Good luck finding Ninth Street Coffee and Soccer in Minneapolis without a smartphone or GPS.
Sure, the address gives a hint. But Interstate 35W in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood cuts off Ninth Street from Dinkytown and the University of Minnesota, and it’s easy to lose your bearings while you zig and zag your way around. One helpful hint: A sign on the chain-line fence where S.E. Eighth Avenue dead-ends into Ninth Street.
If you’re wondering who thought of pairing the world’s favorite sport and the world’s most popular beverage, meet Derek Swanson and Pete Corniea, a pair of Bethel University grads who teamed up on the concept shortly before the pandemic hit.
They turned a vacant building that formerly housed an industrial printing company into a 9,000 square-foot melting pot for indoor soccer, in an old warehouse district bisected by a railroad spur. They added the coffee shop about five months ago. Swanson and Corniea recounted their founding story one recent morning while a group of Somali-American transportation workers warmed up on the field, visible through the coffee shop’s Plexiglas windows.
“The early churning of the business was late 2019 to 2020,” Swanson said. “That’s when we were kicking around the idea, seeing if it could be a viable business model. Then everything that happened in our city over the course of 2020 highlighted the need for places that could bring people together, especially this kind of urban setting.”
Though Swanson, 39, and Corniea, 41 both went to Bethel, they didn’t meet until years later. Swanson attended the night school while Corniea, a defensive back on the football team, attended day classes. But they shared a mutual love of sports, especially soccer. Swanson, a freelance video editor and podcaster, grew up playing soccer and now helps coach the boys’ team at Minnehaha Academy. Corniea, a property developer, married into the sport.
“My wife grew up in Ecuador, which is obviously a huge soccer culture,” Corniea said. “She grew up in a missionary community that was very, very international. She had friends all over the world, and that was the one thing that always brought them together – the ability to play or watch (soccer).
“We just saw the opportunity to bring cultures together in a way that I haven’t seen in the city here. You see pockets of culture that play soccer together – Latino leagues or African leagues or whatever. We didn’t see a space that was intentional about bringing all those people together.”
Establishing a business in the middle of a pandemic came with fits and starts. About a month after October 2020 opening, the facility shut down until January to comply with Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order closing fitness facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “We got to catch our bearings a little bit in that little breather of a moment,” Swanson said.
Soon after reopening, business began to pick up. There aren’t many places in Minneapolis to play soccer indoors in the winter, and word quickly spread in the local soccer community. Swanson said that from October to April the pitch is generally booked from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to midnight on weekends.
A curtain divides the artificial turf playing surface in two; play runs 5-on-5 on each half or 7-on-7 on the full pitch. Groups can rent the space for $60 to $90 an hour, depending on the season and time of day. Kids play for free on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.
Outside of rentals, pickup games draw a diverse crowd with close to 30 countries represented, Corniea said.
“If you’re an individual who’s studying at the U and you wouldn’t normally be plugged into a league, it’s nice to have the option to come and play and feel connected, as opposed to trying to find a team,” he said. “That’s exactly why we exist in that way.”
Added Swanson: “We’ve been running pickup on Saturday mornings from 8 to 10 a.m. We cap them so everyone gets fair playing time, and we have 50- or 60-plus people here who rotate in. There’s a lot of consistency with that, people who know each other. There’s English Premier League afterwards, so they’ll hang and get a coffee or a breakfast pizza or watch a game, and talk about why their team isn’t doing well. Everyone has an opinion, right?”
The coffee shop, which serves beer and wine at night, provides a communal gathering place. That was important to Swanson and Corniea as well.
“The foundational bond (is) soccer, but then the deeper conversation spills over into this space,” Corniea said. “We have what we call this organic cross-pollination happening. These people are in a space together where they normally wouldn’t be in together, and then they get to continue that versus going their own ways elsewhere.”
One caution: If you go just for the coffee – a specially roasted variety from Dogwood Coffee Co. – don’t sit with your back to the wall on the pitch side. Players like to warm up by kicking balls at the Plexiglas, and the noise can be jarring.