When it comes to coffee in Mankato, consumers have many options.
But wherever you choose to fill your cup, you’re not likely to find a friendlier face than Lindsey Schaefer, manager at one of Mankato’s oldest java haunts, The Fillin’ Station.
Schaefer is the coffee shop’s manager, and prides herself on getting to know her customers and making them feel like family. She’s also responsible for making The Fillin’ Station a great place for artists to display their work.
Here’s more from Lindsey Schaefer, a Wisconsin transplant who plans on sticking around for a while.
Mankato Magazine: So you’ve been at the Fillin’ Station for a few years now. Is Coffee Shop work as glamorous as it seems?
Lindsey Schaefer: I don’t think I’d use the word “glamorous” since being a barista means being hot and sweaty behind multiple machines producing large amounts of steam, haha, but it is an art and a science that requires attention to detail and a genuine love for the product. I would say, there’s definitely an allure to being a barista. Perhaps that comes from the intimacy of the job. You see a lot of the same people and get to be a memorable part of their day. Whether a customer is coming in to meet up with a good friend, getting some productive work done, enjoying a moment to themself, or getting caffeinated-up right before the work commute, a barista helps get your day going with a treat that warms your soul. Who isn’t instantly happy after taking a sip of their favorite latte? Going to a coffee shop is always a treat and it’s fun being a facilitator of that.
MM: The Fillin’ Station has a lot of regulars. Tell us about the relationship you have with them and how they contribute to the “Fillin’ vibe.”
LS: Regulars are essential! They are the ones that keep small business alive! I love regulars! It’s great getting first timers, of course, but it’s the people that keep coming back I truly appreciate. I’m pretty introverted naturally so it can be anxiety inducing to make conversation with strangers (ha ha). But when you start seeing the same person over and over, to me there’s no choice but to allow your personal timelines to get crossed. You start by memorizing their order, then you know their name, and eventually we start exchanging stories and we become connected. That connection creates such a sense of comfort and excitement when I see a regular passing through the door, like being a little kid looking out the window and grandma and grandpa just pulled up to the house! That comfy casual, safe, at-home, family-like feeling is absolutely a part of our vibe at the Fillin.
MM: How does the Fillin’ Station stay alive and kicking with all that corporate coffee out there?
LS: I feel that local independently owned coffee shops like the Fillin’ provide an authenticity that we as humans naturally seek. Most people who frequent coffee shops are themselves unique and interesting individuals who I think want to be in a space that invokes inspiration or intrigue. It’s just boring walking into a place with all white walls and identical signage that was printed and sent out to hundreds of other locations. Also, it probably comes back to that connection you get from being a “regular.” People really enjoy the sense of pride and ownership that comes from the intimacy of a smaller setting. They love feeling like it’s “their coffee shop” where everybody knows your name. Even if you think you’re a regular at a Starbucks, they’re still going to spell your name wrong hahaha. You aren’t just dollar signs to us. We value you as an individual human and I think it shows.
MM: What’s the most popular drink at the shop right now, and what is the trend right now in coffee drinks?
LS: Our most popular drink is the Vanilla Bee, which is one of our Top Ten flavored lattes with vanilla, honey, and cinnamon. It’s a classic, you really can’t go wrong with that one. A close second would be our Cold Press.
What’s been trending in the coffee scene over the last couple of years is non-dairy milks. And we have a great selection — almond, oat, coconut and soy.
MM: How do you feel about the downtown atmosphere right now? Is it getting better?
LS: The 600 block of South Front Street still needs more entrepreneurs, unique shops, and ART that could flow into the 700 block. I think it’d be valuable for our community to lengthen the pedestrian journey from the 500 block all the way down South Front St. It is getting better! We have really great bone structure right now with some staple businesses like The Fillin’ Station, our friends over at Union Market and Sun Moon Yoga, and our newest friends across the street at PULP Comics, as well as some quirky shops like the Once Read Used Bookstore and Mystic Emporium, but there are still a few empty storefronts that would be nice to see filled with character rather than offices. I hope to see a revitalization similar to what’s recently happened in the Old Town District and perhaps extending the CityArt Sculpture Tour into our block.
MM: What brought you to Mankato and your job at the Fillin’ Station?
LS: I actually was considering going to Bethany Lutheran College and decided to go the public school route for my generals until I “knew what I wanted to do” and ended up getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts in watercolor painting from Minnesota State University. I had always envisioned myself continuing on to graduate school but didn’t quite know what direction I wanted to go so I stuck around to gain some experiences. And that led me to the Fillin’. I was just looking for a job in general, but hoping for something I could still have some level of creativity in and at the time a friend who also was also in the art department at MSU with me had been the manager of the Fillin’ Station and he suggested I apply.
MM: You’re also the art coordinator there. Tell us why you wanted to raise the profile of the coffee shop as a place where artists could display their work.
LS: Coffee and art are both some of the finer things in life and therefore go hand in hand. It just makes sense to me to have art in a coffeehouse! And although there had been some art displayed at the Fillin’ before my time, there just wasn’t a lot of energy put into it as a main facet of the Fillin’. It was more like decoration than a focal point. With our large walls I saw the potential to be a great addition to the gallery scene in Mankato. We do have a handful of formal galleries which is fantastic, but it can be intimidating as a new artist to submit works to a formal gallery. So I wanted to make the Fillin’ a casual stress free opportunity for emerging artists to gradually step into the gallery scene. My favorite thing is observing artists that have been one of our Artists of the Month and see their progression whether its having their own formal exhibition at the 410, submitting works into the Emy Frenz and Carnegie, or seeing their art expand into a recognized brand, I love supporting and helping others get one step closer to their goals.
MM: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.
LS: Kinda going back to what brought me to Mankato … I was raised in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and went to private Lutheran schooling my entire life until college, until MSU. And I LOVED everything I was exposed to in the public setting. Before transferring to MSU I spent my freshman year at Martin Luther College in New Ulm and had every intention to become a pastor’s wife. But that wasn’t my path. It certainly may be a great path for someone else, but not me. And I’m so thankful I evolved. Now I am allowed to live in alignment with my true self and I feel so much more spiritually connected to others and this earth because of it. You cannot face this world unless you’re being your true self.
MM: Where will Lindsey Schaefer be in five years?
LS: I’m probably going to be here, in Mankato. I’ve grown to really feel at home here even though I wasn’t born and raised in Mankato. I am always open to the universe changing my course but at this point I plan to stay with the Fillin’ Station, maybe even take over ownership at some point. All I know for sure is I will continue being active in our community's progression towards a thriving inclusive arts and cultural scene as well as improving environmental standards and policies in southern Minnesota. Who knows where those passions will place me!