A tiny project is brewing in north Minneapolis that fills big hopes for the city and Houston White, the barber and fashion designer determined to bring a positive "collision" of community and caffeine to the Camden neighborhood.
White and his partner, Dan Anderson, joined city officials on Friday to celebrate the groundbreaking of a $1.2 million project to build the Get Down Coffee Co. cafe next to White's H. White Men's Room barbershop and men's club on N. 44th and Humboldt avenues.
White runs the barbershop and the Black Excellence clothing line that sells in 600 J.C. Penney stores, Target's newly reopened Lake Street store and at last year's Community Commons in Mall of America. Anderson owns Dogwood Coffee Company, which has three locations in the Twin Cities.
Last year, White and Anderson decided to partner and add a coffee shop to White's cultural mix in Camden, with the idea that they would eventually also add a coffee-roasting business that could employ 10 additional workers.
The partners planned to open the "phase one" coffee shop in the spring of last year, but those plans were derailed after COVID and George Floyd's death, said White, a former drywall construction-company owner who moved from Mississippi to Minnesota in 1989.
He said he fell in love with coffee in 2015 and has since taken classes to learn the trade. The nearest coffee shop is roughly 2 miles away, he said. "There's nothing like this right here."
White's dream to open a coffee shop started with an online crowdsourcing campaign but has since received widespread financial support from the city of Minneapolis, Bremer Bank, U.S. Bank, Target Corp., the Minneapolis Foundation, United Properties, Pillsbury United and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).
Separately, U.S. Bank plans to help finance a second phase: a $4 million apartment complex nearby that White plans to build.
Construction is expected to begin in September. The coffee shop, roaster and upscale apartments are all part of White's plan for what he calls Camdentown,
"The whole goal is to have a concentrated area known for Black ownership and Black excellence in the state of Minnesota — [that involves] businesses and homes and art and culture. The overall goal is to create a place where people can celebrate" excellence, White said at last week's groundbreaking event.
The Black-owned LSE Architects firm in north Minneapolis and female-owned Flannery Construction in St. Paul have been chosen for the phase one project.
They will restructure White's existing 1,100-square-foot barbershop and retail store and build another 700 square-foot structure to house the coffee shop and a small retail store at 44th and Humboldt avenues.
The reimagined corner is expected to open in the fall.
White, who is African American, is a well-known fixture on the corner of 44th and Humboldt.
He opened H. White Men's Room 13 years ago and has used it as a community gathering place for meetings, performances, fashion displays, haircuts and even a backdrop in a recent film production.
Greg Cunningham, U.S. Bank senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, said the bank provided $100,000 in grants toward the Get Down Coffee Co. after learning of White's desire to build a hub of upscale and middle-class amenities for Blacks and others in the Camden neighborhood.
The bank's grants and its future involvement in White's phase two residential housing project are "an investment" in Houston and Camden, Cunningham said.
"When you start to think about these little gems that become cornerstones of communities, they bring the right amenities to [a neighborhood], so you can start to appeal to all different sectors of our community," he said.
"This is just the seed for something bigger that is coming. It is going to be a real catalyst, not only for north Minneapolis, but for the entire city in terms of making for fun urban living."
The pending coffee shop and restored barbershop sit across from Pillsbury United's North Market grocery store, so White is onto something when it comes to building up a community, he said.
The closest coffee is about 2 miles away.
"It's something the neighbors have been asking for," White said.
Target spokesman Shane Kitzman said the retailer was very much interested in helping with the project.
"After featuring Houston White's merchandise in our Lake Street store when it reopened [in November], we're proud to continue working with him, providing a grant to local nonprofit Twin Cities LISC that then helps fund his vision to bring more economic opportunity to 'Camdentown,' " Kitzman said.
"Target has a longstanding commitment to our communities, and that includes supporting Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs."
White's project is the latest of several commercial developments underway by Black entrepreneurs in Minneapolis.
First-time developer Tashitaa Tufaa is constructing the $8.5 million Park & Franklin Avenue Lofts that will house 43 units in south Minneapolis.
In November, Tim Baylor, the former Vikings player turned McDonalds owner and real estate developer, won city approval for his $60 million and 198-unit Satori Village apartment project slated for W. Broadway in north Minneapolis.
Nearby, construction and renovation is underway on the $7 million 927 W. Broadway building that will become the headquarters for Black-owned TRI-Construction.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725