Like many business deals, this one started on a golf course.
George Floyd had just been killed in Minneapolis. Houston White and his neighbors were guarding his north Minneapolis barbershop by night as unrest swept through the city.
For respite, White met Dogwood Coffee Co. owner Dan Anderson for a game of golf. Over 18 holes, the friends let their guards down and had an honest conversation about inequality and allyship.
“I was grappling with a lot,” said White, an entrepreneur and clothing designer. In Floyd’s death, he saw “all the hell that as a Black man I’ve been catching unintended for eons.”
Anderson, who is white, desperately wanted to make a difference, but didn’t know how.
“It was just a human moment that we were sharing over the game that we love, trying to figure out how to move forward,” White said.
By the end of the game, they had a plan.
White’s barbershop, HWMR, is partnering with Dogwood Coffee to expand into The Get Down Coffee Co., a specialty coffee shop and roaster for the Camden neighborhood on the city’s North Side. The new cafe, set to open next spring, is the first step toward White’s goal of bringing what he calls “cultural collision” — an inclusive “explosion of culture” — to an overlooked corner of the city. (The coffee itself is available starting Nov. 27.)
Next to the barbershop and coffee shop is a building White intends to turn into apartments targeting Black professionals who move to Minneapolis from other cities and struggle to feel at home. Within two years, he plans to also open a nearby coffee roaster so he can wholesale The Get Down’s own special blends.
“We’re trying to take this whole node and build it out like this cultural epicenter, with a particular lean into Black culture,” he said.
The plan had been percolating for years, after he bought a corner coffee shop in 2008 and turned it into a stylish barbershop and headquarters of his apparel brands (which you can now purchase at the newly reopened Target on E. Lake St.).
While on trips to New York and Washington, D.C., White studied how coffee shops functioned in different-sized footprints. In D.C., he was drawn to a large multipurpose venue that included retail, a bar and a yoga studio. In New York, he discovered a cafe operating out of a 200-square-foot space.
HWMR (it stands for Houston White Men’s Room) was both of those things — a multiuse venue with not a lot of room. He reached out to Anderson to ask for advice about starting his own coffee shop. Anderson welcomed him, trained him and let him borrow an espresso machine. White built a bar big enough for two at the back of his shop and sowed the seeds of his dream.
He and Anderson had talked about next steps, including the idea of bringing a new Dogwood outlet to HWMR.
“We definitely knew we were committed to being a part of Houston’s vision, and it was just a matter of finding the best way to do that,” Anderson said.
After Floyd was killed, everything changed. Over that game of golf, Anderson asked White, “What if there is something bigger in this vision?”
Dogwood has three retail shops in the Twin Cities, but the wholesale of its beans is what has helped the business grow. Roasting and selling to restaurants and other cafes are their “bigger business,” and Anderson is helping White “capture those opportunities and bring it here,” to north Minneapolis.
The Get Down and Dogwood are “sibling companies” with White at the helm of his side of the business, which will include the cafe, the wholesale roaster and all the jobs that come with them.
The idea stemmed from the outpouring of support to Black-owned businesses in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
“There were a lot of efforts to be allies,” White said. “A lot of, maybe misguided, white guilt. A donation can be effective in the short term, but long-term investment in helping to create sustainable enterprise has generational effect. That’s a gift that’ll just keep giving, and a way to do something that doesn’t feel like just showing up for a day.”
He added: “We need more partnership and less sponsorship.”
It’s especially meaningful, White said, that this partnership is centered on coffee, a beverage with the power to bring people together, but that’s also seemingly left a whole community behind.
“There is not a whole lot of Black presence” in specialty coffee, which White defines as an emphasis on the origins and techniques that go into every cup, rather than thinking of the drink as only a caffeine boost. It’s similar to how people talk about wine, and it’s a point of view about coffee that hasn’t necessarily been marketed to the Black community.
Anderson said he “wrestled” with Dogwood’s part in that.
“If I’ve learned anything since this summer, it’s to have a lot of these questions, and to not be OK with that,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of great intent over the life of Dogwood and we try to be really other-focused and generous in our efforts toward everybody, but I think just good intent — sometimes there’s more to do.”
If Anderson had just installed his own coffee shop in north Minneapolis, he now knows that it wouldn’t have been enough.
“I absolutely count it as a gift and a privilege to partner with Houston,” he said. “It’s part of his vision of cultural collision that we’re bringing different people together, and there’s going to be this beautiful strength and excellence and culture that’s going to come into Dogwood and the whole of specialty coffee in town.”
To White, coffee shares some important characteristics with his favorite game, golf.
One of his apparel lines is devoted to the sport, and White is actively strategizing to open up the game to more Black players.
And, as the Get Down Coffee Co. proves, a golf course is a place where friendships strengthen and ideas take shape. Much like a coffee shop.
“At its baseline,” said White, “it’s just two people getting together and connecting.”