Finding the right brew

Entrepreneurship appealed to GaN? Skatvold from the minute she stumbled across a magazine article about home-based gift basket businesses. These days the Moorhead native is a case study for how solid research and trusting the right consultants ca...

GaNé Skatvold

Entrepreneurship appealed to GaNé Skatvold from the minute she stumbled across a magazine article about home-based gift basket businesses.

These days the Moorhead native is a case study for how solid research and trusting the right consultants can help an entrepreneur find the right niche market.

The owner of Atomic Coffee is celebrating the opening of her third store, at 222 Broadway in Fargo.

The shop - which features a conference room and will host events during the Fargo Film Festival in March - complements Atomic Coffee locations in downtown and south Moorhead.

Skatvold, 55, delved into the specialty coffee business in 2001 when she opened Copperfield's on 45th Street South in Fargo.


Espresso hot spots like Moxie Java and Luna Coffee were just starting to pop up around the region, and Skatvold saw potential for grabbing a piece of a popular business idea.

Her first stab as a coffee house owner didn't pan out as expected.

Copperfield's closed six months after opening, but Skatvold wasn't ready to give up on running a coffee house.

In July 2002 the owners of downtown Moorhead's Atomic Coffee called Skatvold to see if she wanted to purchase the company.

Armed with a learning experience from Copperfield's, Skatvold jumped at the challenge.

"It was a successful business already, and I felt I could continue that," Skatvold said.

She was right.

Skatvold's cozy coffee shops are known for their brick walls adorned with paintings, photography and other mediums by budding artists.


Each has a distinct feel that attracts a different crowd. The south Moorhead Atomic Coffee, for example, caters to a faithful following of dog lovers who can find photos of their pooches posted in the shop's drive-through window.

Skatvold also puts her business savvy to use as a member of Moorhead's Economic Development Authority and as a partner in Paragon Development with her husband and son.

Q: Where did your business roots start?

A: While I was in school I had a love of flying and knew very early on I wanted to have my own business.

I became a flight attendant for 5½ years after attending Moorhead State University for two years. I joined Western Airlines (which eventually merged with Delta) and was based out of Minneapolis.

I came back to Moorhead and was a stay-at-home mom. When my youngest son went into kindergarten in 1985, I wanted to start a business, but I had no idea what I wanted to start.

I started a gift basket business out of my home and I had that for 20 years.

What led you into the coffee business?


I knew that I wanted to get into a different type of business.

I did a lot of research on the Internet looking at franchises and all kinds of businesses. I had a certain criteria I was looking for - something that didn't require an extensive amount of money to invest to get started and something that would eventually give me the freedom to be an absentee owner if I chose to do it. And also something that would be fun.

At the time, Fargo-Moorhead had room for espresso businesses. There was a need for more.

As a small-business owner, how do you compete with chains like Starbucks and Caribou Coffee that continually pop up on every corner?

The key to dealing with franchises is customer service.

We've got the best coffee in town, we've got the largest syrup selection and we've got the best employees. We have the ambiance they don't have - that's how you compete against the franchises.

I think we're doing a good job. A lot of people like the small-town coffeehouse atmosphere.

How would you describe your business to people who've never visited Atomic Coffee?


I would describe our place as very warm and very charming. It's a relaxed, comforting atmosphere.

Describe your customer base.

We have a following. The following is college students, business people in our downtown stores and morning commuters at our drive-up window in south Moorhead.

In the evening, we have the theater patrons.

You're a member of the city's Economic Development Authority. How has development changed in Moorhead over the 20 years you've been a businesswoman here?

The growth in Moorhead has been just phenomenal. The different incentives we have as tools to encourage businesses to locate in Moorhead have done very, very well in the last few years.

Being in on the ground floor of hearing when these new businesses are coming in and working with them has been just fascinating.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business?


Do your homework and really research the pluses and the negatives of the business before you invest your money.

Have a business plan - that would be foremost. And surround yourself with professional people who can help you out.

I knew nothing of the coffee business before I started. Once I made the decision to open up a coffee shop I contacted consultants in Minneapolis and paid consultants to help me understand the business and make a final decision.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Melinda Rogers at (701) 241-5524

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