Food-industry veteran Kevin Wencel is brewing up growth plans while leading operations in the new role of president of Spyhouse Coffee Roasters, which operates five coffee cafes in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul.

Possible opportunities for expanding Spyhouse include new locations and ready-to-drink products for retailers and grocers. Spyhouse wants to place its cold-brew coffee — popular at its cafes even in winter — with restaurants, wholesale accounts and other cafes.

Wencel, who has more than two decades of experience in the food and hospitality industry, most recently was vice president of sales and business development for Team Four Foodservice. He joined Spyhouse in August, but his hiring was announced this month.

Wencel’s move unites him with Spyhouse owner Christian Johnson, a friend of more than a decade. Johnson, who launched Spyhouse in 2000, is moving into a CEO role.

“Christian is a brilliant guy, a great designer, great at brand management, a voracious reader absorbing all this information about specialty coffee to apply to his business,” Wencel said.

Wencel’s primary responsibility is to carry out Johnson’s vision for the company, which has 55 employees.

“He is a visionary,” Wencel said. “One promise I made Christian coming in was I’m not going to break anything that doesn’t need fixing.”

Wencel gained corporate industry experience during a decade at U.S. Foods and was working for the food-service distribution giant when he met Johnson as a customer.

Wencel also has worked as sous chef at Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis and corporate executive chef at Blue Plate Restaurant Co., where he managed operations for five restaurants.

Q: What brought you to Spyhouse?

A: I was talking to my wife about the opportunity, and said I think what Christian is looking for is maybe the reason that I was doing this corporate gig. Maybe this is where I’m supposed to be. Prior to that I was a chef in the Twin Cities for about 15 years. I had a lot of experience with small business and startups. I came back home to a small business because I feel comfortable here.

Q: What distinguishes the Spyhouse brand?

A: It’s about that cup of coffee and the experience around that cup of coffee. At the fundamental base of Spyhouse is the commitment to the communities that we show up in and that starts with the growers. It’s taking care of that product and treating it with the respect it deserves from dialing in the roasting process — we have one of the best roasters in the country in [director of coffee] Tony Querio — and making sure baristas are trained. Our training process is two to three months before they make a drink. It’s preserving the integrity of the product. We have that unique care for the product that extends from the grower to the cup.

Q: How does Spyhouse compete with chain and independent cafes?

A: We continue to listen to our guests for what they’re looking for and provide them with a great place to enjoy the coffee because at-home brewing, as much as there are other cafes coming out, continues to be a piece that we need to pay attention to. It’s maintaining that experience, the things Christian did to build the brand and building on top of that.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is