State Representative and Leech Lake Band’s Jamie Becker Finn is expanding her community building focus as a coffee shop owner and entrepreneur. She speaks with Reporter Leah Lemm
Leah: Congratulations on the launch of your new coffee shop, here in Roseville, Makwa Coffee. Can you please introduce yourself?
Jamie: Yeah. I’m Jamie Becker-Finn. I am a state representative and chair of the Judiciary Committee in the Minnesota House. But today, I am the owner of Makwa Coffee here in Roseville.
Leah: That’s amazing. Can you tell me about Makwa Coffee?
Jamie: Yeah. I’m Leech Lake Ojibwe. I grew up in Cass Lake on the res. And my family’s Bear Clan. And the name, actually, Makwa Coffee, my kids came up with it. We wanted something that was relatively easy to teach people to say. But we definitely wanted an Ojibwemowin name. And we just ran with it once the kids came up with it.
Leah: Wonderful. Now, how did you get to this point then, with your career and now a coffee shop?
Jamie: Yeah. I think for some people it seems like a non sequitur in my professional life. But I think it really comes from a community-building standpoint. And during the pandemic, to be honest, I missed my favorite bar. I missed having that place to go where I felt safe and knew I could always go and hang out. And so, it was actually less than a year ago, I had the idea for the shop. I posted about it on my personal social, and it just took off. And here we are.
Leah: Speaking of “here we are,” is there a significance to why you chose this location?
Jamie: It is within walking distance of my house. This is my community. This is my neighborhood. This is the neighborhood where my kids go to school. This is really my community.
Leah: So, community and your Leech Lake Band. Is there a way that you make sure to bring your values to operating a coffee shop?
Jamie: Yes, very much. I pay my staff as well as I can. We’ll also be doing profit-sharing. So, as the shop does better, there’s a certain percentage. A quarter of the actual profits are going to go back to my employees. And if we find out that we can do better, they’ll get raises. They’re the ones that are making you the great drinks, so that’s really important. We’ll also be giving back a quarter of all of our profits, as well, to different organizations. So it is weird to engage in the capitalist system as a progressive Native person.
Jamie: One thing that’s different is we’re selling wild rice from Leech Lake, but I am giving a discount to other Anishinaabe people because I don’t need to make money on you having a way to get our manoomin. And it’s a little tricky because the staff don’t quite understand it yet. But someone from White Earth came in today and asked for that discount, and I was happy to give that discount. Some folks, it’s hard to get up to Leech Lake and back. That’s an eight-hour drive. So, things like that. Making sure that we’re taking care of each other.
Leah: Wonderful. Thank you so much. And can you tell me a bit about – it looks like you have a couple signature drinks. Is there one or two you’d like to highlight?
Jamie: Yes. The Ziigwan sugar maple is been by far our biggest seller. We were just talking about how we have to start making a giant batch of it every morning instead of making it one by one. It is cold brew concentrate with oat milk, caramel, and then a little bit of real maple syrup over ice. We’ve got that. And then we got the 50-51, which kind of is also a cold brew, but with a shot of espresso. And that is named after our local firefighter union. They’re IAFF Local 50-51. So, that is named after them. I did a ride-along a couple weeks ago, and they like cold brew, and they drink a lot of caffeine. So, that one’s for them.
Leah: Excellent, do you have anything to add before we say Gigawaabamin.
Jamie: It’s been really cool to have other Anishinaabe and other indigenous folks coming in here. It’s just been really cool to engage and connect with people in this new way.
Leah: Well, we like our coffee and visiting.
More about Makwa Coffee online at makwacoffee.com
Leah Lemm reporting for Minnesota Native News
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