Brewing a new beat: new coffee shop helps local band find its start

What started as a mysterious note in his guitar case from the owners of Daydrink has given one UI junior the chance to grow a band from the ground up.


Raquele Decker

The local band known as Ped Mall play outside of Daydrink coffee shop in downtown Iowa City on Saturday, October 17, 2020.

Josie Fischels, Arts Editor

On a bustling evening outside the downtown Iowa City bars in late August, 20-year-old University of Iowa junior Ethan Traugh was doing one of the things he loved most: jamming on his guitar for passersby. As he packed up his things later that night, he was surprised to find a note among the tips dropped into his guitar case — a small piece of paper marked with a phone number and an opportunity.

Taking a leap and texting the number, Traugh discovered that his talents had been recognized by Connor Moellenbeck and Michael Beyne, the co-founders of Daydrink, a soon-to-be-opened corner coffee shop in the Ped Mall, attached to Basic Goods.

After playing a few gigs to a crowd of brand-new customers for Daydrink’s opening less than a month later, Traugh slowly began to expand his solo sound to include his high school friends. He first added drummer Scott Griffin, then bassist Michael Muhlena and fellow guitarist Quinn Wilcox.

The band was born, appropriately named Ped Mall.

The group lends their laidback, moody sound to downtown Iowa City’s autumn ambiance. Bobbing their heads together on a concrete ledge outside Daydrink, the four friends often improvise on the spot to create their own unique spin on covers of popular indie, R&B, and hip-hop songs — songs that are now complemented by the rattle of fall leaves skittering along the walkways in the wind.

“You can just tell they love to be there, you can tell they just love hanging out,” Daydrink co-founder Moellenbeck said. “They could be doing anything else with their time and they decide to spend it there [at Daydrink], which is really, really cool. And it means a lot.”

Quinn Wilcox, a member of Ped Mall, plays the guitar outside of Daydrink coffee shop in downtown Iowa City on Saturday, October 17, 2020. (Raquele Decker)

Moellenbeck and Beyne created the idea for a pop-up concept coffee shop focused on sustainability after meeting at Dash Coffee Roasters on Linn Street, where Beyne worked. After hanging out and becoming good friends, the duo eventually had the opportunity to open a shop in the space owned by Basic Goods founder Simeon Talley, who Moellenbeck had worked for when he was studying at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

Now the shop serves drinks in reusable glass jars and flasks to the sound of drums and guitars, which Moellenbeck says adds to the shop’s overall environment and goal to be a welcoming, safe space for all.

“It’s a space where anybody can come and learn, anybody can hang out, anybody can just really be present in that space, which is really cool,” he said.

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While Moellenbeck and Beyne made a connection over a shared appreciation for good coffee, the members of the band outside their doors bonded because of a mutual passion for music. Now all juniors at the UI, Traugh, Muhlena, and Wilcox are roommates, with Griffin living only a few blocks away.

This allows Ped Mall to easily get together throughout the pandemic. Whether it’s sharing new ideas for songs in their group chat or gathering with their instruments in Traugh’s bedroom to avoid disturbing their neighbors, the group are able to work out impromptu “rehearsals.” However, given the low stakes and relaxed atmosphere the location provides, Wilcox said the true practices often happen during performances.

“That’s kind of the beauty, the uniqueness about us, is that the rehearsals happen during the show, “ he said. “I don’t feel bad necessarily — if I hit a wrong note or whatever — because we’re going with the flow of it. We don’t have a lot of expectations about what’s going to happen.”

Ped Mall is part of a broader shift in Iowa City to outdoor performances as an alternative source of live entertainment as COVID-19 has eliminated many indoor venues as options.

However, as the band was reminded by the gusty wind and dipping temperatures during a performance last week, the number of comfortable fall days left to play outside this year are limited.

The local band known as Ped Mall play outside of Daydrink coffee shop in downtown Iowa City on Saturday, October 17, 2020. (Raquele Decker)

For now, the band will continue to play on the corner throughout autumn, though the idea to try for gigs at Elray’s Live and Dive, Gabe’s, and other performance venues is definitely prominent in Traugh’s mind. The musician said the group hopes to add a few original songs to their set list as they continue to make music together.

Bandmates point to Traugh for bringing them together to play in the first place.

“I felt really appreciated, because the first times that Ethan would play on the street, he’d make a lot of money,” Griffin said. “We make significantly less money. You have to have people learn songs, [while] he could just go on the street and play. It makes us feel appreciated because it shows how much he values playing with us, and just like the value of the whole group.”

Wilcox said he felt grateful for the opportunity to play live again. He and Griffin, who used to play in a local band called Wacky Willy’s Weiner Warehouse and Uncle Earl’s Earwax Emporium, have not played live since their headlining show at Gabe’s last December.

“It’s just a different dynamic when you’re able to share your talent, your creation, outside of your inner circle and get some feedback,” the guitarist said.