After opening two successful locations in Minneapolis, Penny’s Coffee had plenty of options to choose from when considering its third. But for CEO Foley Schmidt and director of business development Jay Phillips, the choice was clear. “We’re both from the Minneapolis area and we have a good sense of what we want this brand to be around the Twin Cities,” says Phillips. “After spending a lot of time in the Wayzata area growing up, we both decided that it would be a great place for Penny’s to expand.”
Both men are intimately connected to the area. Phillips grew up in Wayzata, in a house just a mile and a half away from the Penny’s location. Foley was raised in Mendota Heights, but spent much of his time growing up on Lake Street. “To watch the development has been absolutely incredible,” says Foley. “What Gavin Kaysen is doing with Bellecour or looking at CoV, to staples that have been here for a long time like Gianni’s, there’s a growing and unique food scene happening in downtown Wayzata.” The Penny’s Coffee Wayzata location opened in June of this year.
In addition to a variety of coffee and espresso drinks, Penny’s also offers freshly baked pastries, crepes, salads and sandwiches in addition to a curated beer and wine list. “One interesting thing that sets us apart from both mom and pop cafes and big coffee shops in town is that a large percentage of our business, almost half, is generated from food sales,” says Foley. The business brought on executive chef Shawn McKenzie in late 2018, and she leads the creation of Penny’s baked goods, made locally at their Linden Hills location. “Her food is absolutely fantastic, some of the best I’ve ever had in a café format,” says Foley.
Penny’s also shows a commitment to keeping things local with its recent switch to Minneapolis coffee roaster Big Watt. “It was really important for us to work with a local roaster so we could determine blends, taste profiles and create a product we could put our name on and was ultimately our own,” says Foley. They worked closely with Big Watt to create a private label roast exclusive to Penny’s three locations.
It’s not just personal touches like handmade croissants and local roasts that are setting Penny’s apart in a sea of coffee and café choices; the shop looks to be a community space above all. “Our brand is focused around three things: community, conversation and coffee, in that order,” says Foley. That’s why the big names in coffee don’t scare them. “We pride ourselves on offering an experience for people who are looking for more than a Starbucks or Caribou,” says Phillips.
Penny’s Coffee does feel different than the larger chains. Each location has its own look and feel, designed to fit its individual area. “We spend a lot of time and money on our buildouts, all three locations are different,” says Phillips. “We like to cater each café to the neighborhood we’re in.” For Wayzata, that means feeling like you’re right on the lakeshore.
Some of Penny’s recent popular drinks have been the matcha latte and the addition of a cold brew program, sold on tap in bottles. But for Foley and Phillips, the classics are a great place to start. They both prefer lattes with oat milk. “It’s the big differentiator,” says Foley. "We import oat milk from the UK; it’s a great dairy alternative and something we found our customers really enjoy.”
And as long as customers are happy, Foley and Phillips are too. “We love the communities that we get to serve,” says Foley. “We want to share that with more communities, but we’re focused on owning and operating one great café at a time. The focus is building and serving the community for each one we open.”