FARGO — Long before Starbucks and Caribou Coffee arrived in Fargo-Moorhead, there was Red River Coffee, Treats and Boutique.
Owner Jessica Arneson said she's been told the coffee shop was the first of its kind when it opened in a strip mall at the corner of 13th Avenue and 25th Street in 1985.
"As far as we understand, we've been told that Red River Coffee was the very first coffee shop in Fargo. ... It's when you could just get Folgers and Maxwell House in the grocery stores," she said. "They were the first coffee shop where people could come in and buy beans and learn about beans from all over the world."
The coffee shop was first launched by the Bower family of Page, N.D. Robin Jack purchased the business in 1998 and moved it to 715 13th Ave. E. in West Fargo. She eventually closed the coffee shop to concentrate on kiosks at the Fargodome and elsewhere. That's when Arneson and her husband, Jered, were first introduced to the business.
Their daughter, Riley Arneson, worked for Jack at the Fargodome. When Riley told Jack how much she enjoyed the job, Jack slyly suggested she tell her parents to buy the business.
Jessica Arneson said it made sense. She and Jered were both looking for a new opportunity, and a restaurant or coffee shop seemed a good fit. Jered had experience working at Soholt Bakery, the business his family owns and operates in Mayville, N.D. It was in the genes for Jessica as well. Her grandma ran Paula's Cafe and Steakhouse and her grandpa ran Stub's Bar next door, also in Mayville.
"We started to think, maybe we should look at this little coffee stand," Jessica said. "We went and worked a couple of Bison games for Robin and had a blast. The energy was just so fun, and we loved working alongside each other."
They started with the kiosk and eventually opened a brick-and-mortar coffee shop at 2600 52nd Ave. S. in Fargo.
From the beginning, Jessica said their goal was to create a "space that provided a sense of neighborhood."
"We're small town people. We love the feel of a small town community. We love that Fargo is a huge conglomeration of small-town people. I grew up watching "Cheers." That was our vision to create that neighborhood-type space."
Seeing customers interact lets her know they've accomplished their goal.
"We see people coming in around the same time getting to know each other," she said. "For instance, we have two groups of ladies that come every Monday. They often banter with each other."
A Scandinavian tradition
All Red River Coffee beans are fair trade and organic. That's something that was important to Jessica long before she owned her own coffee shop.
"I learned about the fair trade coffee industry about 15 years ago through our church. I got involved with helping our church get connected to using fair trade coffee and educating people about fair trade coffee," she said.
Red River Coffee sells over 20 flavored roasts and four signature blends, including light roast called North Dakota Nice, a medium roast called WTFF (Welcome to Fargo Friend), a dark roast called Bison Brew, and Coffee Hound, a signature blend of cinnamon caramel and hazelnut.
All their food is made from scratch.
"Everything we have we make from scratch the old-fashioned way. All of our food comes from old family recipes or church cookbook recipes," Jessica said.
She adheres to the Scandinavian philosophy of Fika.
"Fika means that in true Scandinavian tradition, we have at least seven different made-from-scratch pastries and desserts for guests to choose from," Jessica said. "It is our mission to have something for everyone!"
Among their top sellers are scones, caramel pecan coffee cake and kuchen.
An $8.50 lunch special includes a sandwich and homemade soup.
Red River Coffee also sells hand-scooped ice cream.
"We have ice cream because I love licorice ice cream and I had a hard time finding it," Jessica said.
To see a menu, visit www.redrivercoffeeco.com.
Red River Coffee also sells a wide variety of gift items. They partner with over 20 local artists and fill in the gaps with outside merchandise.
'We made it'
When COVID-19 hit last March, the Arnesons chose to serve customers through the drive thru only. Jessica was a little worried because they previously did not have a lot of drive thru traffic.
"We're fast and courteous. All the boxes were checked, but for whatever reason we were always busier inside," she said. "Then what happened was our customers who had been coming inside and had never been through the drive thru before started coming through the drive thru. ... They lifted us up through those two scary months and we made it."
"Whatever the challenges that came, our customers validated for us that we do belong to this neighborhood," she continued. "They want us to be here, and we're going to be here for a long, long time."
WHAT: Red River Coffee, Treats & Boutique
WHERE: 2600 52nd Ave. S., Fargo
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
This story is the first in a regular feature called Small Business Spotlight. If there is a business you would like to see featured, email Business Editor Angie Wieck at firstname.lastname@example.org.