Inside the gleaming Rick’s Coffee Bar at 5402 43rd Avenue South, baristas blend coffee with heart.
With every swallow and bite, a portion of each purchase – from drip coffee to the local Gray Duck Chai to the baked goods from La Boulangerie Marguerite in St. Paul – benefits Every Third Saturday, or ETS, a military non-profit business that assists veterans in finding new purpose after military service.
“After we pay our costs, 100 percent of our proceeds go to the vets,” said Jennie Limmer, the coffee shop manager who revels in coffee, purpose and monthly promotions. Mill City Roaster roasts the beans and delivers the coffee. ETS provides the motive and mission to foster hope and to support post-traumatic growth for veterans. Every month Limmer heralds a new twist on coffee. In February, “Love Hurts” celebrated the month of valentines with a cherry and cherry whipped cream mocha; March roared in with “Spring Fling,” a white mocha with coconut and almond.
Before Rick’s Coffee Bar arrived, there was a storefront – also named Rick’s – one block east of the new coffee shop.
That business honored Rick Gustafson, a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He took his life in 2015, after struggling with the emotional and mental wounds incurred during 19 years of service. The hangout, a no-frills storefront with two coffee urns (regular and decaf) in the window and a picture of Gustafson on the wall, brought vets, their families and neighbors together. The storefront next door stocked clothing and essentials for vets.
Both coffee bars and the new ETS building came to fruition under the direction of Tom and Jessie McKenna. The ETS building was completed in May 2022; the coffee shop followed in July 2022.
“People may not realize the impact they are having on the veterans’ community when they grab a cup of coffee at Rick’s Coffee Bar,” said T. McKenna. “Rick’s was designed to operate as a program of ETS, a non-profit organization which supports veteran and their families. Through a Veteran Internship Program, veterans work for ETS as baristas and facility maintenance interns. The interns are paid $15 an hour and work an average of 20 hours a week. In addition, the coffee shop is designed to generate revenue for ETS to fund our programs and services.
“Each time a patron comes in and makes a purchase, their patronage directly supports veterans in the local community, and it is our sincere hope that customers will enjoy their coffee and love the fact that they are truly drinking coffee for a cause.”
Today the upbeat staff and open design add to the milieu of the present-day Rick’s, which continues to honor Rick Gustafson. The windows – almost ceiling to floor on three sides – expand the view of neighborhood activity. Because the coffee shop offers “grab and go” as well as seating, dogs are welcome to accompany their people indoors as they make selections. The lucky dogs also appreciate the fenced patio on the sunny south side. On a Sunday, the one day that Rick’s is shuttered, a four-legged fan of the coffee bar insisted on peeking inside to confirm that the space was indeed devoid of people and dogs.
Behind the counter, Bob the barista loved his conversations with vets, co-workers and customers alike. At age 17, he had enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1961-66. Adjustment to civilian life wasn’t easy. Many years later, Bob walked into ETS, where he found programs that focused on helping others, especially veterans. And, to aid his own recovery, he completed Warriers Path, the five-week program that certified him as a Peer Recovery Specialist, focused on mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. He has moved on to work directly with other veterans.
Barista Dawn also took a circuitous route to ETS. After growing up on the family farm, she left college for the National Guard. “I wanted to be airborne,” she said. But her damaged lungs – “too much corn dust” – ended the dream. She missed the camaraderie of the Guard. Although she pursued a career in health care, she bottomed out. While living at Harbor Lights, the Salvation Army’s emergency center, she learned of ETS. After completing the internship program, she was promoted to assistant manager at Rick’s.
Manager Limmer, who began her coffee career 25 years ago at Archer House in Northfield, Minn., recently introduced three 24-ounce coffee flights. On board: 96 ounces of hot coffee to go.
But underlying the business of coffee is the business of healing.
“This is a place that’s integral to ETS, offering employment opportunities for vets through the internships and providing financial assistance to ETS as a resource center for veterans,” said Limmer. “We use the community’s patronage to help support our veterans who serve our country.”
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