Finally, a racism-at-a-coffee-shop story with a semi-happy ending



Daniel Williams, a standup comedian from northeast Minneapolis, stopped in at a Spyhouse Coffee Roasters last month. He ordered a coffee and fished out a $20 bill.

The cashier took it and gave it a swipe with her marker -- which gave Williams pause.

“Do you get a lot of fake $20s around here?” he asked.

The cashier said something about people in the area getting hit by fake $20s lately, and Williams let it drop. He was still standing by the cash register when the next customer -- a white man -- walked up to the counter and paid with a $20.

The cashier didn’t mark it.

“I got really mad,” he says. But Williams didn’t want to cause a scene, so he kept this tongue, instead sharing the moment on Facebook. 

“It hit a chord,” says fellow comedian and friend Ali Sultan. “I’ve been in similar situations.”

It's hard enouogh for people like Williams to fit in at what Sultan describes as “white hipster coffee shops.” (Spyhouse itself was recently called out for an incident of calling police on black men.) The fact that they singled out Williams and marked his $20 isolated him even more. 

“You just feel like an outsider right away,” he says.

Sultan called the Spyhouse as “an agent of Daniel Williams.” He spoke to the manager, who told him that marking $20s was a relatively new procedure, and the cashiers were still having trouble doing it consistently.

But why did Williams get the marker? Why fail to mark the very next customer’s after Williams specifically brought it up?

The manager said they’d send an email to employees to make sure they were more consistent in the future. Sultan asked to be cc’ed on it.

He expected that to be the end of that. But the next thing Sultan knew, he was being contacted by a member of Spyhouse leadership, who wanted to meet with him and Williams to talk about the incident. Sultan says he, Williams, and two administrators from Spyhouse sat down together on June 7. 

Williams says they seemed genuinely well meaning, if a little defensive at first. “I could tell they were probably scared to say certain things because they weren’t sure how we might take it,” Williams says. But they also got the impression that Spyhouse really did want to make things right. 

Since then, Spyhouse has stayed in communication. An email mentioned an all-staff meeting with representatives from AMAZE, a St. Paul anti-bias training program. Sultan and Williams were also invited to perform at an all-staff outing.

Spyhouse confirmed the meeting and that the company was working with AMAZE, “so that our staff can continue to learn and grow in the hospitality we provide to customers.” The rest of the conversation was “private.”

“I honestly see it as an overall win,” Williams says. He’s not sure whether Spyhouse will change, but they seem willing to try. In the meantime, he’s honestly not certain whether he’ll be back. Even with the generally positive outcome, that’s a lot of emotional labor for a caffeine fix.

“I was just trying to order a coffee, not trying to be part of a national conversation.”