A coffee shop that takes the cake ?? and clairs

Greg Martin hopes to save you from bad coffee shop food, with Butter

Most coffee shops have great coffee, but let's face it: not all have great baked goods.

For Greg Martin, that's a business opportunity drenched in butter.

Martin, owner of Urban Bean Coffee House, 3255 Bryant Ave. S., bought Sweetski's, 3544 Grand Ave. on Nov. 17 and renamed it Butter.

He didn't boot former owner and baker Stacey Sowinski, the maker of Sweetski's achingly tasty muffins, scones, cookies and other treats. Instead, Sowinski can concentrate on the baking while Martin concentrates on the business.

The two are friends who had pondered the deal since April 2002, Martin said.

"I bought Sweetski's because it's the best," he said.

Now, Martin plans to maximize the wholesale potential of the baked goods and improve sometimes-bland coffee shop food.

A dream realized In 1995, Martin moved from Breckinridge, Colo. and started the Urban Bean Coffee House at 2717 Hennepin Ave. S. (now Plan B Coffeehouse),

Martin said he'd worked at a Colorado bakery where he learned the business. In Minneapolis, he discovered there wasn't enough capital available to start his own bakery, so he opened Urban Bean instead.

Martin opened Urban Bean a year later. He ran both stores -- with help from staff -- until he sold the Hennepin location in 2000.

"It's very busy, two coffee shops, but I don't find it to be too much," he said.

Now he's back in a similar position and upped the ante.

While keeping Urban Bean the same, Martin is busy transforming Butter. He said he completed the major renovation in six days, reopening the space with freshly painted walls and new funky orange lights.

"I haven't slept in 12 days," he said, peaking at workers rebuilding the bar area. "It's around the clock."

Same food, new image Martin said he realized how good Sweetski's baked good were by seeing how well Urban Bean customers loved them. That reaction drives him to amp up Butter's wholesale end.

Wayne Butzer, owner of Vera's Caf, 2901 Lyndale Ave. S., said he's been ordering Sowinski's products for four years and they've always been "flawless."

Butzer said he has a standing wholesale order with Butter for $1,600 per month for everything from scones to biscotti, muffins and turnovers. However, he said the most popular wholesale item he receives is its cookies.

"I'm currently redesigning the front counter around displaying the cookies," Butzer said.

Martin said while Sweetski's had a few wholesale accounts such as Vera's, they often turned down orders because Sowinski wore both the baker's and business hats. Martin pledged to delegate tasks to staff so he can concentrate on gaining those potential customers.

He said having Butter's baked goods in other coffee houses is a win-win situation for all. Martin said it would not only create a great buzz about Butter, but also help the other coffee shops.

As for Butter itself, he said, "It would have been a big mistake to buy this place and make something different. It's really good food and not expensive."

Martin said his fianc came up with the new name, and it just seemed to work. He said Sowinski uses lots of butter baking the clairs and biscuits and the one-word name appealed to him because it sounded simple and clean.

"People say, 'What's with the name? I don't get it?'" he said with a baffled look.

Martin said there's nothing to get. "It's so funny -- there's no hidden joke. At least it's catching on," he said.

Butter is open Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-7 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday brunch 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Weekday hours will expand to 10 p.m. in the spring. For more information, call 521-7401.