New owners carry on the legacy of a historic coffee shop in the heart of Grand Forks.
The rustic, wooden front door of the Urban Stampede always seems to be ajar. Yet, somehow, even in the dead of winter in Grand Forks, warmth surrounds you when you enter the downtown coffee shop.
The earthy smell of espresso wafting from an open bar where baristas brew pour-over coffee with a backdrop of local art welcomes you. Even after switching ownership, even during a pandemic, the oldest coffee shop in North Dakota is buzzing with the hum of conversation from its clientèle that ranges from college kids and artists to bankers and businesspeople.
“It’s hard to put into words exactly what’s so appealing about this place,” said Justin Auch, ’08. “It’s consistently been the quirky place downtown.”
He and his wife, Andrea (Lund), ’04, ’06, a physical therapist, along with entrepreneurs Emily (Hafner), ’98, and Jonathan Holth, '99, Shawn Clapp, '88, and Carrie Mishleau,’88, purchased the Urban in May. Preserving that irreplaceable eclectic and all-are-welcome ambience was top priority for the new owners – a tall order during a pandemic.
The Urban’s signature open bar seating – which Justin describes as “an invitation for anyone to come in, sit down, and get to know whoever sits down next”– was temporarily shut down due to COVID-19-related indoor dining restrictions.
And regular customers were opting to get their morning cup via drive-thru – a service the Urban can’t provide. So, Justin, a software developer, helped create an Urban Stampede mobile app.
“I don’t think there’s any notion that we’re going to be able to compete with the convenience of a Starbucks,” said Jonathan, the community & client development manager for JLG Architects and, along with Shawn, co-owner of the Toasted Frog, a downtown Grand Forks restaurant. “So, we will offer the curbside. But even the people using the app still want the experience that they can only get when they come in here and see what’s going on and see the people in here.”
It’s an institution that spans generations – from UND alumni to former downtown residents to students from Grand Forks Central High School – but has retained its core presence at the corner of Kittson and 3rd.
With seasonal features such as the pistachio rose latte (espresso, oat milk, pistachio and rose syrup) and the ever-popular iced salted caramel latte, it’s clear that the team and their 10 or so employees – many of them UND students – put a lot of care into their product.
The group, in the most literal sense, lost a lot of sleep before settling on what would become the Urban’s signature blend: Bordertown. “We stayed up late at night due to our other jobs, many nights last summer, tasting coffee and testing recipes,” Andrea says before adding with a laugh, “Then we laid in bed awake the rest of the night.”
Emily, who also owns and operates Sustainable Solution Services, a conflict resolution and leadership development company, recounts the meticulous but rewarding process. “We saw how it was brewed and heard the story of how it was roasted. We, along with our families, did blind taste tests of many different coffee blends,” she said. “We went through a lot of work because we wanted a product that was going to be really, really good.”
The group partnered with Dogwood Coffee Co., a wholesaler based in Minneapolis whose motto “Coffee for Others” and focus on sustainability aligned with the Urban’s values. Bordertown’s label describes it, in part, as “Sweet, but a little dangerous. Delicate, but not wimpy. A little Minnesota, a little North Dakota.”
While the carefully curated drink selections offer premium and unique brews, the goal of being a community accessible to anyone remains at the heart of the Urban.
“We don’t want to ever be that place where people walk in and don’t know how or what to order,” Jonathan said.
“But we think we can walk the line of being the place for the people who want that higher-end coffee shop and being that place to go and just get a cup of coffee.”
Kelly Thompson and Patti Eider opened the Urban in 1993 and built it on a foundation of kindness and community. They knew they were leaving it in good hands.
When they sold last spring, however, they noted that one thing was missing: marketing. Seeing an opportunity, the new owners have tapped into their own areas of expertise to boost business. For International Coffee Day, they produced a tongue-in-cheek social media video for their pour-over coffee. It featured a winking Jonathan brewing a cup to the tune of an original song written and sung by Justin with lyrics like “Pour over coffee; the most sensual way to brew coffee.”
A digital billboard at Demers and Washington faces a Starbucks, declaring, “Drive past this corner and go downtown for a splash of local soul.”
Adding to the aesthetic of the Urban is the “World’s Smallest Art Gallery” tucked away in the northwest corner. Local artwork adorns the walls throughout the shop. Next door, painter and sculptor Adam Kemp works in his studio, frequently stopping by to swap out a painting or two, even giving the Urban an original piece as a welcome gift. A sculpture by Guillermo “Memo” Guardia serves as a conversation starter for curious minds.
It’s part of the fabric that makes the Urban a vibrant but homey place to meet, gather, and study.
“Everyone has a story” about the Urban, Emily says, recounting her own tale of meeting her sister there to tell her she and Jonathan were expecting their third child.
“My daughter came here religiously,” adds Carrie, who also works as a private contractor in business and data analysis. “When she was in nursing school, she came here all the time with her friends – they spent hours here studying and visiting.”
And the six new owners of the Urban Stampede are writing a story of their own: one of a coffee shop that’s more than a coffee shop. It’s a funky little place downtown where their children will grow up, tasting new creations and helping stock shelves. It’s a hangout where people of all walks of life – and their dogs – are welcome to gather and sip on really good coffee. It’s the heart of a community, with a splash of local soul.