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Boreal Community Media

A conversation with Bob Carlson: owner of Loon's Nest Coffee along the Gunflint Trail

Jun 24, 2022 11:03AM ● By Laura Durenberger
Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media Exclusive - June 24, 2022

Bob Carlson has had a love for the Gunflint Trail since he was a kid. But the travels to the trail from Houston, Minnesota, where Carlson and his family have a home, can get long. 

In 2020, the Carlson family bought land to build a cabin in NE Minnesota. During this process, a home at 7575 Gunflint Trail came on the market. A home, Carlson tells me, that has a long history. 

In 1975, owner Herb White was a well-known stone mason from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. He built fireplaces all over the Gunflint, many of which are still around today. Carlson tells me his research shows that White hand split all of the granite you see on the front of the building today. 

“I’ve examined it carefully, and I can’t even find a single crack”, says Carlson. “It’s built really well, especially since it’s lived through events like the “Blowdown” of 1999 [a massive windstorm]. I just love the character of it”. 

 Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

The house would eventually go on to be a gift shop, known as the Loon’s Nest Gift Shop. “The set up is perfect because it has a shop in front, and housing space for staff as well. The Loon’s Nest Gift shop was around for 20 years until one of the owners passed away in 2020. 

This leads us back to Bob and his family. 

The idea of a coffee shop is not new for Carlson. In fact, he owns Carlson Coffee, a roasting company based out of Houston, Minnesota. 

“All the beans Carlson coffee roasts is fair trade and organic, and done so locally in SE Minnesota.”

Bob shared how he comes up with different flavor profiles for each of the different types of coffee he sells. 

“Each bean origin has its own flavor, but that can differ - even for the same type of bean - based on region, farm, soil, elevation, and precipitation. You have to know what flavors go well together, and when to adjust”. 

The idea of starting a coffee shop up on the Gunflint trail came about because Carlson noticed there was a lack of a grab-and-go coffee shop in the area. 

Unfortunately, Carlson ran into an issue when it came to getting the coffee shop ready to open that many others can relate to: a backup in supply chains and people to help do the work. 

The “shop” area at the front of the building recently opened for indoor seating, but the space isn’t quite ready to prep and serve coffee and food. That, however, didn’t stop Bob. He found a food-truck type of structure, and for now, is using that as the place where people can order which is working great. There is also seating outdoors, nestled amongst some beautiful landscaping. 

It’s not just coffee that they serve either. Loon’s Nest Coffee is hoping to create a signature dish with their homemade cardamom rolls - which are just as delicious as they sound. 

 Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

They are also serving a staple grilled cheese and tomato soup - using ingredients from as many local companies as they can. Eventually, they hope to serve flatbread pizzas as well. 

The response has been very positive to the opening of the coffee shop - especially for those who live or have cabins along the trail. “We’ve had a lot of people who walk down from their home or cabin, and enjoy their coffee on their walk back,” said Carlson.

Others who have to make early commutes up the trail are also excited to have something open early in the morning to get their caffeine fix.

One thing that’s really special about Loon’s Nest Coffee is that it’s a family affair. Coffee Shop Manager Lilli, also known as Bob’s daughter, is working at the shop for the summer until she goes back to college in the fall.  “She really loves coffee”, Bob said with a smile. 

 Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

You can find Loon’s Nest Coffee at 7575 Gunflint Trail, or "about halfway up the trail" in local speak. 

They are open daily from 7am - 2pm, seasonally. 

For more information, you can find Loon’s Nest Coffee on Facebook and Instagram

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