For folks who think a lot about where we work, there’s often talk of a “third space.” There’s home and there’s work. A third offers a place for employees to either meet others and collaborate, or just have a comfortable space as they get stuff done.
Employers have long been squarely responsible for work. With the growth of remote work over the last year, companies have become increasingly comfortable ensuring that employees are set up for success at home, as well. Should they be thinking about the third?
Spend some time with Todd Marks, CEO of Locust Point-based tech agency Mindgrub, and the answer seems to be yes.
In fact, Marks and his wife, Nikki Marks, are providing such a space. Down Fort Avenue from the agency’s HQ at McHenry Row, this month they opened Mindpub, a new cafe in Riverside.
With a kitchen run by Nikki, who previously ran the Mindgrub Cafe food truck, Madame BBQ and Share Kitchen, it’s open for anyone to walk in and order from a menu that includes coffee, breakfast and lunch fare, acai bowls, pastries, and ice cream. (There’s also a sandwich called The Todd which includes all of the following: BBQ pulled pork, sriracha pickles, bacon and deviled egg.) The top two floors of the building include additional kitchen space that is serving as a food incubator. And it’ll host events, as well.
Bringing the space back to life after more than a year of vacancy created a buzz. On one August Sunday, neighbors were intrigued by a chance to get ice cream, so Nikki opened up the shop after normal business hours.
“I came in on Sunday and sat down and worked all day, just because it was a cool vibe,” Todd said, breaking a typical rule of not working on the weekends.
It’s also quickly becoming a hangout for the technologists who work at Mindgrub. When we sat down five days in (ahead of the city’s recently renewed mask mandate), Todd said the company had already held an employee happy hour and leadership meeting at the space. And Mindgrubbers are heading over to work, too. Scooters are in place to make the trip easier.
“Just about every Mindgrubber that was in the office the past two days has been coming here for lunch, which is a lot of fun because it feels like a cafe,” he said.
It seems poised to become an unofficial tech hangout, but like many things in the last year, there’s a pivot involved. Originally, the space was purchased out of necessity for the tech business, and wasn’t meant to be open to the public. Before the pandemic, the headquarters was reaching capacity with 115 local employees. Desks filled the common event space and Mindgrubbers were standing at high-top tables. So Marks purchased the former restaurant space for additional offices. Like many vacants, it had issues: busted plumbing, leaking roof and faulty kitchen equipment. But he was able to fix it up, restoring a building on the block in the meantime.
But with COVID, the company moved to a remote-friendly model that it will keep in place. That meant the extra office space wasn’t needed — in fact, the Mindgrub headquarters is now housing incubator space. But between Todd and Nikki Marks, entrepreneurship formed the common denominator between their food and tech interests, and they created the current model.
It’ll prove useful for the business. Todd Marks has plenty of meetings over lunch and breakfast, and the company was accustomed to paying big tabs at neighboring restaurants. So while they are formally different ventures where Mindgrubbers have to pay to eat, there’s plenty of connecting points.
Mindgrub is expanding nationally, and continuing growth that landed it this week on the Inc. 5000 for the ninth consecutive year. Mindpub is an example of how Todd Marks is spreading out in Baltimore as the company grows, as well. In Pigtown, Marks also recently bought warehouse space that he is calling Future Town, where there won’t only be offices. He has also started a variety of ventures under the Mindgrub umbrella to go along with commercial property, from investment to government contracting to cannabis marketing to robotics.
Going forward, he plans to keep adding outposts for the company. Some will be in Baltimore, and some will be in the pockets where the 70 employees now based in other cities can work together. Some will be offices for software developers and designers, and others will house different pursuits.
“I’m going to continue to invest in Baltimore,” Marks said. “Then as Mindgrub, as we continue to grow nationally … our goal is to start getting offices where we have a saturation of employees or clients.”-30-