The perfect wine, brew, or cup of coffee takes time, patience, and skill to create. The vision for Lanesboro’s newest business was as thoughtfully put into motion. Tucked into the former 1932 Lanesboro Granary is The Granary, Coffee, Wine & Beer, where an inviting atmosphere, rustic industrial interior, and mouthwatering aromas beckon.
Owners Kristen Asleson and Kimberly Radke began crafting plans for the business last December, but knew for years they wanted to pursue a venture together. Meeting nearly two decades ago, during the formation of a Business Women’s Association, the two formed a friendship quickly. “We both had similar interests, backgrounds, and career goals,” says Kristen. “Our discussions always ended the same: ‘Someday, we should open a business together.’ We had careers with separate companies, but rode the same ups and downs and always connected.”
The suggestion came up again last year. “I was looking at real estate in the area and businesses for sale. We were talking and I asked, ‘What does Lanesboro need?’ recalls Kim. “She said, ‘Coffee shop,’ and boom, the idea was born.” For a month, a flurry of texts and phone calls bounced back and forth working through the ‘what ifs’ and the plan blossomed.
“With each, ‘what if,’ the excitement mounted. The coffeehouse was all we could talk about,” adds Kristen.
In January, Kristen contacted a realtor requesting a look available buildings and sites suitable for their plans. By the second week of February, the options were narrowed to one possibility and the two worked intently creating a business plan showing a coffee shop would be a viable business. In early March, the ladies sat down with members of the Lanesboro Economic Development Authority and highlighted their 29-page plan. The EDA indicated the business would be a welcome and needed addition to the city.
With any business, there are surprises. March 12, Kristen received word from longtime Lanesboro businessman Rick Lamon requesting a meeting. “He’d heard we’d been poking around town looking for a spot. After sitting with us and our plans, he said he had somewhere to show us,” she says. Lamon owns the former granary and feed mill at 100 Beacon Street West, which closed operation in 2014. A whiskey distillery had been planned for the location, but never opened. “I walked through the door of the old granary for the first time and in an instant know it was the spot.”
An excited phone call to Kim and The Granary was on its way. “With every step of the way, from the ideas to the meeting with the realtor to the opportunity for the building, everything fell in to place and simply felt right,” says Kim.
Once the space was nailed down, the two kept plugging away with research and anything needed to make it a reality. “We didn’t tell anyone at first. Slowly we pitched the idea to a few select people,” remembers Kristen. “After we had a lot of it in place, we told our family and friends, shocking most of them. They’ve all be extremely supportive though.”
For those who’ve seen the space as it used to be, as a granary and feed mill, to say it was a blank slate is a massive understatement. With the previous distillery plans, the perfect foundation for a coffeehouse had been laid in the feed mill portion of the site. The open interior was cleaned out and the shell of a bar had been constructed. New plumbing and electrical was installed, equipment was purchased, and the interior began to take on a comfortable, urban vibe without sacrificing its rural roots.
“Every step of the way required critical thinking and an enormous amount of patience,” says Kristen. “The most challenging part was getting the Plan Review in order. It required a to-scale drawing of their proposed business from floor to ceiling including all equipment.” Making their way through the rigorous steps required by the state department of health and navigating through city and state licensure, was also a challenge and provided valuable business lessons. At one point, they installed a floor only to find it would not meet state requirements and were forced to tear it out. “We learned the hard way not to jump the gun,” she adds.
“We had to submit our plans to the state and wait and wait and hope that what we sent in was what they were looking for. You are not allowed to do anything until the state approves your plans,” says Kim. Eventually, improvements were made to the entire site that still lead to a bit of shock and awe for those who remember it in earlier times. The ladies were intent, however, in keeping the original charm, including scales, old paperwork nailed to a wall, and more. The drive-through scale portion of the granary was transformed into semi-outdoor seating area.
Kristen was able to draw on her Business Administration degree and both ladies have entrepreneurial and management experience, so the planning and operational end of the business came naturally to them. They credit the Small Business Development Center in Rochester as an amazing resource that helped them with business projections. Still, there were plenty of outside experiences and learning that also came with starting a new business venture.
“We asked a lot of questions of people in the business. Don’t be afraid to ask questions even if you think they’re dumb questions. It’s guaranteed that someone else has the same question and people are so willing to share information,” says Kim.
“We went to many places to learn what we needed,” adds Kristen. They attended “coffee school” at Up Coffee Roasters, who is their bean and equipment provider. “We learned the art of pulling the perfect espresso shot.” The ladies also spent a full day at scooping school where they learned how ice cream was made, toured the plants, and worked in the retail shop before being able to carry Chocolate Shoppe ice cream.
These trainings offered some of the most comical parts of the process, too. “The days we spent in the coffee lab were full of giggles as we steamed milk everywhere but in the proper place, poured espresso on our feet, and quickly learned not to swallow every shot they made. At one point, during an outburst of laughing, our patient instructor just looked at us and said, “Why, why, why. . .”
“Learning to control my facial expressions when tasting wine was priceless, too,” jokes Kristen. Pulling up to Total Restaurant Supply in a 16-foot U-Haul also provided comic relief along the way. “Once there, I promptly handed them the keys when they asked me to back up to the loading door. I said, ‘No way am I backing that thing up,’” jokes Kristen.
“It was pretty comical and very educational,” adds Kim. “We laugh at ourselves a lot. We don’t take a lot of things personally and roll with the punches.
“Although the entire process fell together naturally and quite well, there were a few bumps in the road,” admits Kristen. When they plugged in one freezer it made a horrendous popping sound and started to smoke. When they plugged in their under-the-counter fridge and felt nothing but hot air emitting from the fan, they discovered it was not worth fixing. “Each road block was met in stride and rather than sitting down and having a pity party, we decided there would be no tears until they were tears of joy from successfully opening,” she adds.
The two are most thankful to all of the help they received along the way. “Rick Lamon for the opportunity to lease the building; Scott Strom of PSI for not blinking an eye to bring over his hand jack and his forklift to help move a heavy safe; Jerome Halverson for doing all the construction, helping move equipment and for letting us use him as our coffee taster; Tony Semmen, Mike Willford of VIS Plumbing and Randy Haakenson of Haakenson Electric. Each of them went above and beyond their line of duty in helping move equipment, sharing their opinions to the endless questions we asked, and answering incessant question of ‘When will you be done?’” notes Kristen. “Kingsley Mercantile for sending Daniel over, who quickly got our blown up freezer running and honestly told us our fridge may be a lost cause; our mothers for planting the flowers, helping with food, and assisting where they could; all the people who helped us clean and get open including Henry, Margaret, Julia and Maggie; and finally Matt and Andrew for standing by our sides and jumping right in there when they realized we were moving forward with The Granary.”
“I felt my dad’s presence carried me through the entire process,” adds Kristen, who lost her father, long-distance swimmer Vince Herring, on Valentine’s Day 2013. “I made my very first blended mocha just for him, and then drank it. Although charming, charismatic, brilliant and smart, we could not have done this alone.”
“I would like to thank Kristen, too, for jumping in when I threw her a crazy idea. I am not from Lanesboro but I was blown away with the eagerness to help poured in when we needed it,” adds Kim. “This town has some amazing people in it!
Against advice of many, they did not have a soft opening, but decided to jump right in and with a grand opening. With invitations going out to family and friends, Kristen and Kim planned to have a champagne toast halfway through the evening and just get to work. Just two days prior to opening they received all required approvals and passed all inspections. “The grand opening was planned crossing our fingers in complete confidence – if that’s a thing,” notes Kristen.
July 15 they opened their doors. It was standing room only for several hours. Champagne was poured and still more people flooded in. “The reaction has been so positive. Everyone loved the space and been so supportive. It’s been fun listening to stories from the locals that actually used the Granary as a granary not that long ago. We’ve already met some awesome people that visit Lanesboro. It’s been so much fun,” says Kim.
“We were met with a lot of questions. Every question was carefully considered and mulled over, so not to miss any details – good or bad,” adds Kristen.
Just weeks into operation and already The Granary has a class reunion booked, is sponsoring a women’s retreat at Eagle Bluff, and has book clubs gathering at their space for meetings. “Our space would be amazing for showers, gatherings and meetings,” says Kristen. “We’d like to add a fireplace and soft seating. There are many other ideas whirling in our heads that may be announced in the near future.”
The Granary is open Thursday-Monday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They offer a variety of specialty coffees, healthy smoothies made from 100% fruit, protein smoothies, The Chocolate Shoppe ice cream, both regional and imported European red and white wines from the region, and beer featuring Toppling Goliath (Decorah) and Bent Paddle (Duluth). Cheese and cracker plates are also offered and desserts will be added this week.
It’s been so rewarding getting up every day, going to “work,” swinging open the door, and being able to say, ‘This is ours, we did this, we created this, and we are going to make it.’ Being also to fully wake up my brain, stretch it and use it; to see the potential of what they have created and opened is very satisfying to say the least,” says Kristen.
“Two independent women made a crazy idea come to life from the very beginning,” adds Kim. “We still say to each other almost every other day that it seems like a dream sometimes. It is a great feeling.”