chives, apple, and dry-aged cheese; slices of “futuristic sweet potato pie”) and locally made items like Blissful Cakery‘s French macaroons and Sweet Troo Vi‘s Belgian waffles. 

As for drinks, White says he’s “gonna take some time to curate” soft-launch offerings and get honest feedback so the cafe feels like an open conversation, not a stock rendition of what a third-wave spot should be. In that way, The Get Down is bound to become more than just another coffee shop. Its vision is very much a vibe, expressed in everything from bright neon lights and lovingly rendered Peyton Scott Russell pieces to live DJs and Tiny Desk-esque jazz trios.

You can find White’s coffee online and in shops around the metro area (also set to appear in about 40 metro-wide Targets, White says). In the following in-depth interview, we discuss everything from fruit bomb finds to the “double pandemics” that led White down this road in the first place…

How old were you when you first started getting into coffee?

I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was 35.

Had you tried it before then?

I tasted it, but I didn’t like it. When you learn about coffee, you understand why you would hate it as a kid or as a novice, because most coffee is not harvested very well; you’re tasting that overly bitter stuff, and you’re like, ‘Whoa.’

My wife had been drinking coffee for years, so I was just used to being around it and drinking energy drinks instead. I came of age during the Red Bull craze, so that was my drug of choice in the morning. As I wizened up, I was like, ‘I should probably stop drinking so many energy drinks.’

I remember I was going to golf with three other fellas in Atlanta. The server at this cafe came over and said, ‘Can I get you guys anything?’ One of the guys just says ‘coffee.’ I was gonna say ‘orange juice,’ but she turned around and came back with four coffees. So I just did what they did and was like, ‘Hmm, that’s not so bad.’ 

I started to have a cup every now and then, but I wasn’t really drinking coffee on a daily basis. But then I went out to DC a year later—to this place called Maketto—and saw this Japanese reverse siphon brewer. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was like, ‘How does that relate to coffee?’

Then we went to a coffee shop where they were doing pour overs. I’d only seen drip coffee before, so I was really intrigued. I came back home and wanted to learn more, so I reached out to a bunch of people. My experience with the specialty coffee community was that it was very off-putting; it was very white, it was very expensive. 

But then I called Dan Anderson, who was building [Dogwood’s] St. Paul cafe at the time. I told him, ‘I want to learn’—that ‘I’m looking for a mentor.’ And he just said, ‘Come over.’ 

So I did; I came over, and started to shadow him. He and I became friends, and he agreed to let me borrow some coffee equipment. That kind of sparked it for me. This was around 2015—about five years ago.

I got your Sampler Pack, and the one I thought I would like the least was the one that’s supposed to be for people into darker roasts because they’re often associated with bitterness. And that’s actually my favorite; I didn’t expect that at all…

We decided not to use dark, light, or medium roast descriptors because of that — because of the connotation. 

That’s really smart because some people will just swear it off right away otherwise—people that are snotty and like, ‘Thanks, but I only drink light roasts.‘ 

We decided to do this lighter or darker shade of brown [description] instead. We liken it to EQing, where you can turn the levels up or down. If you are more used to a full-bodied, deeper, darker note, then Turntables is perfect. We pushed it as far as we could go to try to maintain the complexities of the flavors—caramel notes, things like that.

Tell me about creating coffee under the Mixtape line with Dan a couple years ago.

I was trying to figure out what I wanted to make—what coffee profiles really resonated with me. And I love Ethiopian naturals. When I tasted that years ago, I was like, ‘What is going on here? How is this even possible?’

So we decided to do an Ethiopian and figure out what the name would be. We called it Juicy because that’s what they are. Drip Drip is exactly that: for the lover of Ethiopian [coffee] and this natural process. It’s like 50/50, and we play with the dials. We treat the coffee like it’s a mixer—literally pumping up the differences between a washed and a natural process.

With Turntables, I’m a huge lover of Colombian coffees and other regions known for more of a full body—a deeper tone. That varies depending on what’s available and what we want to play with, but it has to maintain this pungent, strong flavor. It could be a Colombian coffee; it could be a coffee from Uganda; it could be a Rwandan coffee.  And then we just figure out what the right mix is.

Our single-origin is what we like to call our caviar moment—our Dom Pérignon moment. It’s for the coffee elite—the snobs that love the best coffees in the world. 

Dan is a brilliant mind when it comes to sourcing really special coffees … He’ll literally say to me, ‘Here’s an interesting coffee; you should try this,’ and then we play around until we find a single-origin that just explodes with fruit. It’s akin to tea in a way. People who drink Caribou or stuff like that—just typical coffee—they might say, ‘This doesn’t taste like coffee. I hate this. This is trash.’ 

So that’s kind of the idea—to create this Sampler Pack, and depending on where you are [palate wise], there’s something for you. 

The Get Down Coffee Co. by Houston White in Minneapolis

Photo by Kevin Kramer

You guys should play around with blends more. I feel like coffee nerds were only drinking single-origin coffee for a while there because it was seen as a sign of quality and ‘terroir.’ But blends can be more fun because you’re really messing with the flavor profiles of different regions.

It’s funny you say that. When we started to talk about this coffee company, one of the first names was Blends because it’s all about bringing two things together. 

For the company itself, you mean?

Yeah, and we were only gonna do blends. But we decided there are some very special coffees that we want to highlight on their own because they are premium.

We’re adding an espresso soon, too. It’s called Plus One. That’s gonna be ready mid-April-ish. That’s our business model; we’re gonna focus on four coffees and play around with it. For now, at least. There’s a big world out there. You know, there are a lot of people in New York and LA that need to experience Drip Drip and Turntables, too. 

I like that you’re focusing on the four coffees. I’m one of those people that buys a lot of specialty coffee, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices that are out there. 

That’s kind of how we got on Target’s radar.  

Oh, yeah? Nice.

Yeah. I actually asked Sam Pryor—the head of warm beverage—’Why me? Why this coffee company?’

He said, ‘Listen, I get 50-plus cold calls a day from coffee businesses that want to be in Target. For me, they all say the exact same thing: fair trade; sourcing ethically; blah, blah, blah. It’s like I can’t distinguish one from the other. But when you start talking about culture, and morning time happy hour, and, like, cultural collision and bringing people together through a beverage, and then you already have all those built-in expectations of a good specialty coffee because of the Dogwood history. But you’re presenting it in a different way. This is not a cafe that grew and became a coffee brand. This is a coffee brand that has a front-facing cafe.’

He told me, ‘That’s your position of strength. You’re bringing music and vibration into this business that doesn’t currently exist.’ He really helped solidify what a unique proposition this is. 

It’s great you’re getting into Target because you can’t not go to Target every so often here. And there’s not a lot of local coffee brands in there. They just have Peace Coffee, pretty much. And sometimes City Girl Coffee from Duluth. It’s nice that I’ll be able to get a coffee I’m actually psyched about the next time I need to get paper towels, you know?

That’s the whole idea, right? I look at this brand like … The world had this pause. Everything got shook up, right? Double pandemics: the murder of a Black man, and a literal pandemic. All of these businesses have had to make tough decisions. Some are gonna make it; some are not. Now you got this whitespace of what’s next…. 

In my opinion, The Get Down represents the future. Like, what is the future coffee experience? What is the future coffee brand that is prominent in the world gonna feel like? How is it gonna connect with the end user? So it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s protect this. Let’s roll it out slowly.’ The goal is to be the inverse of Starbucks, but just as successful.

Can you talk about how this project has evolved for you? From my understanding, you were originally going to just open a Dogwood within your renovated HWMR space, but then it turned into an actual brand, not just a cafe.

I love specialty coffee, but I’m involved in a lot of other businesses. So I have to figure out where my time is best used. So I was planning on opening a cafe and having Dogwood provide the beans and so on…. I asked Dan if they would just open a Dogwood inside the new renovation, and they said, ‘Yes, that’s great.’ 

So that was the plan—until George Floyd was murdered. Dan and I are great friends, so he reached out. He just wanted to talk. He was like, ‘You know, we’ve tried to be supportive of the Black community, but at this moment, I don’t know what to do. Like what should we do?’ So we decided to go play golf and talk about it.

Just hang out as friends basically?

Yeah—just talk. We went golfing and had a great time. I said, ‘Dan, 90% of your customers are white, right? You’ve built your brand on your love of hockey and dogs … You’re known for that, so you can’t all of a sudden overdo it, right?’ You don’t want to offend your frontline customers and become something that you’re not. 

So I said to him, ‘I don’t know what you should do exactly, but what I’m going to ask as a Black man [is] don’t pander to my community by giving donations.’ Money runs out, then what? It makes me feel good, and it makes you all feel good for a period of time, but that’s not the answer.

So he goes home, talks to [his wife] Angie, comes back to me and says, ‘Angie said that we should open a coffee business.’

[Laughs] I was like, ‘How did you get me wanting to be in business with you from what I said to you on the golf course? I told you I couldn’t do the cafe, so I asked you to come and open [one] in North Minneapolis. What are you talking about?’

He says, ‘Hear me out. We don’t want to do anything to pander; we feel like the roasting and the wholesale and the back end is the bigger part of our business and provides the biggest opportunity to create impact. We want to do that in that space, and bring a roastery to North Minneapolis with you leading the business but you can use all of our sourcing, our current means, our knowledge base, and we would create a sibling company such that we’d help do everything. And then you build it.’

So I said, ‘All right, let me think about that. What is that going to require?’ We met probably three or four more times. I think it was about that third meeting where I said, ‘OK, this is making sense. I see how what I’ve been saying to him and what I’ve been saying, generally, about what Camdentown is supposed to be—this would be a good thing for the community. OK, all right. I like it; I’m in.’

Then we started on his journey of what it would be called. We started with Blends because it was this idea of bringing two things together to create something new. Then one day, we were just sitting in the cupping room, and I was planning on doing a fall collection in 2021 called The Get Down. It was going to be jean jackets that were, like, ’80s style, repurposed. You know, The Lords, that whole New York gang scene. And juxtapose that with disco era fashion—silk shirts—and that would be called The Get Down, the collection.

So I said, ‘You know what? How about The Get Down Coffee Company?’ 

So, it started off as something you were kind of iffy about, and then you were convinced to maybe open up the cafe. Now it sounds like you’re really psyched about it.

This COVID moment made the coffee business a natural pivot for me. My clothing brand had scaled into JCPenney and grown to the highest of heights, right? A lot of that [pressure] was kind of off of me. 

And then the barber job is something that I, because of spacing rules, have to only be operating at 25%. Honestly, the coffee brand came at a perfect time, where it’s more so about planning and focusing on our online experience. You see the impact, and you see the response. It’s like, ‘Oh, s—, we’ve created a monster.’ And, you know, naturally you’re just like, ‘If this is what this is now, imagine what it could be.’ Because this was just a little thing.

When you say it’s become a monster, you mean when people like Target are like ‘hey, we should carry the coffee’ even though it’s not even fully launched yet?

Yeah; it’s in our online sales and our customer engagement. I mean, we just delivered, like, 400 bags to Delta Dental today. And The Minneapolis Foundation bought it for their annual virtual event last week.

So, other businesses are starting to buy it too?

Yeah, [B2B] is just booming. If you think about it, it’s an easy solve for a lot of corporations that are trying to increase their Black spend. It’s just been cracking. I mean, we just got our [Department of Agriculture] license a month ago … It’s just one of those things, you know? You never know how people are gonna respond, and the response has been overwhelming to this brand.

When you talk about people wanting to increase their Black spend, are you wary of brands like Target approaching you with a business idea now? Does it ever make you think, ‘Why didn’t they invest in the Black community more in the past—when it wasn’t part of the broader conversation?’ 

So I’ve got two schools of thought on this … With Target, I was already working with them before COVID, before George Floyd was murdered.

Right; you had some of your clothes sold there.

Yeah. U.S. Bank and I were also starting to work together. 

I’m with you, though. I’m very leery about some of it, but at some point, I had to switch over and say, ‘I don’t care how we got here. How do we take advantage of this opportunity, and have it benefit the Black community? How do we push this from being a moral and social imperative to an economic one as these corporations start to realize the world is browning?’ At a point, it’s counterintuitive not to be doing business with a diverse group.

I try to use this opportunity to highlight that, right? To push it.

Do you feel hopeful for the future?

Absolutely. I’m trying to focus on building this area in North Minneapolis called Camdentown. Iit is definitely Black-led culturally, but I liken it to being an inclusive celebration of Black culture—akin to Brooklyn, in a way. Not appropriating and displacing. We need our white brothers and sisters, and Asian and African, right? 

It’s this idea that it’s OK for Black people to lead; there will be a net benefit to us all. For me, that’s what success will look like. I don’t want to live in a siloed environment. I think we all lose when we live in an environment where we don’t have diversity for a lot of reasons. So the idea is not to erect walls; it’s to protect culture, and to also make sure that the benefit goes to people who have been neglected for so long.

Totally. Is there anything more you can tell me about what the cafe and its menu is going to look like?

So here’s the idea with the food: We’re gonna play around with this happy medium of things that are culturally specific. Like what does a futuristic sweet potato pie look like in The Get Down? Something that is also near and dear to my heart is, like, the best pecan roll that you could ever have. Right? Things like that. And then fun stuff like vegan mushroom jerky and other things that are elevated but approachable.

The drinks are going to take a page from the Dogwood model. Like, they had a sweet potato cardamom drink around Thanksgiving, but sweet potato pie is Black as hell, right? How do we take that and elevate it seasonally?  

And the feeling … 10 Thousand Design, Colle McVoy, LSE Architects … Peyton Russell, who did the signature George Floyd piece, was actually my first one-to-one art instructor. He’s going to be doing some graffiti art inside of the space. So it’s going to this kind of unique mashup of the ’80s, ’90s, and black-and-white photography, but with some neon lights and shit that points towards the future. 

For food, is it going to be half grab-and-go, but you’re also going to have a full kitchen?

We’re gonna master a way to do grab-and-go that feels like it’s not like some leftover s— … We’re gonna have a goal to remain as fresh as possible with the idea of less is more. We want to sell out, right? Not create this nonstop trough of the same s— that’s prepackaged and been there for five days. The goal is to have everything made this morning and gone this afternoon—that kind of thing, because we’re spatially challenged. 

About how many square feet?

About 1,000 square feet. We might do some panini sandwich kind of thing. We’ll see what makes sense. But we’re definitely going to partner with cool food trucks at least once a week and have somebody pull up right outside—this cultural experience where folks are intentionally going in and out of the cafe to grab something.

So you’re really trying to create a vibe—a lifestyle brand, essentially. 

For sure. We’ve done music for years. If you look at Camdentown, Minneapolis, you’ll see blues and barbecue … We’ve always had hotdog stands that were on the corner; they just set up, right? And it creates this whole … there’s, like, 40 people outside, just eating. You know?

Are you gonna have DJs in there, or mostly pre-programmed music?

We’re gonna have a great system inside, and bring DJs in here, especially in the winters. Little trios, too—almost like a Tiny Desk kind of pop-up thing occasionally. I’m a music head, so I love trios. 

And then outside, right now I have speakers that face everywhere. We play music every single day outdoors to kind of create that vibe. So there’ll always be some kind of programming, especially on the weekends, because we really want to create this sense of what this neighborhood can and should feel like, you know?

I love that. So, you very much have a long-term goal here.

Yeah, we want to be a destination, where folks are like, ‘Hey, it’s booked, right?’ Like the cafe is first-come first-serve, and it’s people lined up before we open … I just want to create an atmosphere that’s very becoming, you know? A place people want to be.

The Get Down Coffee Co.

1500 N. 44th Ave., Minneapolis
Follow on Instagram: @thegetdowncoffeeco
Read our profile on Houston White from our “Champions of Change” series here

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