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Marlene Dyer, front, and Mara Crombie work to package freshly roasted coffee at Ox and Crow Coffee  Roasters in downtown Lake Elmo. (Submitted photo)

It was Mara Crombie's dream to open a coffee shop, but realizing that dream has been far from easy.

The Lake Elmo resident tried unsuccessfully to open a coffee shop in 2016 in Lake Elmo, but was able to later purchase the former Coffee Cottage in downtown Mahtomedi in May 2017. Crombie renamed the shop Ox and Crow Coffeehouse — an ox to symbolize the hardworking farmers and the social crow to depict community. What followed was two years of intense road construction just outside their door.

“One summer they ripped up the road right in front of us,” Crombie said. “The last project lasted 8 months until the road finally opened back up this past December.”

During that time, Crombie and her husband Bruce Peacock kept working on the business with a hope that business would be smoother once construction was complete. Bruce roasts the coffee for the shop from small batch, single source green coffee beans, and the couple have built up a business of selling roasted beans to other shops and restaurants. On January 1, the pair signed a lease to open a location just to roast coffee beans in downtown Lake Elmo, right across from Lake Elmo Inn.

With a good looking summer ahead, Mara and Bruce had a positive outlook for both the coffee shop and the new roastery.

“Then came the executive order to close our doors due to COVID-19,” Crombie said. “We decided not to do take out — it wasn’t worth the risk.”

As their door shut to their own customers and their coffee bean clients soon to close their doors, Crombie said she worried about future.

“I don’t really have a lot of skills when it comes to websites or social media,” Crombie said. “We don’t have a online store on our website set up.”

The day after giving notice to customers that they would be closing due to the coronavirus restrictions, Crombie received at fateful text message; “Hi Mara. It’s Marlene Dyer with StirStix Coffee. I wanted to chat with you about our online store and offer you virtual shelf space so you can still provide your customers with bean deliveries while your store front is closed. Want to chat today?”

“If it hadn’t been for Marlene’s generous offer, we would not have made it these last few weeks,” Crombie said.

Dyer, husband Jeremy and their four kids run StirStix Coffee Roasters out of their home in Lake Elmo. They have been roasting and selling small batches of coffee since November 2019.

“We started the business a way to teach the kids about owning a business,” Dyer said. “I’m at home with the kids and my husband works full time so it isn’t our main business, but it is a way to teach the kids about business and responsibility.”

Their coffee is roaster in a small roaster in their garage — Jeremy’s job — while the kids work to fill bags, put on labels and help get orders ready for shipping. Dyer said she connected with Crombie at her Mahtomedi shop when they first started roasting coffee.

“Our kids go to Mahtomedi schools and we love Mara’s coffee shop,” Dyer said. “Anyone else would have maybe seen us as a competitor, but Mara just embraced us and showed us her roasting room.”

After watching Crombie struggle with the hardships of summers full of road construction, Dyer said she felt compelled to help out.

“Marlene just reached out and was able to handle everything,” Crombie said. “I couldn’t believe it. In the first two weeks, we were able to sell 50 pounds of beans that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Dyer said that she and her family are not taking any financial compensation for selling Ox and Crow Coffeehouse beans on their website, noting that the lesson is just as important to her kids.

“We thought about what we can do to help keep beans in the hands of their customers because it’s the right thing to do,” Dyer said. “It’s about doing something because its is just the right thing to do.”

Through Crombie’s experience in the food industry and mentorship, StirStix Coffee has also worked to expand its reach into selling beans.

“Mara is amazing at business and was able to help us connect with 7 Vines Vineyards, where we are making a customer blend for them,” Dyer said. “It’s our big client, but we aren’t planning to grow too big as it would interfere with our hockey schedule.”

Both businesses have coffee availible for purchase at stirstixcoffee.com

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com

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