The dilapidated “Building No. 3” in the former Hamm’s Brewery complex in St. Paul doesn’t prompt thoughts of warm south seas breezes and swaying palm trees. But the entrepreneur trying to buy the building hopes to soon be roasting millions of pounds of Hawaiian coffee in it.

Jean-Claude Drui, owner of a thriving coffee-roasting business in Kapolei, Hawaii, offered to purchase the long-abandoned, three-story building, St. Paul city officials disclosed last week. Hamm’s used it to dry grain.

Drui is now in a 45-day waiting period before gaining title to the 1950s structure from the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

It would be part of an expansion of his Hawaiian Paradise Coffee brand from the islands into the “Lower 48,” accompanied by a new marketing campaign aimed at evoking images of warm, welcoming climates and rich, volcanic soils. He aims to create up to 38 new jobs.

“I’m totally supportive [of] bringing new life to the East Side and am excited by what’s already happening at the Hamm’s Brewery and along Payne Avenue, with the coming of new restaurants, businesses and vitality,” Drui said. “We’re looking forward to doing our own small part by supplying some quality jobs.”

He expects to spend around $1 million to remodel and install equipment in the 10,000 square-foot building.

Hawaiian Paradise Coffee, Drui said, already has around 60 percent of the local Hawaii market of hotels, food-service providers and corporate customers, such as Hawaiian Airlines and the Star of Honolulu cruise line. It’s positioned as a “boutique” and “sustainable” alternative for such business users. Now, he wants to expand the brand into stateside consumer-retail markets. Its new marketing push is being handled by the Minnetonka-based creative firm Baker.

With the expansion came the need to establish a new production facility to avoid the higher shipping costs of doing all the roasting in Hawaii.

Drui, a former regional manager with Hyatt Hotels, has long been familiar with St. Paul due to in-law connections and his sideline as a residential building rehabber. A visit to the city several years ago, for instance, led to his purchase of the historic Charles F. Noyes House on Summit Avenue and its renovation into a four-unit multifamily property.

That same urge to bring new life to old buildings would be put to a stern test with Building No. 3 at the Hamm’s complex. It has a gaping, 6-foot hole in its roof from its grain-drying days and has been a favorite target for pigeons, vandals and “explorers” in the 20 years since its abandonment.

But it also has some big advantages, said Rick Howden of the city’s planning and economic development department and project manager for the site. Those include a location overlooking Swede Hollow Park and proximity to other thriving business at the complex, such as Flat Earth Brewing and the 11 Wells Spirits Company.

“The coffee proposal is bringing some positive attention and momentum to the Hamm’s complex and could result in taking another vacant building offline,” he said. “It also would be a fairly complementary use to the existing businesses there.”

There is still around 165,000 square feet of remaining vacant space in the city-owned portion of the former brewery campus, including Building No. 3.


Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Real Estate Journal.