Rock ‘n’ coffee: Canteen barista Sho Nikaido is a punk rock legend

Sho Nikaido
Sho Nikaido has been working as a barista at Canteen since 2010. Photos by Ryan Stopera

Living in Lyndale you get to know all the unique people and places in the neighborhood.

Walking to Crema Cafe for Sonny’s Ice Cream on a summer night, biking alongside my neighbors during Open Streets, and going to see Sho Nikaido at Canteen have become my essential Lyndale pastimes.

It’s easy to see why Sho is my favorite barista in Minneapolis. As soon as I walk in the door of the coffee shop on the corner of 33rd & Bryant, he greets me with a smile, my drink that he knows by heart and a great conversation. Sho and I met at Ramen Kazama and shared potstickers, green tea and our mutual appreciation of punk music.

He moved to the United States from Japan in 1992 to pursue photography at the University of Minnesota. Soon he met other Japanese artists. Hideo Takahashi, a painter at the U, collaborated with Sho on an art show and from there they decided to start a band.

“We wanted to be like the Rolling Stones, but we didn’t know how to make songs so we just played really fast and really loud,” Sho said with a laugh.

Sho Nikaido’s band Sweet JAP
Sho Nikaido’s band Sweet JAP sold out a reunion show at the Turf Club in September. City Pages recently named the show as the best reunion of the year. Submitted photo

Sweet JAP, their experimental Japanese punk band, was just what the people wanted. City Pages named them the best rock band in the Twin Cities, they toured the United States, played South by Southwest and had the time of their lives.

“After about five years we broke up,” Sho said. “I don’t really know why. We were young and never expected to get that big. That time of my life gave me a lot of great memories.”

Last September Sweet JAP sold out a reunion show at the Turf Club. One of Sweet JAP’s bandmates, Matthew Kazama, is now the owner of Ramen Kazama.

“He’s really smart and has a bit different way to look at things … not everything ‘haha,’” Kazama said. “I learn so much from him.”

Sho Nikaido
“Some regulars have come in for years and I make the same drinks for them every day,” Sho says.

Since Sweet JAP, Sho has continued to create photos and music while working as a barista at Canteen, where he started in 2010. Formerly Urban Bean, the coffee shop has been a local Lyndale hangout for years.

Every time I walk in, Sho will make me laugh, I’ll run into a neighbor or meet a new one, and I’ll leave feeling more connected to my home and the people who live there.

“I build relationships with people, and I see them grow,” Sho said. “People go to college, move away, and I stay in touch with them over social media. Some regulars have come in for years and I make the same drinks for them every day.”

After working there for nine years, Sho is proud of the solid community he’s built with Canteen’s owner, Liz Abene.

The vibe is always right at Canteen. It’s never too busy, they have an amazing toast bar, the best coffee and the music is always good because Sho is DJing. Usually he’ll play classics that have influenced his music, like the Rolling Stones, John Coltrane or David Bowie.

Matthew Kazama, Sho Nikaido, Takashi Obu, Ben Durband and Hideo Takahashi.
Matthew Kazama, Sho Nikaido, Takashi Obu, Ben Durband and Hideo Takahashi. Submitted photo

“I was never really into punk; it just happened to me,” he said. “I was listening to Bowie and more subdued music. This led to my solo project.”

After Sho’s second band, Mute Era, ended, he recorded a four-track cassette in his bedroom and eventually it became his solo project CELICA. He also launched his own record label, Seated Heat Records.

“I wanted my music on vinyl,” he said. “Nobody was doing that so I decided to go for it on my own with my own record label. “I wanted to have an independent record label and 20 years from now some kids play my record and talk about it as something that doesn’t exist any more.”

Sho is such a gem in our community — talented, humble and selfless. Whether through his music or his latte art, he spreads creativity, connection and joy.

Sho Nikaido
Sho Nikaido has been working as a barista at Canteen since 2010. Photos by Ryan Stopera

“Eventually I want to focus less on my music and start helping other people,” he said. “My experiences can help my friends get their band going, connect with people and tour. I want to make Seated Heat Records an independent label that supports up-and-coming local artists.”

If you want to check out Sho’s music, CELICA has a show at Bryant Lake Bowl Theater on May 30. He will be collaborating on a performance with local Butoh dancer Masanari Kawahara.

If you can’t make the performance at Bryant Lake Bowl, he’s at Canteen most nights, ready to greet you with a smile and your favorite drink.

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  • Fogdart

    Makes me wish I lived in Twin Cities, not Portland Oregon. We still have great punk here, but the connected vibe described in the story tells me what’s missing from our lives. And put down that phone.

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