After two decades in Twin Cities schools as an administrator, John Peterson’s long simmering dream of owning a coffee shop has finally left the nest. The result is Yellowbird Coffee Bar, which officially took flight in Saint Paul’s Lex-Ham neighborhood this past summer.
An educator at heart, John Peterson dove into his own coffee education through an accelerated course at Portland, Oregon’s Bellissimo Coffee Advisors, receiving training on brewing, espresso extraction and business operations.
After reaching out to several local roasters about equipment and wholesale coffee supply, Yellowbird co-owners John and his wife Suzette Peterson opted to work with True Stone Coffee Roasters, whose Specialty Coffee Association certified training campus is just up the road.
True Stone lent its expertise to help equip the cafe with a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machine, a Mahlkönig K30 Vario Air grinder alongside it, and a Mahlkönig EK43 grinding beans prior to brewing with a Curtis batch drip machine.
Nearly everything else within the cozy Yellowbird cafe that is nestled in the same neighborhood the Petersons have called home for the past 15 years is locally sourced or inspired.
“We wanted to be eco-friendy and reuse whatever we possibly could,” said Peterson. “We used reclaimed products for nearly everything.”
Local designer Jacqueline Fortier helped source materials for and design the interior. Natural light pours through north-facing windows to illuminate the rustic wood floors and marble bar counter. The chairs and tables were salvaged from a St. Paul school and the table tops for the diner booths are made from a material derived from recycled paper. Lights were also restored from an old school house, and the marble countertops used for espresso preparation were brought in from a shuttered St. Paul post office. The wood used in the mosaic wall in the back of the cafe and the seating bar was sourced from an old barn in the neighboring suburb of Forest Lake.
Peterson also worked with friends who run a local design firm to land on the canary yellow and turquoise tones that pop throughout the cafe. The name, Yellowbird, comes from a small yellow bird that Peterson, his sister and his wife Suzette all noticed on different occasions after the passing of Peterson’s father last summer.
“Ever since I was a kid, my dad always provided a sense of community for me and everyone around us,” Peterson said. “So I wanted to pay homage to him for all that he did for us.”
Yellowbird features a straightforward coffee drinks menu plus a few specialty drinks, such as “The Lex,” a mocha with added caramel, and “The Hamline,” a latte with lavender and honey. Tea and matcha options are provided by Tea Source out of St. Paul, while pastries and food items come from locals PJ Murphy’s Bakery and Nelson Cheese & Deli.
“Growing up, it was common for friends to come over and hang out on the porch until I got home to greet them,” said Peterson. “I wanted to provide the same welcoming atmosphere here at Yellowbird — a comfortable space for anyone who needs it.”
Yellowbird Coffee Bar is located at 1168 Selby Ave in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Craig Batory is a writer, marketer, and coffee professional working and
living in Detroit.