This article was written for The Post SD about my favorite coffee shop. It is a really cool place and is owned by a couple of really cool people. It was originally posted in March 2010.
We’ll have to blame Dan and Kileen Cleberg for this interesting atmosphere. The brother/sister duo has been the sole owner of the Red Rooster since they opened the doors on Aug. 31, 1996. It is a complete reflection of their personalities, just as they intended. What started as a fun idea has become a staple in Downtown Aberdeen.
Dan and Kileen had traveled extensively growing up and always playfully tossed around the idea of starting a coffee house. They’d see something at a coffee house in a city they were visiting and say, “We’ll have that in our coffee house someday.” Over time the joking became more serious.
Eventually, Kileen said to Dan, “So, are we actually going to do this?” Dan replied, “It’d be fun.” And off they went.
They began to look around for a space to start the business in Aberdeen. They drove down 6th Avenue (Highway 12 and the Hub City’s main drag), an area of much business development at the time. It didn’t feel right.
“Things were too fast. That just wasn’t what we were looking for,” Kileen said.
While eating lunch downtown one day, they decided to take a stroll around the area. They found what seemed to be a perfect location. Kileen remembers peering through the window with her brother, faces pressed against the glass, laying out the shop in their minds.
The space had some interesting features that have helped give the Red Rooster its character. Black and white tile was something they spotted at a coffee house in their travels and loved. It’s also what they uncovered when they pulled up the carpet. Was it a sign? Maybe.
The business scene in Downtown Aberdeen was pretty thin at the time, but they were confident they could make it work.
In the early days, they spent a lot of time educating people about coffee. There was a lot more to a locally owned coffee shop than the locals had been used to.
“Your coffee is too strong and too expensive,” Dan remembers their first patron telling them (for reference, a cup of coffee was $.85 at the time).
When the Red Rooster opened, the “Starbucks movement” — fancy coffee shops on every corner — was just beginning to hit the Midwest, and though Dan admits they didn’t necessarily agree with everything Starbucks was about, he will say that people did become more aware of coffee through that avenue. They became more interested in their local coffee houses.
Dan and Kileen have stayed true to their beliefs and to their original idea of what a coffee house should be since the beginning.
“We’ve never been ones to sacrifice our values to make a buck,” said Dan passionately.
This ideology has created a community of very loyal patrons. People appreciate the way the Cleberg’s run their business. Dan and Kileen often turn to their Red Rooster community when thinking about new projects. They embrace the input, which will often take them in slightly different directions than they had originally planned and they say that’s just fine.
Dan added, “What we’re doing is an expression of our world view and our passion for life. We just want to project community, taking care of people and taking care of the Earth.”
The Red Rooster has been involved in fair trade coffee and goods for many years. They began to explore the idea of fair trade in the late 90s and began with coffee and expanded to their gift shop soon after. They are proud to support this movement and it’s one example of Dan and Kileen sticking completely to something they believe in. They could probably have a slightly higher profit margin by purchasing their coffee and goods through other means, but that isn’t the point. They support things they believe in. Some things take priority over the bottom line.
The Red Rooster plays host to many different people throughout any given day. In the morning, you’ll see a steady flow of professionals pass through on their way to work. A little later you may find a group of women meeting to knit and chat. Free Wi-Fi is available so it’s usually easy to spot some people pecking away on their laptops at about any time of day. In the evening, you’ll find some younger folks hanging around enjoying a cup of coffee and the company of friends. There’s no core demographic for the coffee house. Everyone is welcome.
Dan and Kileen schedule different events for almost every evening throughout the week. Anything from the stereotypical coffee house singer-song-writer to a film to karaoke. They are always on the lookout for new and interesting events to host. Dan said they are now just filtering the requests that come in. This is a testament to the creative environment they’ve created. Artists want to perform at their coffee house.
The Red Rooster isn’t just your typical coffee house. It is a completely original, interesting place. By simply creating an environment where they would like to hang out and by sticking close to their core beliefs, the Clebergs have built a truly local business.