Shop Profile: This Catfish is Most Definitely NOT Angry
At this Minnesota shop, third-wave cool is grounded in a deeply Midwestern authenticity
Words by Peter Koch
If you were to stop by Minneapolis’s Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop + Coffee Bar—and you willbe tempted to make the “pilgrimage,” should you ever find yourself close to the Twin Cities—you’d be forgiven for thinking you were witnessing the epitome of carefully curated hipster cool. Immediately inside the door is a bustling coffee shop, with tasteful mid-century modern seating and tattooed baristas slinging smoked sea salt mochas and painstakingly crafted pour overs. Art adorns the walls, lit by track lights that hang from the corrugated metal ceiling. Further back, where it transitions to full-blown bike shop, the coffee counter becomes a service counter (separated by floor-to-ceiling glass), and photos and paintings are replaced by hand-built wheels and gorgeous bike frames. It’s not an overly serious place (the name “Angry Catfish,” after all, was how a stranger once described owner Josh Klauck at a party) but you can tell they take two things very seriously—coffee and bikes.
But to hear Klauck tell it, the Angry Catfish culture and atmosphere are a result of staying true to his himself and the shop’s founding principles, not some slick marketing plan or copying someone else’s notion of trendy. Born and raised a couple hours north of Minneapolis in a sort of Midwestern vacationland called the Brainerd Lakes, he fell in love with bikes at a young age, and then immersed himself in Minneapolis’s cycling culture when he moved there in his early 20s. It wasn’t long, then, before he discovered—and fell in love with—specialty coffee. When he decided to do his own thing, Klauck committed to creating a friendly, approachable shop that would sell smaller, more independent brands, and make the best damn coffee in town. Along the way, even as Angry Catfish has become increasingly successful—making countless “nation’s best bike shops” lists, attracting pilgrims from across the world, and sprouting several semi-related offshoot businesses—it’s maintained authenticity by staying true to that original vision.
A Bike Nerd from Brainerd
Growing up in Brainerd (pop. 13,592), Klauck’s mom—an enthusiast who’s impressive stable today includes multiple fat bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes and gravel bikes—sparked his early interest in bikes. Through high school, he worked at a catch-all sporting goods store, called Easy Riders, with a heavy bike focus. “I caught the bug there,” says Klauck, who was inspired by some of the ancient Gary Fisher Procalibers and Trek 9000s that had never sold. He rose through the ranks to become store manager, which he did for a couple of years post-graduation before deciding he needed a change.
He followed some friends to Minneapolis, where he was lucky to find a job in the dead of winter at Freewheel Bike Shop, courtesy of his old Trek/Gary Fisher rep, who’d become the Freewheel’s general manager. “Freewheel was a big learning experience,” Klauck says. “There were a lot more enthusiast-oriented consumers and bikes, and a little bit more of a professional atmosphere and professional service department.” Eventually, he took over as sales manager, where he was more exposed to the larger community, and came to better understand the customer base. At that time, he continues, Freewheel took a turn towards more of a Trek-heavy concept store. “I really wanted to stick with smaller brands that felt more fun to me,” he says, “and for which I knew there was a growing customer base.” Lucky for Klauck, he had a standing offer from a family friend to help him start a shop, if ever he felt the itch. “I contacted him, we worked out a business plan, I got a couple of friends on board, and we went for it.”
Brewing Something New
But Klauck had more on the brain than just bikes. It was 2009, and he was just experiencing specialty coffee for the first time, thanks to a cycling friend who regularly brought him joe from Kopplin’s, one of the area’s original specialty shops. “I was blown away by the coffee, and wondered ‘Why can’t I get this anywhere else in town?’” Meanwhile, he says, he knew he’d be working a lot to get his shop off the ground, “so I figured why not have the best possible coffee that I could have in town integrated into the business?” Not only would it be good for him, but it’d be good for business, bringing a more steady stream of customers through his front door, and making the shop more approachable for casual riders and non-riders alike. “We definitely wanted to be a community-oriented shop, and wanted to remove some of the retail atmosphere and retail barriers of a bike shop, so creating a place that not only we wanted to hang out, but where customers wanted to hang out, was a big part of that.”
Plus, there were only two other shops in town—One on One Bicycle Studio and Freewheel’s Midtown location (which Klauck helped open)—incorporating coffee into their business, and neither of them seemed to take it as seriously as Klauck intended to. He immediately looped in his roommate, Adam, who worked at Caribou Coffee, to manage that part of the business. Together, the two started learning about specialty coffee from the gurus at Intelligentsia, who brought them down to their Chicago training facility to impart coffee knowledge, help them pick out equipment, and consult on the Angry Catfish buildout.
Coffee’s importance to Angry Catfish’s early success can’t be overstated. “We opened in the middle of winter—January 16, 2010—in a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of traffic,” Klauck points out. “The shop was very empty. We had friends’ bikes and our own personal bikes in the store as examples of what we wanted to sell, plus one Surly.” But he had the best damn coffee in town, not to mention a small line of credit with Quality Bicycle Parts. “So I bought a few things, sold some coffee, then bought a few more things, sold some coffee, bought more things, sold a bike, and gradually put inventory in the store.”
The Perfect Blend
Klauck’s tips for making the most of a bike café
1. Start with expertise. You need someone like Adam, who’s focused solely on the coffee side of the business, to do it right, and be successful at it. “We didn’t want have just a coffee shop attached to Angry Catfish,” Klauck says. “We wanted the coffee to emulate what we were doing with bikes, which was by hand—doing pour overs and hand-pulling espresso—and of the best quality we could get our hands on. That takes someone who’s passionate about coffee, and is precise, and wants to maintain those pieces of that business.”
2. Get a separate POS. “For the first few years, we were using the same Lightspeed POS system for coffee and bikes, but eventually we broke coffee off and put it on Square. More than anything, that was to ensure the barista staff were getting credit card tips, because that’s something Lightspeed couldn’t offer. That increased their wages by nearly 30 percent, it helped differentiate the businesses to our customers, and it made it easier to pay attention to sales on both sides separately.
3. Remember that coffee means approachability. “Bikes are still 90% of our business,” Klauck says, but he knows that coffee is what generates the majority of the shop’s foot traffic. Having coffee makes the experience of coming into the shop more casual, because they customers can come in for a cup of good coffee, then wander around the bike side, browsing. That casual approach extends to bike sales, where they don’t pressure customers for sales. “We’re just here to answer questions,” he adds.
4. If you’re going to do coffee, do it right. While ACF isn’t the only bike shop in the Twin Cities that sells coffee, it’s worth noting that it’s the only one that consistently makes every single “Best Café/Coffee Shop” list. “None of the other bike cafés buy coffee of the quality we do,” says Klauck, “so that’s definitely not going to create the same end product. None brew coffee by hand, or have the equipment we do, in terms of a top-of-the-line espresso machine. They haven’t taken the same care towards coffee that we have.”
A Neighborhood Shop
So how did Angry Catfish end up in a “low-traffic” neighborhood? Well, it’s where Klauck and company liked to hang out. “We’d been looking at locations downtown, and in higher-traffic areas,” he says, “but none of them really spoke to us.” One day they were drinking beer on the patio of Buster’s on 28th, the neighborhood’s favorite watering hole. “This building was vacant with a ‘For Sale’ sign,” he recalls, “and we thought, ‘Why don’t we just build it here? This is where we spend most of our time, anyway.’” The rest, you could say, is history. With his then-business partners, he bought the building, built it out with a clean, polished look, and a café up front, and very gradually—organically, you could say—began to fill the back of the store with bicycles and equipment.
There were three full-time employees, including Klauck, his coffee partner, Adam, and a second barista. Another friend, Thomas, spent evenings (after his corporate job) and weekends at the shop until, in April, things were busy enough that he quit his job, and announced to Klauck that “he was coming in full-time, whether I could pay him or not.” Klauck ordered him a Surly Crosscheck as a sign-on bonus, and he’s been at it—riding bikes and running the service department—ever since. While not a financial partner, Klauck considers Thomas an integral, complementary partner in the business to this day. Since they didn’t have any inventory to speak of, they brought in their own custom bikes from brands like Moots and Salsa to show prospective customers the kinds of builds they were capable of.
Slow, steady growth—fueled by caffeine and a steady stream of local press—was the name of the game in the early running. They dabbled in European road and cyclocross brands, but those never really stuck. During their second winter, they went all in on fat bikes, which proved hugely successful. “Salsa released the original Mukluk, and we invested as much as we could into those bikes, and sold them all very quickly.” Fat bikes have continued to be a big part of the Angry Catfish’s success through hard Minnesota winters. “It was a very cashflow-based business in the beginning,” Klauck says, “and it took a lot of time—two to three years—to really build up inventory. We met people along the way who helped build the displays in the store for bikes and clothing, so it all just kind of trickled in over time.”
As the shop grew, they remained committed to a highly curated collection of bikes from smaller companies. “The idea of concept stores, and the Big 4 just fighting for business and taking over independent stores, well, that was the opposite of what we wanted to be,” Klauck says. So they handpicked bikes and products from individual companies that made sense for Angry Catfish and its customers. “All too often, companies want you to invest in everything they have, but I never had any need or intention to bring in entire lines of bikes.”
Additional inventory meant more bike business, of course, but it posed a fresh problem for Klauck and company. When they’d built out Angry Catfish, they didn’t include much storage space “because we simply didn’t anticipate needing it.” Soon Klauck had a handshake deal with a barbershop around the corner to use its basement for storage. “They basically threw me a set of keys, and let us go through their back door and into their basement to store boxed bikes.” While the barbershop didn’t ask for anything in return, Klauck dropped off a bottle of Scotch once a month or so. It was a convenient deal, and workable for a while, but it was clear they needed to start looking for more space.
Building the Brand(s)
Meanwhile, around the corner and connected by a back alley, another retail space was wide-open. Mike Fisher, one of Klauck’s friends who’d begun working at Angry Catfish, between corporate jobs, proposed opening a fly fishing shop together. “I thought that sounded like a good idea,” Klauck says, “since there were literally no fly shops in the Twin Cities at the time.” In the summer of 2013, shortly after Angry Catfish was named one of the “10 Best Bike Shops in America” by Outside magazine, Mend Provisions fly fishing shop and outdoor store opened with 1,400 square feet of retail space, and 1,400 square feet of storage that’s crammed with the Catfish’s overstock bikes and bikes in boxes. The two shops share some DNA and a block in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood, but they operate as separate businesses. “I think Mend and Angry Catfish do help each other,” Klauck says. “A lot of folks that ride bikes are into fly fishing; plus, it transcends fly fishing, because we have quite a bit of men’s clothing in there, outdoor goods, other unique American-made goods, other unique Minneapolis and Minnesota brands.”
At the same time, Angry Catfish’s authentic brand of bike culture—top-notch bikes and coffee, served up with approachable Midwestern geniality—was helping spread its reputation beyond the Twin Cities. In the fall of 2013, national website The Active Times named it among the nation’s 50 best bike shops, and again the following year. Bicycling called it one of “29 Bike Shops You Must Visit” in spring of 2015. In 2016, Gear Patrol called it one of the “Best Coffee Shops in America.” “We got a lot of good press in the beginning,” Klauck says, “and the internet is a magical thing.”
All of that hype helped turn Angry Catfish into a true destination shop. “We’re a very enthusiast-oriented shop, and we have a large reach,” Klauck says. “We have far-flung customers—from Wisconsin, Iowa, Canada and all across the country—that are regular customers, to some extent. We’re first a cycling enthusiast shop, but we’re also a badass café. We’re a destination. We serve close to 300 people a coffee per day on the weekends, with lines out the door and people stacked up everywhere. It’s kind of a zoo, with people dragging bikes through coffee customers. But that’s also part of what makes us unique, and I think people really enjoy that.” Still, Klauck has trouble putting his finger on what’s made Angry Catfish a destination shop. Maybe the unique name, and fairly unique concept? His large Salsa inventory? His investments in rare products, like Salsa’s titanium frames? Minneapolis’ geographic isolation, where customers have to travel long distances for the kinds of distinctive products and services they offer? ACF’s close relationship with QBP?
Perhaps, he concedes, it just comes down to having a culture of authenticity. “A lot of our culture comes from having employees who ride bikes—that’s their form of transportation, that’s what they do for fun, it’s what they plan their vacations around—and can talk bikes in every capacity. It’s about living that lifestyle, more than anything, and your customers are going to be attracted to that.It’s not just a picture on Instagram, and they can see that. We try to ride together as much as possible, and then we invite our customers to join us. Plus, we’re authentic in what we sell, and how we sell it.”
Coming Full Cycle
Whatever the case, Angry Catfish continues its successful run, while adapting to the marketplace and sprouting related offshoot businesses.
In 2016, Klauck added another business to the ACF family, when he brought Alex Cook on board as a full-time framebuilder under the Northern Frameworks name. Cook was previously building under the name A-Train Cycles, and working part-time at the shop. “It was a long time convincing him to give up on A-Train, and become our shop’s in-house frame fabrication company, but I was super happy when that finally happened. That’s something we’re really passionate about, is taking someone from the concept of a bike, and being able to deliver that bike tailor-fitted, without having multiple points of communication and contact where things could get lost.” Cook typically shows up for the initial consultation and fit, so customers get the rare experience of meeting their framebuilder straight out of the gate, and then he delivers them the completed bike. Northern Frameworks is about a mile from Angry Catfish, and is sold exclusively by the shop. “Even if someone finds out about Northern Frameworks and knows nothing about Angry Catfish, that sale will go through Angry Catfish,” Klauck says. “Ideally, we’ll convert them to a complete bike build through the shop, as well.”
In 2017, Klauck opened a full-service café, Northern Coffeeworks, in downtown Minneapolis. “It’s a full-service café with from-scratch food made from locally sourced ingredients, beer and wine. That’s stuff we don’t have here at Catfish.” Soon, he’ll be adding a coffee roaster to the space, which will bring the coffee story full-circle for both Northern Coffeeworks and Angry Catfish. “I think that authenticates our passion for great coffee. We want to stay fresh, we want to be inspired by other coffee and inspire with our coffee, and this introduces another level of control, so we can ensure the highest quality.
“And it’s just another part of fabricating. Now we can create bicycles from steel tubes (hopefully titanium in the near future, too), and soon we’ll be able to create a finished, drinkable cup of coffee from green coffee beans. It plays well, and it’s a good story.” It also opens up possibilities for coffee wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales. Suffice it so say that Klauck’s a busy guy (not to mention a pretty shrewd businessman). If that doesn’t prove enough to keep his hands full, Northern Coffeeworks was designed to be scalable, and possibly have multiple locations. But that’s still somewhere down the line. “Roasting is a big thing, and that’s a whole other business that will take time and effort,” he says. “I don’t anticipate doing anything else new. This should keep me busy for a while.”
Square Feet: 4,400, plus 1,400 offsite storage
Years in Business: 9
Employees: 10 coffee (6 F/T, 4 P/T); 9 F/T bike
Average Bike Sale: $1,700
Annual Gross Revenue:$2.5+M
Bike Brands: All-City, Civia, Cleary, Northern Frameworks, Ritchey, Salsa, Surly, WeThePeople
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