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Radio Bean's Longest-Tenured Employee Reflects on His Run

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Matthew Minor - ROBIN KATRICK
  • Robin Katrick
  • Matthew Minor

Since its inception in the fall of 2000, Burlington's Radio Bean has evolved from a hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse to a sprawling, multifaceted music and arts hub that includes the international street food restaurant ¡Duino! (Duende) and the luminous cocktail lounge Light Club Lamp Shop. As those spaces have evolved, the faces behind the counters have changed, too — with one exception.

At 11 years and counting, Matthew Minor, 40, is the Bean's longest-tenured employee. You've probably seen him around, either working the door or conjuring up libations behind the bar. The tall, soft-spoken fellow is hard to miss with his signature wispy facial hair, spectacles and spot-on vintage garb. He looks like he just time-traveled from 1969 Haight-Ashbury.

Originally from Chittenango, N.Y., Minor moved to Burlington in July 2000 after graduating from the State University of New York Plattsburgh with a degree in cultural anthropology. Lee Anderson opened Radio Bean a few months later, and Minor quickly became a regular customer. Subsequently, he also became part of the café's homegrown music scene, playing bass in bands such as the Toes and the Fontanelles and alongside folk singer-songwriter Mickey Western.

By 2006, he was an employee. Since then, aside from some side work as a "manny" — that is, a male nanny — Minor has worked exclusively and continuously at the Bean. In advance of the coffee shop's annual birthday bash and all-day music marathon on Saturday, November 4, Seven Days caught up with Minor at the Bean to ask him about his time there.

SEVEN DAYS: You've been at Radio Bean for more than a decade. What kind of work were you doing prior?

MATTHEW MINOR: Directly before, I worked as an early childhood educator for more than five years at the Burlington Children's Space. I did a little work as a paraeducator before that.

SD: Do you recall your interview?

MM: It's funny. At the time, Radio Bean had a really interesting interview and application process. There was a space on the application that said, "Do something creative below" and "Tell me something not about yourself that I don't know." But I didn't fill one out, because I knew Lee.

I was looking at [Radio Bean] as a temporary [job] — like, six months to a year. I didn't think I'd be here 11 years later. When I asked Lee if I could work here, he was concerned that I was too introverted and wouldn't be able to interact with all these people.

SD: Did you mention to him that you were used to wrangling screaming children all day?

MM: Yeah, but there's a difference between wrangling screaming children and wrangling the expectations of patrons. I'm definitely way more extroverted and outgoing and have a lot more friends because of this job.

SD: Do you recall your impressions from the first time you set foot in the Bean?

MM: It was really whimsical. There were these copper grounding wire spirals that would hold hot press pots of coffee. All of the tables were slate-top and uneven, which made these hot, spring-loaded coffee canisters not very practical.

SD: What did you first think about Burlington, in general?

MM: I used to come over here from Plattsburgh and go to Muddy Waters. I was pretty naïve in that I wasn't tuned in to the general bubble of Burlington and the amount of people here that had more progressive and liberal values.

I didn't know that kale was consumed. It was what you put around the edge of displays at the grocery store to sell carrots or ground beef. It wasn't something people ate where I grew up.

SD: It must be cool to have watched the scene grow and change since 2006.

MM: Yeah. It was definitely much smaller back then. At the time, it was the living room of Burlington. It was where you went before you went to do something, or you came after you just did something to tell everybody that you just did it.

I had the mixed blessing of working seven years of Monday night open mics. You could be hearing a 19-year-old learning to play "Wagon Wheel" and how much better they got from last week.

SD: Have you ever thought about quitting?

MM: Yeah. When I first started working here, I thought, OK. I'm going to change up my career. I was thinking about going into a nursing program, which I still sometimes think about doing. But, I mean, I haven't [thought about that] recently. I'm very comfortable. I tend to be a person who puts down roots. I've been living in the same apartment for 10 years.

SD: You play a rather unusual instrument: the hurdy-gurdy. When did you first pick it up?

MM: Last summer! I'm really new to it. I'm probably the best hurdy-gurdy player here — because I'm the only one. I had it built out in Oregon.

SD: You had it custom built?

MM: Yeah. That's kind of the way it is with hurdy-gurdies. You can get kits on the internet that are pretty cheap.

SD: Did you see someone playing one and think, I must have that?

MM: I don't even know where I started with hurdy-gurdy, but I definitely got into this mode. I mean, I've known about them for a long time, but I didn't necessarily know how they worked. I often get asked about it. People don't even know it's a stringed instrument, because it has that bagpipe-y kind of sound.

SD: Is it pretty normal for you to go all in on a new instrument like that?

MM: I definitely have that kind of mentality. If you come over to my house, there are lots of musical instruments. If I'm at Jamba's Junktiques [now Junktiques Collective] and there's a $40 trombone or something, I'll buy that trombone. I have a lute, bass guitars, mandolins and mandolas. I just enjoy playing them for the sake of experimenting. I think the hurdy-gurdy is just a really big, crazy example of that.

SD: Do you have any particularly special memories of this place?

MM: Oh, there's so many. We had a really epic Halloween party here a long time ago. It was a Friday night, and the Irresistible Predator played. It was, like, 65 degrees, and the town was just crazy. Lee was dressed as Evel Knievel and had his little three-speed bike. We were lying down on the sidewalk, and he was jumping over us with the most rickety milk-crate-and-board ramp. We kept saying, "We can fit another person on the end."

Then the band spontaneously paraded down to Church Street. Everyone just followed. We made it to College Street, and there was this officer there. He didn't say, "What the hell are you doing?" He just sort of directed us to turn.

SD: What's something you miss about the early days?

MM: The community then was very — I was part of it, I guess, before I started working here — it had a communal vibe. People felt very invested in it. At the end of the night, people put up the tables and would come and ask you for a rag and spray bottle and start cleaning even though they didn't work here. You wouldn't expect to see that [now].


The original print version of this article was headlined "Creature of Habit"

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