When the Sparrow Cafe opened at the corner of 50th and Penn at the start of this month, you may be forgiven for feeling worried for owners Sheila and Jasper Rajendren.
The coffee shop is the third such establishment to open on that corner in as many years, and its predecessor, Adagio Cafe, closed after just one year in business. To top it all off, a Bruegger's Bagel Bakery sits across the street from the store, purveying some of the same kinds of products—coffee and breakfast food—as Sparrow, but with the backing of a large corporation.
In an interview with Patch, Jasper Rajendren was all smiles about the cafe's prospects. He dismissed the idea that this corner of Southwest Minneapolis was over-saturated with coffee offerings with the easy confidence of someone who's spent more than a decade in the coffee and restaurant industry.
He ticked off the things he and his wife were counting on helping Sparrow Cafe take wing: top-quality, locally-made doughnuts and pastries, organic and fair-trade house blend coffees, smart hours, good staff, and interesting specialty drinks.
The couple is even confident that Brugger's proximity shouldn't be a problem—they don't serve espresso.
"Someone this morning got a breakfast sandwich over there, then came over here and got an espresso drink," Sheila Rajendren said.
"We're definitely complimentary and not competing," Jasper said.
Dan Swenson-Klatt, who built Butter Bakery Cafe into a Kingfield staple over seven years, said that successfully building an independent coffee shop can come down to building up a shop's unique character. The acid test is typically in a shop's first three years.
"I was very fortunate to have started in a small space with low overhead. I had a good couple of years to flounder around and get it right before I was too far in the hole to say 'I’m getting out of here before it becomes really bad,'" he told Patch in an interview.
"It's harder to start one with personality—it's all about your base," Swenson-Klatt added. "Coffee shops depend on the people who come in once a day or maybe twice a day."
Those people get hooked on something quirky about the shop's staff, or maybe they fall for a particular drink or pastry. With enough people living nearby, two neighboring cafes can comfortably coexist.
"The beauty of these little places is they're a reflection of what the neighborhood looks like," he said. "The number of little coffee shops (in Southwest Minneapolis) is a picture of the diversity of the neighborhood."