By Tami Vigness
Is there anything more Midwest than the love for coffee? For many of us, the first thing we do in the morning is brew a pot of hot, rich, aromatic coffee. Some of us even begin the process the night before by grinding the coffee beans and setting a timer so that the pot is ready by the time we’ve hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. Whether you doctor up your coffee with flavored creamers, sugar, and sweetener, or drink it black (“like a true Scandinavian,” my family would say), the need for caffeine in the morning borders on urgency and there’s nothing more satisfying than that first sip.
Although the origin of coffee dates back centuries, the modern coffee shops we know and love are a relatively new concept. Today, you can find well-known coffee chains on nearly every corner of every larger city, but it’s the locally owned “mom-and-pop shops” that have taken hold of a special place in our hearts. This is where you’ll find the locals hanging out for hours reading the paper, doing homework, catching up with friends, or engrossed in a good book. Coffee shops have become a kind of sacred place; a place where the barista knows your order by heart – even if it’s a complex non-fat, half-caff, extra hot, 4-pump vanilla, 1-pump caramel latte with almond milk and whip. In fact, they probably know your order better than you do.
Often these smaller, lesser-known establishments offer something that the large franchises just don’t and can’t. A certain je ne sais quoi. Their beans are roasted in-house; they offer tasty, house-made treats and snacks that can be enjoyed with a hot cup of joe, a latte, or a cappuccino; or, in some cases, these quaint little shops partner with other local businesses to not only enhance what they have to offer, but also to spread the love and feature other local businesses.
Early in her journey with coffee, Sandi Luck, owner of Bully Brew Coffee Company, connected with Chad Gunderson, owner of Half Brothers Brewing Company. Chad, a talented brewer, was looking to create a coffee beer to add to his line-up of craft beers. As is often the case with small business owners, teaming up with another small, locally-owned business is the ideal partnership. Using beans from Sandi’s roastery, Bully Brew Coffee Brown Ale was born and remains a staple on tap at Half Brothers.
Perhaps a close second to Midwesterners’ love for coffee is their love for beer. After Sandi and Chad teamed up to create the coffee beer, it was only a matter of time before the idea of a hybrid coffee and taphouse combo would come to fruition. While it’s not unusual to find a coffee-taphouse combo in large cities, it’s a new concept for the Greater Grand Forks area, but one that has been embraced with open arms. After all, what’s better than being able to enjoy a customized coffee treat and a delicious craft beer from a local brewery under one roof?!
In 2021, the concept came to life as The Other Half Coffee & Taphouse. Chad gave his share of the rights over to his wife, Kathryn, and together Sandi and Kathryn have worked to build the business into what it is today. “The Other Half has a unique feel to it,” Sandi explained. “We serve Bully Brew Coffee and craft beer from Half Brothers, as well as other local breweries. We hope the space brings a feeling of togetherness with friends and community.”
Housed in a busy strip mall on the south end of Grand Forks, The Other Half has become a popular gathering place with a loyal clientele. During the pandemic, when indoor dining was put on hold, a group of men, affectionately called “Board Members,” who met daily at the Bully Brew location on Columbia Road, decided they would move south to The Other Half where there was space to sit outside to discuss current events and solve the world’s problems. “They even brought their own chairs,” Sandi recalled with a laugh. Seeing their dedication and loyalty, Sandi and Kathryn built a gazebo on the lawn outside The Other Half where the “board members” and other patrons could enjoy the outdoor space, even if the weather was less than optimal for being outside.
Besides getting a great cup of coffee made from beans roasted locally at another one of Sandi’s companies, the North Dakota Coffee Roastery, or a cold craft beer from a local brewery, patrons of The Other Half can enjoy a variety of other fun treats not found elsewhere in town. Playing off the popularity of the beer flight, the creative staff at The Other Half have come up with other flight options as well. Customers can enjoy flights of cold brew coffee, affogato, bubbly mimosas, mocktails, and even flights of cookie dough. Additionally, a variety of breakfast options, sandwiches, and pizza are on the menu, along with tasty boards filled with meats, cheeses, veggies, crackers, and dips.
As entrepreneurs and small business owners themselves, Sandi and Kathryn recognize the importance of supporting local and developing partnerships with other small businesses. Their business model focuses on knowing their own strengths and utilizing the strengths of other locally-owned businesses. You Betcha Ice Cream is featured in the affogato flights and dessert options; "Two Bird, One Dough" is found in the cookie dough flight; items from L&M Meats and The Olive Barrel appear on the charcuterie boards; Jimmy’s frozen pizza options are ready to accompany a pint of your favorite beer; and the massive cookies from Real Good Cookies can be found for dessert. You can also find the coolers and shelves at The Other Half stocked with items from these businesses and available for purchase.
Now, recently retired from teaching entrepreneurship and business classes at the University of North Dakota, Sandi has no intentions of leading the quiet, retired life many of us dream about. In true entrepreneurial fashion, she intends to shift her focus to growing and expanding her businesses. Bingo will become part of the weekly rotation at The Other Half, along with hosting other special events and workshops in the space. As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, food trucks will become a regular addition to the parking lot and outdoor area. Proving that a teacher will never stop teaching, The North Dakota Coffee Roastery building, which houses the full-time leadership team, will begin hosting another new concept – The North Dakota Coffee School. “We will teach others the best practices and processes of owning a coffee shop,” Sandi explained. “We’ll also have Management Training and Barista Workshops that we plan to hold monthly,” she continued.
When asked what advice she’d give to other entrepreneurs looking to make their mark, Sandi offered this advice: “Find a good mentor. There are so many amazing people out there and it doesn’t always have to be someone in your field. Being a professor and having that book knowledge is great, but the true wealth is when you can learn from other people and their experiences.” G
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
From Issue 2, 2023
Photos by: Manstrom Photography and Dimensions Photography