Mara Crombie and her husband, Bruce Peacock, opened the Ox and Crow Coffeehouse in downtown Mahtomedi about three years ago. The road construction that had blocked their shop for two years was finally over, and they looked forward this summer to serving more customers there and at the new coffee roastery site they recently leased in downtown Lake Elmo.

Then the state ordered their doors closed in March as the coronavirus outbreak took hold. Crombie said they didn’t feel comfortable staying open for takeout and didn’t think it was worth the risk of infection. The Ox and Crow had formed partnerships with local restaurants and a church but they, too, were forced to close because of coronavirus restrictions.

So Crombie and Peacock announced they would shut down. And that’s when Crombie heard from Marlene Dyer, the owner of StirStix Coffee Roasters in Lake Elmo. Dyer sent a message to Crombie, offering to sell Ox and Crow coffee through the StirStix online store.

“We just have a shop, and I didn’t have an online store and I have absolutely no idea how you do an online store or how you do online sales,” Crombie said. “I just teared up and I couldn’t believe that somebody was offering this for us to be able to keep our business alive.”

Dyer and Crombie had met before, being small coffee business owners from the same area and women running their own businesses. Crombie said she’d been telling her contacts about StirStix, so each had supported the other’s business.

“We wanted to make sure that they could at least get their beans into people’s hands,” Dyer said.

StirStix Coffee has been operating out of the Dyer home since last year. Dyer’s husband, Jeremy, roasts the coffee beans and their children help package it. The name came from the kids’ interest in hockey.

Dyer and Crombie work together to ship and deliver the coffee bought online, and Dyer transfers the earnings to Crombie.

If not for Dyer’s offer, Crombie said, Ox and Crow may not have stayed in business.

“I would literally say it is the sole reason our business is able to, at the very minimum, survive,” Crombie said. “While we closed our coffee shop, we were able to still keep the coffee roasting business alive.”

Crombie said she hopes to continue to work with Dyer going forward, even after the pandemic has passed. Crombie recently had to close the coffee shop permanently but said she hopes another coffee shop will replace it and continue to sell Ox and Crow coffee.

“While our business wasn’t necessarily in jeopardy, this is an opportunity to help out another and we saw an opportunity,” Dyer said. “We just thought this was a great way to teach our kids how to care for others, and do whatever we can to help somebody else succeed.”


Katrina Pross ( is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.