The darkness of the early morning camouflages a small building in a parking lot along CY Avenue. The windows on either side of the structure illuminate the inside, where Bailey Gardner is whisking from one end to the other.
The stand, named How You Bean, is her coffee shop. Gardner is 22. She’s the owner and works with two other staff members, Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Her business, run out of a building the size of a garden shed, opened in May.
Most high school freshman want to learn the latest TikTok dance or get a date for homecoming. Gardner wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Originally, it was a flower shop, but the thought that flowers might be symbolic of sad events deterred her.
“And I was like, no, no, no. I don’t wanna do that. I just want to make people smile all the time. Which is why we turned to coffee, because coffee is one of the most pure — very addictive — it’s a legal drug,” she said.
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“It’s one of the things that people look forward to in the morning. And it makes them smile. And I get to make them smile. And I love that.”
How You Bean’s day starts before the sun rises.
The opening routine for Gardner is pretty straightforward. Turn on the lights, fill the ice bins, start the coffee machine, ready the sanitizer water.
After she’s done with that, she makes a coffee for herself, a banana mocha. The sound of the espresso machine screaming is akin to the crow of a rooster, waking the stand up. Still, Gardner doesn’t seem all that tired.
On the morning of my visit, we chat about personal history (she’s from Casper, born and raised), our favorite music (she likes rock and the soundtracks to movies) and if she sees herself operating How You Bean in the long run (“It’s not something that I would ever see myself not doing”). We discuss the demographics of her clientele and what drinks they get. She tells me that middle-aged white men love Americanos and middle-aged women stick to lattes and chai drinks, the latter often with a shot of espresso.
Even before 6 a.m., she’s wearing lipstick and eyeliner. Thick bangs frame her face. She’s dressed in skinny jeans, black sneakers and a thin sweater.
At 5:59, she turns on the neon “OPEN” sign.
“We’re just going to pretend that it’s 6,” she says.
The first customer arrives, a middle-aged guy in a truck. The first words out of his mouth are: “Luckily you guys are open.”
“Wow. You say that with such … doubt,” Gardner responds. “Worry not. For you – for you I am open. What we drinkin’?”
An Americano, it turns out.
While she makes the drink: “What’s on your agenda for the day?”
He’s going to Utah. “Yikes,” she says. They commiserate over the idea of traveling there. He doesn’t seem enthused, but he won’t have to stay overnight.
Before he drives off, she tells him to wear his seat belt.
By now, Gardner’s on her third customer and nearing the end of her time as the only barista in the stand. Her friend and coworker McKayla Lake will be coming in at 7.
She serves a middle-aged woman, also traveling out of state, but this customer’s excited because she’s going to visit her son at the University of Iowa. This is the first time that she’ll get to see him since August. You can hear the anticipation in her voice.
Gardner hands her her drink and tells her to come back with an update when she gets back to town.
Lake is here. Her and Gardner settle into an obviously well-practiced routine. Gardner handles the ordering window; Lake helps make the drinks.
They rarely speak to each other directly when they’re making an order. They don’t need to. It’s evident that they’ve been working together for quite a while, and they have. They met in 2020 working as baristas at a previous job.
“We live in each other’s brains,” Lake says.
With the both of them working, the pace quickens. In a matter of minutes, the women make each order and then clean up to prepare for the next one.
“I think I see Robert,” Gardner says. She tells him he’s getting an Americano this morning.
Gardner realizes that the music she put on before they opened has turned off. A specific song never likes to play, and she surmises that’s what stopped it.
Another customer. Immediately, Gardner recognizes them, but someone’s missing.
Despite telling me multiple times that she has trouble remembering the names of her regulars, she greets many by name and often says hello to their pets by name, too. Some of them even get a “Love your face!” as they drive away.
By now, customers are coming at a fairly staccato pace. In the downtime between them, Lake and Gardner plan a Facebook post.
This requires a lot of strategy. They have to find the perfect joke to accompany the post and also the perfect drink to be the centerpiece. They don’t want to do another blended drink (neither of them like making blended drinks, citing the amount of effort they take to concoct and the dishes they dirty in the process). Better not to advertise that if they don’t like making it.
They have a picture of a drink that they want to post, but neither of them can remember what was in it. Lake guesses the flavors. Before they can finish that conversation, another person is arriving.
It’s been a somewhat disappointing morning thus far for How You Bean. Every day is different, this they know, but today isn’t what it’s usually like.
“Our 7 o’clock hour’s kind of letting us down,” Gardner says as she leans against the counter.
“I know, what the hell is happening?” Lake asks.
As if it were timed, another customer appears at the window.
By 8, though, the line is moving more quickly, more consistently. Their clientele is openly desperate for caffeine.
“You can put as many extra shots (in) as you deem legal,” one says.
Gardner caters each interaction to each customer. But the routine is similar throughout: hot or cold or blended? (Sometimes the women teasingly try to deter people from that option.) What cup size do they want? Milk choice?
The machine squeals in the background, and they raise their voices to speak above it. Steam curls out of freshly made beverages. And always at the end of every order: Do they want a stopper or a straw?
For Gardner, this is a chance to banter with the customers about how they drive. When a customer declines both options, she remarks on how good a driver they must be.
They’re still working on that social media post. It’s a process.
After a line of customers, they circle back to the topic of social media. My colleague and the Star-Tribune’s photographer, Lauren Miller, mentions that it might be easier to link How You Bean’s Instagram and Facebook accounts so that they can post on both simultaneously.
Lake thinks this is a good idea, but she worries that the group of hashtags she adds to the Instagram post might not work well on Facebook. Speaking of:
“Facebook post is up. How’s the Instagram post going?” Gardner asks.
“Done,” Lake replies.
We’re all taking a breather now. The sun is fully up. Through the front window, you can see a snow-dusted Casper Mountain, stretching to touch the sky.
Gardner sits on the counter, swinging her legs.
“Doing what I’ve always wanted to do … it’s a dream come true,” she says.
The next customer to pull up wants a blended drink. Lake says jokingly that she’ll make it, but only out of spite.
PHOTOS: A morning inside How You Bean coffee