The Ember coffee shop in Grand Forks prepares to celebrate one-year anniversary
The coffee shop, at 8 N. Third Street, is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, which puts it in constant competition with the bar scene. But, that doesn’t bother the husband-wife managing team.
They said they love their location.
“The main thing we want to do is just make our community better,” Joshua said. “That’s why we’re down here, downtown by all the bars. We want people to have another option.”
The Ember is a nonprofit organization, run under Freedom Church, dedicated to serving coffee, supporting the arts and providing a safe alternative to the bars for people of all ages.
“Coffee, music and the arts,” Mary said. “That’s what we’re all about and just making Grand Forks a better place.”
The venue hosts live music at least one night a week ranging from acoustic sets to hip-hop shows, to open mic nights.
“We’ve had everything from hardcore bands to folk music,” Joshua said.
The venue’s only rule is that the music must be PG because its shows are open to people of all ages.
“We basically say we’re a positive music venue,” Joshua said.
The easy-listening music is performed on the small stage at the front of the coffee shop, and the hardcore shows are held in the large side room.
Joshua, who started putting on shows 15 years ago, said he wanted to create a music venue that was inexpensive for artists and listeners. He also wanted a venue that was open to people of all ages.
“When I was in college, I was 19, 20 and there is no place to go to a show, if you’re under 21,” he said. “When we do a hardcore show, a lot of people turn out because a lot of high schoolers and college students want to go and do something, but there’s not a lot for them to do in Grand Forks.”
Now, people of all ages can attend live music shows at least once a week at The Ember, and once a month, musicians can take the stage during an open mic night.
“At a normal show, there’s always people that come for the music and always people that come just to come,” Joshua said, which was one thing he was a little concerned with when they opened.
He said he was worried that artists wouldn’t want to perform at a venue where people were busy studying or talking to their friends. But, he said it works out great.
“A lot of the artists really like it because it’s no pressure,” he said.
Leslie Saulsbury, a UND music therapy senior, has been performing at The Ember since it first opened, and she said she loves the atmosphere.
“I think it’s great to be background music,” she said. “It’s great to see everyone talking and studying and doing their own thing, and you’re just kind of providing that environment for them.”
Saulsbury plays acoustic, singer-songwriter style music and said she enjoys just being a part of the environment at The Ember. She also likes that the venue invites all genres of music to perform. She said she’s seen violins, rock bands and blue grass bands at The Ember.
“I think that’s a lot of the appeal for people — is that you can always find something different and new there,” she said.
Cody Qualley, a folk and gospel musician from Fargo-Moorhead, has performed at the venue several times since it opened and said he enjoys the friendly atmosphere and the people.
“I really like the location, too,” he said. “It’s downtown, and people can walk by and come in and enjoy music and stay however long or however short they want.”
The shows typically start at 9 p.m. and run several hours. Joshua said an easy-listening performance will draw 50 to 60 people into the coffee shop, while a hardcore show in the other side of the venue will usually attract 100 or more.
With unusual hours, coffee shops may not be The Ember’s biggest competition. But, that doesn’t mean Joshua and Mary don’t do their best to make the best coffee in town.
“We’re very intentional with how we do our coffee drinks,” Mary said. “We want to do it like how you would get it in Europe.”
Mary had worked at coffee shops previously, but she said she watched a lot of Youtube tutorials to refresh her memory and learn a few new tricks including latte art.
“We want all of our baristas to know how to do latte art,” she said.
That might seem like a lot to ask of volunteer baristas, but UND graduate student and volunteer Katie Gruening said learning the techniques is just a benefit of volunteering.
“I think it’s one of the selling points to get people to volunteer,” she said. “I think it’s one of those things that people have a desire to know more about, and they get excited about. I think that’s kind of the fun part of volunteering is learning that extra skill.”
A safe place
Gruening has been volunteering at The Ember since it first opened, and she said her favorite part is just connecting with the community.
Mary said she sees The Ember as a safe place for people wherever they are at in their life. “Whether they’re drunk or homeless, or whatever, we want to be a good home to everybody,” she said.
Josh and Mary said they want The Ember to be a big helping hand in the Grand Forks community. Their shows are free, but they donate the proceeds from coffee sales to local nonprofits such as The Northlands Rescue Mission.
They also support local visual artists by hanging artwork in The Ember, which allows the artists to gain exposure and potential buyers. Right now, they have artwork by Sue Burke, of Grand Forks, and Revelationart, a group based out of Fargo. They said they hope to expand the consignment part of their nonprofit to include even more artwork such as sculptures, cards and jewelry.
“We both really believe in the creative side of people,” Mary said. “And we like to display that.”
- 9 p.m. tonight: Cottonwood Indie Experiment.
- 7 p.m. Saturday: Before the Gates CD release party with special guests Busted Knuckles, One Ten Ride and Warped Authority.
- 9 p.m. March 28: The Ember’s Birthday Party featuring acoustic singer-songwriter Cody Qualley.
- 7 p.m. March 29: Miss Grand Forks Charity Fundraiser.