Neutral Groundz may serve coffee again by end of week

Aug. 29—NORTH MANKATO — Cady Johnson was sad when she heard the news. Her favorite coffee shop, Neutral Groundz, said on its Facebook page that, because of a variety of factors, they'd made the difficult decision to permanently close the coffee shop.

"I was just so shocked when they announced that they were closing the coffee shop," she said. "Every time I went, there were lots of people and long lines and everything. So it's really just so sad."

Well, cheer up, Cady. Looks like Neutral Groundz may have been given a second chance.

Neutral Groundz owner Deb Morin posted that somber Facebook message Monday, which read in part, "It is with heavy heart and great sadness that I'm announcing the permanent closure of Neutral Groundz coffee shop only. (The gift and baby area will remain open). I have been fighting staffing shortages, rising costs and product shortages for far too long. As many of you may already know, my husband and mother have been sick. I am tired. I decided it was time to retire, care for family and enjoy my days."

And then the love rained down on Morin like she'd never seen before.

"The outpouring yesterday was unbelievable," Morin said, moments after finishing a meeting with a potential buyer. "Yesterday was an emotional day for me. Very emotional."

Morin declined to say who or what business is likely to take over. And she stopped short of saying it's a "sure thing." But she also said it's "very likely" the deal will go through and that the coffee shop will be back up and running by the end of the week.

Morin will continue to run the home decor and baby clothing side of the business while the potential buyer will run the coffee shop. Morin said the buyer — which was her preference among the several who expressed interest — has solutions for staffing. Morin declined to comment on the actual coffee to be sold. Since they opened, they'd served coffee roasted by the Mankato-based Beans Coffee Co.

Morin opened the business in 2017. After working in various industries all her life, Morin's dream, she'd told The Free Press a year ago, was to open her own business. With her kids having graduated from college, she'd said, the time was right.

Her original plan for the space had nothing to do with coffee. But a banker convinced her to offer coffee because, according to a survey of city residents, people wanted a java joint in North Mankato. Even though she knew nothing about coffee, she agreed. They partnered with Mankato-based coffee roaster, Beans Coffee Co., and Neutral Groundz soon turned into a popular place for people who vibe with an atmosphere of tasty coffee in a room full of gourmet food items, baby clothes, home decor and baked goods.

Recently, health issues involving Morin's mother and husband needed more of her time and attention than running a coffee shop would allow. That, combined with the staffing and other issues mentioned in her social media post, led her to the decision to shut it down.

She said she'd considered finding a buyer for that part of the business, but Monday's outpouring of support was a powerful reminder that the coffee shop part of Neutral Groundz had many fans, and had helped the business grow into a part of the fabric of lower North Mankato.

Matt Herber was among many who expressed love Monday for Neutral Groundz on Morin's Facebook post. In an interview Tuesday, he reiterated that love and praised the store for its coffee and staff.

"It hurts a little bit," he'd said before learning there may be a reprieve in the offing, "not being able to enjoy some awesome coffee and see some of the awesome people that work there. A good business like that, having to close the doors because of a tough times ... it's sad."