A Minneapolis Coffee Shop that Defies Convention

Not everyone has a go-to coffee shop. A weekday or weekend
splurge on a Starbucks, an Einstein Brothers, or - if you are local to
Minneapolis – a Dunn Brother’s, is merited from time to time. That is until you
visit Urban Bean coffee shop, conveniently located at the intersection of
Bryant & Lake Street in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. Then you will be tempted to radically alter your morning commute for a cup of joe that is a cut above the rest.

Short History of the Urban Bean
Founder Greg Martin opened the original Urban Bean on Hennepin Avenue in the mid-nineties, quickly expanding into a second location one year later at Bryant & 33rd Street. While both of these locations were eventually sold, Urban Bean’s integration into the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis can still be felt today. The cozier 23rd & Lyndale shop and newest location at Bryant & Lake, just a few blocks from the Greenway, consistently deliver the Uptown neighborhood a distinctive coffee drinking experience.

When asked what motivates them to be in the coffee business, Greg and his barista Amy Johnson contest that the answer is a simple one – their love for coffee. Built on that passion, they have huge aspirations to build a coffee shop brand in Minneapolis that is inimitable. Every day is about elevating both the flavor profile of the coffee served and the experience patrons have in the shop. 

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Defying Convention in Uptown Minneapolis
You will easily stumble upon the newest coffee shop location while exploring the Lyn-Lake neighborhood of Uptown. Opened in May of 2015, the architecture of the shop immediately captivates the passerby. The shop is minimalist, yet warm. It’s traditional, yet innovative. It’s mid-century modern without the pronounced retro flair.

It is evident from the sum of its parts that this coffee shop defies convention. The esthetic and décor of the newest location has been stripped down to the basics. The two inside walls are painted a white akin to primer, the effect heightened by light pouring in through large windows decking opposing walls. Bags of Intelligensia and Four Barrel pepper the back wall and counter. A print adaptation of a lesser known Life magazine cover is centered on the largest interior wall. Despite being on a busy street corner, the energy inside is tranquil. There is always a consistent handful of patrons quietly tinkering away on work or personal laptops.


As guests make their way to the checkout counter to place an order, their eyes gravitate to the drink menu permanently printed on the wall above the counter. While the choice of drink size is limited – pick between small or large – customers will struggle with what to order for the first time. For the adventurist, there’s Four Barrel espresso; Urban Bean is the only coffee shop outside of San Francisco to serve it. If espresso isn’t their thing, he or she can dabble in fast, slow or cold brew coffee. For the traditionalist segment, there is always the option of a latte or cappuccino.

Whatever the guest’s poison might be, they can expect perfection. Greg explains that every drink served on the menu is aligned to a particular roaster. He’s an innovator of sorts by not taking a blanket approach to serving coffee.

So, how would Greg & Amy characterize the coffee served at Urban Bean? It’s “bright, smooth, and chococolatey”. The espresso? Like the shop, it’s “approachable”.

The menu is the first signal to the guest that this coffee shop’s uniqueness extends all the way back to its’ supply chain. The syrups are made in house every week. The caramel in the caramel latte, for example, is the barista’s own recipe of butter, heavy cream and brown sugar. They’re proud to use milk from Minnesota-famed Autumn Woods farms. Yet, in spite of these touches of local flair, the beans are sourced from afar – a mix of international direct-trade roasters like Intelligentsia and Four Barrel brands.

According to Amy, the aforementioned barista, all these decisions were intentional. The Urban Bean, she says is about exploring the world of coffee. “Here’s an opportunity for people in Minneapolis to try coffee (they’d) have to travel to find and to taste”. 

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The Big Megatrends that Will Impact Your Coffee Shop Brand
According to Data Monitor’s 2014 Coffee Shop Industry report, sensory appeal, indulgence, individualism, and expression will continue to serve as megatrends that will have a dramatic impact on coffee shops of the future. So, if you are looking to be an innovator in this business, take a page from Urban Bean’s book.

Make Drinking Coffee About “Sensory Fusion” - Create novel experiences
that combine taste, texture, smell, sound, and “shape”. More specifically,develop offerings that converge product categories.

Encourage Your Customers’ Willingness to Experiment - Over 60% of consumers find new and exotic flavors to be highly appealing while 50% actively monitor new coffee products.

Allow the Customer to Buy Something “Made for Me” - Individualistic consumers want to express their opinions and beliefs by making identity related beverage purchases.


If you are a coffee shop operator looking to both increase your rate of repeat purchases and stay ahead of the curve, you should pay attention to the branding halo created by the Urban Bean in Minneapolis. There’s an experience that begins when their patrons walk in the door and stays when they finish off that last sip of cappuccino. Even more threatening, it plays to all the trends impacting this industry in the future.

Pictures credited to Urban Bean