Photos By Nolan P. Schmidt
Jessica and Jered Arneson have small-town hearts. The Fargo couple has built a
family and a life around the values instilled in them by their elders. It is those values and that hard-working spirit that have allowed the Arneson’s to flourish in the world of small business. Their part-coffee shop, part-boutique, Red River Coffee Company, is a testament to that. Specializing in espresso drinks and delicious homemade baked goods, breakfast items and ice cream, Red River Coffee also has products made by over 20 different local artists.
The coffee sold at Red River Coffee pictures Arneson’s grandparents on the label.
The centerpiece of the entire space is a wood table that once belonged to Arneson’s grandparents. An antique coffee urn sits atop one of the bookcases, it has been in the Arneson family for over 100 years. This commitment to family heritage and tradition make Red River Coffee Company a very homey place for locals.
It is that taste of home, through coffee, a donut, a sandwich or a homemade product, that makes Red River Coffee Company such a beloved locale in the community. Their mission and approach to running a small business are also worthy of being championed and showcased.
When did you first want to open up your own business?
With both of us coming from families with small businesses, my family had a cafe for two generations and Jered’s [my husband] family has had a bakery for three. We had always had the possibility of moving back and continuing on some form of our families’ businesses for another generation in the back of our minds. But then we became settled in Fargo, and it became our home.
What steps did you take to ensure that you could achieve this goal of opening a business?
To our understanding, Red River Coffee was the first coffee shop in Fargo, opening its doors in the 25th Street Marketplace under its first owners in 1985. Back in a time when options were pretty much limited to a can of Folgers or Maxwell House, Red River Coffee brought espresso drinks and coffee beans from all over the world. Eventually, it moved into the Pioneer Village business strip in West Fargo under its second owner and then transitioned into a kiosk at the Fargodome, selling lattes and mochas during many events throughout the year.
Our daughter, Riley, worked at the kiosk through high school. In 2015, after helping out at a few Bison Games we had the opportunity to purchase the business, thinking it would be a fun side gig, and it was. As our daughter was getting ready to go off to college, we began to explore the possibility of bringing Red River Coffee back into the community full time!
What were some of the biggest challenges in starting a business and what currently challenges you and your business?
When we found our location, at the end of a business strip on 52nd Ave. and 25th St. S, ours was the last business to come into the building. The roof and external walls surrounding a dirt floor were the only things there. Thanks to Paul at the Small Business Development Center, we went through the process of applying for and receiving an SBA [Small Business Loan] to make our vision a reality. Starting a small business of any type is scary and risky, especially in the realm of food and beverage, and committing to the cost of construction on top of a lease was definitely not for the faint of heart.
At each step along the way, Jered and I would check on each other, lock hands and step forward, knowing that we were taking a leap of faith and that failure would literally mean moving “into a van down by the river”. The first two years we both worked every single day, 80-100 hours a week, so one of the biggest challenges was self-care. We took turns being the strong one and being the exhausted one. Through time our processes became more established and we began to identify patterns throughout the year that helped us run more smoothly and a healthy balance has been restored to our lives.
Where did the idea for Red River Coffee come from? A coffeehouse/boutique is a very unique model. How did you formulate that combination?
Like many Fargoans, we are small-town people. Our vision was to create a space in our neighborhood that would provide a nostalgic experience to our customers, like those that had shaped our lives.
We wanted to provide a place that feels like home to everyone who walks in, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or interests. It is our goal to have something for everyone!
What have been some of the biggest rewards in owning and operating Red River Coffee?
On any given day, there will be a group of ladies laughing and sharing stories at one table, a group of long time buddies solving the world’s problems at another table, a family with small children playing a game at another, an elderly couple on a date at another, students studying at another and a business meeting at yet another. They all belong here and we belong to them, we are their coffee shop and that makes us so proud.
How special is it to have your family history woven into your business?
Being surrounded by mementos of our grandparents throughout our shop keeps us grounded, as these are our roots. We were both always very close to our modest, hard-working grandparents, and have a great appreciation for the time they were raised in where resources were scarce, nothing was wasted and everything was made by hand. Because of this, everything we make is made by hand inspired by age-old recipes from family or from my favorite old church cookbooks. It means so much to us when customers tell us that our donuts taste just like their moms, or our kuchen tastes just like their grandma’s, it is a gift and a pleasure to remind someone of home.
What are some goals you have set for yourself and Red River Coffee in the future?
We are currently working on setting up partnerships with delivery businesses like DoorDash. That way, our goods can come to you when you can’t get to us.
Lastly, what is the best way the community can help Red River Coffee? What are some action items our readers can use to help support?
Just keep coming on in. In addition to coffee and breakfast, we have great wholesome lunches, hand-scooped ice cream and gift items from over 20 local artists. We are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Red River Coffee Company
2600 52nd Ave S, Fargo