It’s a 10-below-with-the-wind-chill Minneapolis morning—the kind of cold that makes gauze out of down jackets, turns eyelashes to ice, and sneaks through the windows in the aging industrial building housing the Northeast Farmers Market.
For the Gutter Punk Coffee crew, this is good weather. Lured by the toasty smell of fresh-ground beans and the promise of a hot cup of joe, the line at their stand rarely dips below three people, even as the frigid morning stretches into slightly less-frigid afternoon.
“Right when it opens, we have a line of like 40 people here,” Ben Griswold chuckles.
He and Gutter Punk co-founder Carley Kammerer have been here since 8 a.m., busily making pour-overs and handing out sampling cups with Akiyah. She’s one of four young people who work for the company—a mission-driven coffee cart where all employees are youth experiencing homelessness.
Before founding Gutter Punk, Carley spent several years as a street outreach worker and case manager working with homeless youth. “I saw a lot of my clients cycling through the same programs, stuck in the same place, and it all kind of centered on employment for them,” she explains. Getting a job, then keeping one, gets tough when you don’t have an address or vital documents, let alone a résumé or basic employment training.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t want to work,” she says. “They just didn’t know how to.”
Carley always loved coffee, the way it brings people together, its ability to warm physically and spiritually. When she interned with a Denver shop that employs homeless teens and young adults, she realized it could help spur social change, too.
She moved to Minneapolis, where she met her neighbor Ben. He had the financial background she didn’t and wanted to use it for social enterprise work. He’d worked with homeless youth before, including transient gutter punks in San Francisco. Even more conveniently—perhaps cosmically so—he was also a hobby roaster.
The pair funded Gutter Punk themselves (“Like, we built the table in my basement,” Ben says), and debuted at the Whittier Farmers Market in 2017. In their second year, they added the Finnegans Market—with whom they also collaborated on a beer called Punk Arse Porter—and Linden Hills Market to the summer rotation. On Sundays this winter, you’ll find them in Northeast.
This was always the plan: start small, scale up. They run their nonprofit like a startup, lean and agile, roasting out of the Bootstrap Coffee Roasters space in St. Paul.
“Our dream is to have an actual coffee shop,” Carley says. They’re looking for a building to make their operation permanent.
The shop will still be a place for employees to grow, where setbacks become learning opportunities, and second chances are followed by third, fourth, and fifth ones. It will give them room to provide help in non-coffee stuff, too, with an eventual nine-month program teaching professional and independent living skills.
They want to hire more kids and offer them more hours, but they’re taking their time because they want this to be sustainable. In every question on scalability or market schedules, you can count on some iteration of the following in their reply:
“I’m super proud of our employees.”