One man’s account of being black at a Minneapolis Spyhouse

Ini Iyamba says he was arrested in a Spyhouse Coffee Roasters for being there a little over 10 minutes without ordering.

Ini Iyamba says he was arrested in a Spyhouse Coffee Roasters for being there a little over 10 minutes without ordering. Ini Iyamba

Ini Iyamba sat down at a table near the back of the Spyhouse Coffee Roasters on Hennepin. Iyamba is the founder of MN4MN, which is dedicated to showcasing local companies, boutiques, and designers. He had invited an associate for a meeting that morning.

They talked for a bit until a Spyhouse staffer approached their table. Iyamba says she told them they’d been there for 10 minutes, maybe more, and according to Spyhouse’s policy, they needed to order something.

Iyamba apologized and told her he would order something, but they were in the middle of a meeting at the moment. When she didn’t budge, he asked to talk to her manager. He’d been patronizing Spyhouses for his MN4MN meetings for a while, and he was there all the time.

The employee brought out a manager, and the whole conversation began again. You need to order something -- I will, but I’m in the middle of a meeting -- it’s company policy.

“Is that stated anywhere? Is that written down? Because I’ve never seen it,” Iyamba said.

The manager told him that if they didn’t order something or leave, they were going to call the police. For what, Iyamba asked? Having a meeting? He didn’t think they’d done anything wrong, so he told her to go ahead.

About 10 minutes later, two police officers arrived. They told Iyamba and his tablemate that they had to go. Iyamba kept his seat and asked them why. For disturbing the business, he says they told him.

“Officer, I came here to have a meeting, and that’s all I’ve been doing,” Iyamba said.

The officer told him he couldn’t sit there without ordering anything. Gradually, the conversation got louder.

“Why are you yelling at me?” Iyamba asked.

“Because you’re not fucking listening,” he says the officer told him.

Iyamba handed his phone to his tablemate and asked him to start recording. The phone caught the tail end of that interaction: the officer telling Iyamba he was “going to be placed under arrest in 10 seconds,” and the other officer telling him to “put his hands behind his back.”

Iyamba stood, let the officer cuff him and lead him away. His friend scrambled to collect Iyamba’s things before leaving.

Black man's 2014 arrest at Spyhouse Coffee in Minneapolis from City Pages on Vimeo.

In the squad car, Iyamba asked what he was being arrested for. He says they told him “trespassing.”

“When you guys walked into the coffeeshop, you said I was disturbing the peace,” he said.

The police report from the incident says the officers were dispatched to handle a report that said “two black males refused to leave the business and they were being loud and rude to other employees.”

Iyamba was booked at Hennepin County Jail “without incident,” according to the report. He remembers slipping into the orange jumpsuit and slippers, being handed a “nasty ham sandwich,” and wondering how he’d ended up there.

His fine was $78. He usually never carries cash, but he happened to have $100 or so in his wallet. If he hadn’t, he would have spent the night in jail. He was released to his wife that evening.

The worst part was having to tell his 7-year-old daughter where he’d been all day, telling her that she would have to try twice as hard as her white peers to get half as much respect.

Spyhouse declined interview requests, but did issue a written statement: 

"It has long been Spyhouse’s uniformly-enforced policy that tables and seating are reserved for paying customers. In the isolated incident in 2014, this policy was communicated to two individuals, who after a reasonable time, were asked by two different employees if they would like to order something. The individuals refused to order, refused to leave, and became disruptive, leaving the employees no alternative but to call the police.

"When the police officers arrived, the individuals were again given the opportunity to make a purchase. However, the individuals again refused and one of the individuals began arguing with the officers. The individual was arrested and charged with trespass."

Iyamba called a friend, a class action attorney, to get the incident cleansed from his record. After they arrived at the courthouse, Iyamba stood outside for 10 minutes before his lawyer returned and said it was over. He called him later to tell him the case had been thrown out.

Iyamba tried to forget about that day and move on with his life. He tried not to notice when he recognized one of the officers that arrested him doing security at his synagogue. He knew he was not the first black man to have this happen to him, and that he wouldn’t be the last. His lawyer, David Koob, called the whole thing "sad." 

"But given the climate that we live in and the things we see on a day-to-day basis, it's not surprising," he said.

It wasn’t until recently, when Starbucks was in the news for conducting company-wide racial bias training, that he confronted the memory again. The inciting incident for the training was a lot like what he’d been through: two black men arrested in a Philadelphia store while waiting for a friend. Four years after his own confrontation, it still hurt.

He told his story on Facebook. He’s okay with supporting Starbucks after they made a genuine effort to address their mistakes. He can’t say as much for Spyhouse.