Enterprise on the Prairie: 20 Below

Created by James Caton |

This article is part of a series, Enterprise on the Prairie, which showcases the efforts of enterprising residents who are creating value in their communities.

“Let’s create a unique space for people to come and be welcome and be known.”

This is the vision of Mike Moran, co-owner of 20 Below Coffee, a café bustling with the sounds of coffee and conversation. Originally a roastery, 20 Below Coffee Co. opened its café three years ago in downtown Fargo. Since that time, it has shared its coffee and vision for community with thousands of customers.

Mike is joined in this entrepreneurial venture by Ty Ford, co-founder and co-owner of 20 Below Coffee. Mike describes Ty as “the entrepreneur, head first.”

Before teaming up with Ty, Mike was looking for a change but was unsure what direction that change would take him. During his college years, Mike worked for Starbucks and even “had a dream to open up [an establishment with] a Cheers bar setting.” When Mike met Ty, a door opened to pursue his dream – only by creating a café rather than a bar.

Responding to the market

20 Below Coffee has evolved since its founding.

“We were roasting coffee in Ty’s basement at the time,” Mike reflected in our conversation about the early days. “We were doing a little bit of catering. Doing some roasting. We hadn’t roasted for any coffee shops, but we were doing a little bit of retail.”

Customers continually expressed interest in a coffee shop, eventually leading Mike and Ty to open a café on Roberts Street.  

Experience drives evolution

Since he began building the company, Mike has operated in an environment with which he was first made familiar by past experience. His previous work familiarized him with the process of making tea and coffee drinks and preparing food for customers. He also discovered an opportunity to develop relationships with customers and provide a space for community.

“You see the same people every day. You get to know somebody after 90 times and seeing them once, or twice, or maybe three times per day,” Mike explained.

Building community

With 20 Below, Mike and Ty saw an opportunity to start a business that was about more than just coffee. Mike describes other popular coffee shops as “high volume.” 20 Below strives to offer a unique experience by serving specialty drinks – including carbonated teas, nitro brews, and coffee filtered through a siphoning process – and creating an inviting atmosphere. There is time for conversation and cultivation of social bonds, which contribute to the robust experience that Mike, Ty, and the 20 Below staff aim to provide for their community.

Serving the community doesn’t stop at the coffee shop’s door. Each week, 20 Below provides coffee for 1 Million Cups, a venue where local entrepreneurs showcase their businesses and ideas and engage with community members to build relationships and add value to the area. 20 Below coffee can also be found at North Dakota State University, as well as Drekker Brewing, The Prairie Den, and Prairie Roots Food Co-op, among other places. (A full list of partners can be found on the 20 Below website.)

On the horizon, Mike sees opportunity.

“Our hope is to grow our wholesale quite significantly in the next couple of years,” he shared. This could provide the flexibility to open a new location and support the development of another community. He expects that the nature of that process will be unique and is excited for the opportunity.

For now, Mike can be found chatting with customers and living out his dream with a business where everyone is welcome and, at least for the regulars, “where everybody knows your name.” 

Meet the Author

James Caton is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise (PCPE) and an assistant professor in the NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics. Read his bio.


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