The Depot Coffee House in Hopkins serves many roles: a hangout spot for teenagers, a bathroom break for cyclists — and a music venue that can accommodate 150 people.
It’s that last point that John Guertin, the Depot’s facility and program manager, and his student board want more people to understand. A recent student-led rebranding effort was aimed at making the distinction between the Depot’s student-run coffee shop and its performance space, now called the Freight Room.
“So many people come in and say, ‘I can’t believe this is a real venue,’ ” Guertin said, adding that often people assume the space is just a coffee shop with a corner cleared out for local artists to play.
“No, we have a full sound system and lights — we’re legit,” he said.
No matter the size of the crowd or the genre of music, the mission behind each concert at the Freight Room is the same: to provide a place of community and learning where student involvement and youth development are encouraged in a drug- and alcohol-free environment.
Prioritizing that mission while also appealing to all the markets served by the Depot and the Freight Room has been the challenge for the student board, as well as the Hopkins High School students who have been tasked with some of the rebranding work.
The students came up with a logo for the Freight Room and have recently pitched ideas for signs that encourage cyclists stopping in to make a purchase rather than just taking a bathroom break.
“We’ve always been trying to get more people there,” said Asher Weisberg, who began attending shows at the Depot in middle school and served on the student board until he graduated from high school in 2016.
Weisberg, now 21, credited what he learned from the Freight Room for helping him land his dream job as tour manager for two rappers. It was where he learned to curate events, set up lights, sell tickets and conduct a sound check — all without the potential temptation or distraction of a barroom environment.
“To have those experiences without even having to think about any other pressures was really a luxury,” he said.
Like Guertin, Weisberg believes that attracting bigger-name artists will be key to the “cool” factor that will keep teens coming to the Freight Room. Still, it can be hard to sell a suburban location to artists looking to play at Twin Cities venues with better brand recognition.
“I know there are people who drive by here and have never stopped in 20 years,” Guertin said. “If anything, I’d love them to think about supporting a small business in their community — one where their money goes to supporting our mission.”
The Depot is a partnership among the cities of Hopkins and Minnetonka, the Hopkins Public Schools and the Three Rivers Park District.