New owners take over at Bearaboo Coffee Escape

Natalie and Chris Swanson are learning the ropes of running a coffee shop in Cloquet.

Natalie and Chris Swanson recently purchased and took over operation of Bearaboo Coffee in Cloquet. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Natalie Swanson pulls a shot of espresso from the machine at Bearaboo Coffee Escape in Cloquet and then turns to pull out some scones baking in the oven nearby.

Natalie barely gets the scones on the counter when her phone buzzes. One of her children is calling with a question.

It’s a busy life for Natalie and her husband, Chris, but it’s all in a day’s work for Bearaboo’s newest owners and parents of four.

Natalie Swanson makes an expresso drink behind the bar at Bearaboo Coffee Escape in Cloquet. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal


Natalie started working at Bearaboo in February 2019 and the couple started contemplating buying the coffee shop from the previous owners in September.

The Swansons officially took over ownership Jan. 1, and Natalie said previous owner Karen Williams has provided valuable assistance as the couple transitioned into their new role.

“She’s been really wonderful and helpful,” Natalie said. “She has been really gracious in handing off the business from her family to ours.”

Natalie has run a number of home businesses over the years and decided to take a stab at a different kind of business — though it's one both Chris and Natalie have a passion for.

Chris said he and his wife are coffee lovers and have visited “hundreds” of different shops around Minnesota and Wisconsin. They enjoy seeing how individual owners make their shops stand out — from Amity Coffee in Duluth to Common Ground and Gordy’s Warming House in Cloquet.

“It’s fun to see the creativity of the owners,” Chris said.

While they aren’t making a ton of major changes just yet, they are looking to add some programming to the lineup of coffee, smoothies, house-made baked goods and other items.

Events could include live music, trivia or even comedy shows.


“We don’t have a lot of space,” Chris said. “But there are people eager to share their talent and we’d like to let them.”

In addition to the coffee shop, the building on Stanley Avenue also has an automatic car wash attached. The couple will learn how to maintain the equipment and keep the car wash operating year round.

“I’ll be learning and fixing stuff I’ve never worked on before,” Chris said. “But that’s part of the deal.”

Chris — a government teacher at Cloquet High School — won’t spend much time at the shop until the summer, but the couple’s four children are already helping out.

Emma, a junior as CHS, is working as a “bearista” at the shop. Caleb, a senior, hopes to try his hand running the shop — with some help from Mom and Dad — over the next few months before he heads off to college to pursue a degree in business.

Eighth-grader Grace and fifth-grader Gavin aren’t on the schedule just yet, but the couple are excited to start running a business with a “built-in workforce.”

While the Swansons may make some changes in the future — like expanding the schedule or adding menu items — they are currently still learning the ropes and trying to continue what works well for Bearaboo.

The staff from the previous owners has stayed on through the transition and customers have shared encouraging things, including items that need to stay on the menu — like the chicken salad sandwich.


“We love the support and the positive feedback,” Natalie said. “People are excited to see what we’re going to do in the future.”

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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