Pulse guide to local virtuous restaurants
There are few needs more basic than food, few rituals more fundamental than breaking bread together. Americans eat out more than ever before—but much of that growth has been in fast food restaurants, an industry that has grown 1,833 percent in the last 35 years. But there is a movement in the other direction, for restaurants that are family-owned and part of a community, places where you can relax with friends.
On the heels of our cover story on Virtuous Businesses (March 9, 2005), Pulse of the Twin Cities is focusing on 10 local restaurants that are the antithesis of fast food. Some of them use solar power, others use organic products, still others offer health care to employees or give to charities. Every one is different, but all of them make the Twin Cities better.
1959 Café: A revolutionary restaurant
By NATE BURCHELL
Revolutionary Cuban cooking right here in Minneapolis? Victor’s 1959
Café, owned and operated by Victor and Niki Valens, offers a variety
of American and authentic Cuban cuisine. Valens, who is Cuban, was taught by
his father how to cook, and decided to share his skills with Minneapolis.
Inside, brightly colored booths fill a dining area covered with enthusiastic
Sharpie testimonials about the food, the restaurant and the cooks. Where there
aren’t scribbles praising the breakfast, there are Cuban posters, pictures
of Cuban musicians (who also seem to love eating at Victor’s) and pictures
Victor’s six-year history has earned national fame as a breakfast restaurant.
One year ago, a remodeled kitchen gave the breakfast joint room for dinner.
Despite a bothersome embargo, Valens has put together a dinner menu that would
make Fidel himself proud. The menus can be browsed on the internet, at Victor’s
The café offers many vegetarian dishes, and some items can be
ordered vegan style. Niki Valens explained that they try to be very accommodating.
They cater, host special events and are very flexible with the menu.
improvement in the past year is a license to serve wine and beer. Victor’s
serves Hatuey, a Cuban beer native to Havana, which is now produced outside
of Cuba (and therefore is not banned by the embargo). Or, if you prefer coffee,
try out “Victor’s Blend,” designed especially for Victor’s
1959 Café by Victor himself. Victor’s Blend (fair trade, from European
Roasters) can be purchased by the cup—fresh ground every time—or
Valens is striving to be on the cutting edge of technology with plans to replace
the asphalt parking lot with Eco-pavers, a new kind of earth-friendly brick.
He also plans to install outdoor seating, a water fountain and a garden of herbs
and flowers to provide an aromatic atmosphere.
Victor’s 1959 Café. 3756 Grand Ave S., Mpls. 612-827-8948
Hard Times: a collective accomplishment
By MICHELLE LEE
may not be the smoky haze it once was, but there is still something unique about
the air in the Hard Times Café. Maybe it’s the greasy-spoon smell
of hash brown remains, lingering in the air and on your clothes for days afterwards;
maybe it’s the loud music, mingling the Ramones with equally loud conversation;
maybe it’s just the general ambiance of a dimly-lit place that’s
open 22 hours a day. Regardless, there’s something luridly enchanting
about this place—something more than seitan Fajitas, vegan brownies and
what is possibly the strongest coffee in Minneapolis.
Over the years, amid a changing West Bank neighborhood, the Hard Times has remained
a key landmark in the city. It’s a place where people of multiple ages,
cultures and living situations can dine for very little money and hang out all
day without hassle. It also makes a strong cultural statement of its own, being
one of the few all-vegetarian restaurants in the city—and, what’s
more, a worker-owned collective.
In fact, the café started with a worker takeover of sorts, back in November
of 1992. When the previous owner could no longer afford to keep it open, his
employees—plus a few more people—decided that they could run it
themselves, and chipped in to reopen it as a collective restaurant, according
to Sean Sinclair, a collective member for two-and-a-half years.
have a lot of food that’s not typical health food; we’re got a lot
of really good greasy food,” Sinclair said. “But you can also get
steamed rice and vegetables, you can get really good healthy stuff as well.”
They also try to get their food locally, ordering as much as possible from local
distributors, and “try[ing] to do as much as we can organic,” Sinclair
A thriving example of the “no bosses” model, the restaurant runs
without a hierarchy. Everyone who works there is an owner or an owner in training,
and at weekly collective meetings, they make decisions using consensus. The
members gravitate toward working in areas where they have expertise, both in
the restaurant and on committees such as financial, personnel and advertising,
according to Sinclair.
“We all try to work together as much as possible to get everything done,
and it’s nice knowing that you have a personal stake in everything that’s
being done, because it is your restaurant, it’s your place,” Sinclair
said. “It affects your work ethic, because you’re not doing it for
someone else’s bank account, you’re doing it for yourself, and you
can directly affect how things are done here, which is really great. You don’t
have that in any other place.”
Hard Times Café, 1821 Riverside Ave.,
Mpls. 612-341-9261. firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Martin’s Table: kitchen missionaries
By ADRIENNE URBANSKI
Located just next door to North Country Co-op on Riverside Ave., St. Martin’s
Table serves up vegetarian meals and political activism. Open since 1984, the
café and bookstore is named after Martins throughout history who worked
toward nonviolence, including Martin Luther King and Martin of Tours.
Open only for lunch, the café offers an entirely organic menu with both
vegetarian and vegan options. Meal selections are kept simple, with a choice
between two soups, usually one vegan and one vegetarian. Vegan and vegetarian
sandwiches are offered as well, which usually consist of spreads on homemade
bread. Desserts of cakes, pies, brownies and cookies are also offered, and are
available vegan. Servers within the café work on an entirely volunteer
basis, donating their tips to charity.
“The servers themselves vote on where they want their tip money to go.Typically
it’s to charities that work with the problem of hunger,” says Dave
Anderson, St. Martin’s general manager.
The St. Martin’s bookstore offers material for both adults and children
on social movements, political activism and conflict resolution.
“We’re focused on providing information on nonviolence, as we have
a world that is more and more about solving conflict through wars,” says
Kathleen Olsen, the bookstore’s manager.
Seward Community Café: a Minneapolis tradition
By NATE BURCHELL
is home to the oldest collectively run café in the nation: Seward Community
Café, established in 1974.
JoAnn Blohoviak, an employee/owner, described the café as “a mission-driven
business” dedicated to three principles, the first being collective ownership.
Each employee earns the same wage and becomes an owner within about a year of
beginning work. The employees/owners, of which there are about 10 to 16 at any
given point, manage the business by committee. As a member of national and local
coalitions of collectively owned businesses, Seward Café contributes
to the growing accessibility of organic products. It purchases fair-trade organic
Peace Coffee, and even owns stock in its herbal tea supplier. Its mission statement,
as well as a menu and other information, can be found on the café’s
The second basic principle is community involvement. Seward Café serves
as a meeting place for benefits, parties and meetings. The community, according
to JoAnn, reaches beyond its Franklin Avenue neighborhood to as far away as
Uptown and St. Paul. The café also serves as an art gallery of sorts:
every month, the work of a new local artist is displayed on the walls. Seward
hosts live music on Friday nights and occasionally on Saturday afternoons. Seward
Café is even involved with community gardening.
The final piece of Seward’s mission statement, its food policy, describes
their commitment to sustainable agriculture. The café works hard to serve
organic and local food as much as possible. Most of the menu is vegetarian,
and customers can order any dish vegan. The café even provides options
for people avoiding sugar, wheat or dairy products.
Long known for its greasy breakfasts, Seward Café has a growing lunch
menu. This includes soup, fresh salads (made of local organic produce), homemade
salad dressing and homemade bread (all made in the restaurant with local organic
flour). Another new offering is organic pizza on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays
from 6 p.m. to midnight, dine-in or delivered by bike.
2129 E Franklin Ave. Mpls, 55404. (612) 332-1011
Café of the Americas: fairly traded food
By NANCY SARTOR
Chef Jeannie Inglehart sits at a table sorting the unsavory-looking characters
from a 100-pound bag of black beans. Organic beans and rice are just two of
the many Latino dishes served at the café. Breads, muffins, cookies and
bars are baked daily on site. Vegetarian and chicken tamales, the most popular
menu items, are handmade at La Loma in Mercado Central and brought to the café
each day. Soups are homemade, as are specialty drinks like horchata—iced
rice milk sweetened with vanilla and cinnamon—and chia—an unusual
and refreshing garnet-colored seed drink served cold, and popular in Nicaragua
For eight years, Café of the Americas, located in the Resource Center
of the Americas, has been serving up homemade delicacies using organic and fair
trade products from local cooperatives, selling them at affordable prices and
engaging in community outreach activities both in the Twin Cities and in Central
Inglehart extols the necessity of fair trade. “Because the Resource Center
is involved with matters of globalization, we are concerned with the workers,
that they be paid a living wage so their children can be fed, clothed and go
to school,” Inglehart said. “And that’s what fair trade means:
that there’s enough money all year round.”
The Café pays $1.49 per pound for fair trade coffee, compared to an average
$.79 per pound that corporate companies pay. Inglehart notes that, “Many
of these crops—like coffee and bananas—are seasonal, so if they’re
[the laborers] only paid a tiny bit during the season, it means they go hungry
the rest of the year. Even if they’re eating rice and beans.”
A bulletin board on one end of the restaurant is bursting with thank-you cards,
letters and postcards from grateful individuals and organizations, confirming
Inglehart’s community involvement. She proudly points to a card from Youth
Farm, a summer program that teaches children about gardening, cooking and art,
and features guest chefs.
In addition to planning for expenses like advertising, Inglehart figures trades
and outreach programs into her overall budget. That includes providing food
for pledge drives at community radio stations (KFAI, Radio K and MPR), as well
as catering to school groups and other community organizations.
Beginning July 12, Café of the Americas will share a booth with Peace
Coffee at the Midtown Farmers Market every Tuesday night through October. A
presence at the market, and at the annual Green Expo that takes place in May,
is important for the Café. Inglehart says her catering business, about
20 percent of the overall operation and her biggest profit center, has been
cut in half during the recession that’s plagued the country during this
Still, Inglehart’s outlook and her commitment to community service are
much like her popular chia drink—distinguished, rosy and refreshing.
Open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to
3 p.m. Resource Center of the Americas, 3019 Minnehaha Avenue, Mpls. 612-276-0803.
Old Man River Café: Solar- powered coffee
By JAN WILLMS
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
This old truism was recently brought home to Jon Kerr, co-owner with Chuck Dubacek
of the Old Man River Café at 879 Smith Ave. S., West St. Paul. A few
weeks ago, an older customer reminisced about growing up in the area and finally
being allowed to ride his bike as far as the café’s location. It
was a drugstore then, and he rode over to get candy. A few days later, another
customer who resides in the neighborhood mentioned that his young son had received
permission to ride his bike as far as Old Man River Café.
The restaurant has become the first to offer solar-powered, shade-grown coffee. Dubacek
and Kerr wanted to try using solar power to roast their coffee beans, and with
contributions from the state of Minnesota and about 50 individuals, created
the “Sunnyside Project.” The $12,000 solar power roaster went into
effect in December 2003, according to Kerr.
The coffee beans are organic and grown in the shade, a process that allows the
beans to ripen more slowly.
Old Man River provides a menu of soup, salads, pizza, ice cream and sandwiches
and a variety of hot and cold drinks. The family-friendly coffee house also
sponsors a Tom Sawyer fence-painting festival in late summer, features a Tom
Sawyer mural and plenty of space for children to play while accompanying their
Old Man River provides a venue for all types of musicians to play on weekends,
and the free admission draws crowds. This summer, Old Man River will also be
the site of rehearsals for “Pike’s Pique, or 200 Years and Still
Not Lewis and Clark,” a play written by Kerr for the Fringe Festival.
Performances will be Aug. 6-14 at the Acadia, 1931 Nicollett Ave., Minneapolis.
The coffee shop is open seven days a week.
879 S Smith Ave. West St Paul, MN 55118. 651-450-7070
Lucia’s: The Queen of Cuisine in Minnesota
By ED FELIEN
this paper avoids royal titles. We are anti-royal, anti-clerical and anti-authoritarian,
but while generally maintaining our consistently iconoclastic attitudes, the
contributions of Lucia Watson to Minnesota cuisine have to be acknowledged and
Putting aside just for the moment her food, her other accomplishments would
easily earn her our gratitude and respect. People who have worked in her restaurant
have gone on to create restaurants of their own that, while never exact clones,
share the same attention to detail and presentation of food, the same emphasis
on fresh, organic and locally grown produce and the same effortless elegance
as their original: The Birchwood Café; Easy Creek in Arkansas, Wisconsin;
Bobino’s; Sapor; Grand Bakery; Levain and the catering companies of Beth
Fisher and Scott McKenzie. These institutions all owe some debt to lessons learned
Lucia Watson is Chair of the Youth Farm Project. She has been active with them
for seven years as a buyer, mentor and member of the Board. The project now
has a budget of half a million dollars and serves three neighborhoods: Lyndale,
Powderhorn and West St. Paul. Summer is the busiest time when they work with
175 kids aged 9 to 13, but the Project is active all year long. They’ve
got a greenhouse. They’ve recently started a Project Leads for kids over
13. “We don’t necessarily want to grow,” she says.
Lucia’s first opened on Valentine’s Day in 1985. It took over a
plumbing store on 31st Street just off Hennepin in Uptown. With the addition
of a wine bar, it now occupies three storefronts. She is adding a fourth adjacent
storefront on September 7. It will be a completely separate business from the
restaurant and wine bar. It will be a bakery that will feature take-out food
and flowers. There will be soups, salads, sandwiches, special butters and olive
oils, and they will pack picnic baskets. She wanted to include wines as part
of the picnic and off-to-the-cabin baskets, but the Minneapolis City Council
in its infinite wisdom wouldn’t grant her an off sale wine license because
she was 25 feet inside the 500-foot limit set by Hennepin Lake Liquors. The
liquor laws say you can’t have an off sale license within 500 feet of
another off sale license, and the doorway of the new shop would be only 475
feet from the front door of Hennepin Lake. It seems strange that they wouldn’t
allow her to get an off sale license from the restaurant, the original business,
where the door is probably outside the limit, or make some other accommodation
to allow her to put a few bottles of wine in picnic baskets. “That’s
a great law, if you’re a liquor store,” she said, “I’d
like to have that law as a restaurant. No other restaurant within 500 feet.”
She was joking. I reminded her that when Kim Bartman of Bryant Lake Bowl opened
the Suburban World as a dinner theater just around the corner from her restaurant,
Lucia bought her staff tickets to opening night because two of her staff people
were in the show. That is the kind of generosity of spirit that is uncommon
among restaurateurs and defines her as extraordinary.
By the way, the food is the best in town.
1432 W 31st St. Mpls, 55408. (612) 825-1572
Sonny’s: Ice Cream and more
By TROY PIEPER
Since Sonny Siron opened his South Minneapolis malt shop in 1945, his son Ron
and Ron’s partner Carrie Gustafson have taken Sonny’s ice cream
and crossed boundaries into new lactic frontiers with unconventional flavors
and unconventional health consciousness.
All of the ice cream—in flavors like green tea and ginger root—
is completely organic. Siron and Gustafson’s Crema Café at 34th
Street and Lyndale Avenue is a sit-down place, but their ice cream is available
at co-ops and upscale grocery stores, too. Manager Dan Nelson likes schlepping
the ice cream (and sorbet), he says, because it’s so damn tasty, and because
of the owners’ dedication to its organic-ness. “They make five-
to ten-gallon batches by hand,” he says. And it shows in the taste, according
to 23-year-olds Maria and Abbie, who eat Raspberry-Pinot Noir sorbet on the
café’s outdoor “Piazza.” Organic is great they say,
but it’s the appeal to their Uptown-refined palates that keeps them coming
Gustafson and Siron also support local growers, because “buying locally
is all about having choices.” But Gustafson criticizes large national
and multinational food distributors for “jumping on the organics bandwagon,”
and limiting the choices available to small businesses. The organic milk in
Sonny’s ice cream used to come straight from the udders of Sauk Center
cows to the cafe. But now a company called Horizon buys up that milk, and Siron
and Gustafson have to get theirs several states away.
The two ice cream gurus say the future of organic food, as a result of these
changes, is shaky. Not long ago, the private agencies that certify food as organic
came under the umbrella of (you guessed it) the federal government. Now large
organics distributors lobby the United States Department of Agriculture to accept
the use of certain pesticides on the foods it certifies. Not to worry, Sonny’s
organic ice cream, as well as being delicious, is still pesticide-free.
Cafe and Creamery under one roof. 3403 Lyndale Ave S. Mpls, 55408. 612-824-3868
Bryant Lake Bowl: Where theater meets lunch
By NANCY SARTOR
After a dozen years as the owner of Bryant Lake Bowl, Kim Bartmann defines
herself as “a steward of this business.” Her steadfast resolve and
Zen-like attitude have enabled her to persevere in an industry fraught with
obstacles. From the snail’s pace bureaucracy of the city liquor board
to a contentious relationship with a landlord who lacks artistic vision, Bartmann
has managed to not only run a successful restaurant, but to build a business
that adheres to sustainable practices.
How does she do it? “I get a lot of joy out of this business,” she
says. “You have to let go and move on. It’s a life skill as much
as a business skill.”
When Bartmann opened BLB in 1993, she was determined to create a business that
was sensitive to the environment of the staff. “As a business person,
my focus was on doing things differently as far as employees were concerned.
That meant [offering] health insurance, flexible scheduling and a more sane
work environment than your typical corporate restaurant.”
She was also one of the first restaurant owners to come out publicly—with
staff support—in favor of the smoking ban before it became law, believing
that, “It’s a worker right issue, a health issue.”
Although Bartmann admits it’s taken years to transition BLB’s menu
to nearly all locally based products, it’s a feat she’s recently
achieved. The only products not procured from local purveyors are the turkey
and the seafood, but those are sustainably harvested.
Beef comes from Minnesota family farmed, grass-fed cows that are butchered and
divied up between BLB (burgers) and Bartmann’s sister restaurant, Barbette
(steaks and roasts). Pork and cheeses come from local vendors, as do organic
eggs and chickens.
Buying local, sustainable products is, “Just really good business,”
says Bartmann, who does so for “health issues, environmental issues and
issues regarding the humane treatment of animals.”
Besides food and beverage policies, BLB has been a champion of what Bartmann
describes as “social entrepreneurship” with its storefront theater,
which over the years has included everything from music, dance and theater to
comedy and performance art. Bartmann credits former and current artistic directors
with implementing the theater’s vision.
“The theater is unique in that it provides an opportunity for artists
who might not otherwise be able to present their work,” says Bartmann.
“I think that art and theater and music are integral parts of any healthy
community. I do what I can do to support that.”
The policy of splitting ticket sales with theater artists encourages them to
pack the house. According to Bartmann, nonprofit theaters typically generate
about 40-50 percent of their revenues through ticket sales. At BLB, revenue
is between 70-80 percent of ticket sales.
Still, the restaurant has financially supported the theater since the beginning,
so Bartmann is in the process of obtaining nonprofit status for the venue. She
says she’s got a cadre of support from friends and colleagues who are
willing to help wade through the mounds of paperwork.
Philanthropically, BLB donates food and gift certificates to “dozens and
dozens” of organizations throughout the Twin Cities, including Kulture
Klub Collaborative, a Minneapolis based group that pairs homeless youth with
810 W Lake St. Mpls, 55408. 612-825-3737. BryantLakeBowl.com.
Open 8am-1am Daily
Blue Moon: Building a fan club for 11 years
By CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL
Lisa Berg and Cindy Kangas trade greetings with current and former neighbors
at the Blue Moon Coffee Café on a muggy Thursday afternoon, 11 years
after they turned the formerly empty building into a neighborhood meeting institution.
The two were afraid at first that the community might not support their business;
at that time, coffee shops were seen as fancy and intimidating. Initially, Berg
and Kangas had to explain some of the coffee-shop terms to the neighbors. But
they soon found neighbors getting to know each other while waiting in line;
the shop “wipes out anonymity,” says Cindy. Now, both enjoy hearing
customers refer to the Blue Moon as “our coffee shop.”
Many of these customers have since moved from the neighborhood, but still return
weekly from suburbs clear across the metro. The shop has many GLBT customers,
who find it a welcoming environment.
Blue Moon’s friendly atmosphere is aided by clerk shifts that last five
hours, to keep the workers fresh. This is no ploy to avoid offering benefits;
they actually provide health insurance to those who work most often. Employees
seem to enjoy the shop; Sibby and Chinda have both worked for the Blue Moon
since they were legally old enough and now attend college.
Berg and Kangas estimate that 75 percent of their coffee is organic, all fair-traded.
They have offered organic coffee since first opening the doors—long before
it was economical to do so—but they are more interested in providing a
comfortable environment than self-promotion.
The two describe themselves not as business owners but as “shepherds”
of a flock that can feel safe, at a coffee shop that invites everyone to feel
at home. ||
3822 E Lake St. Mpls. 612-721-9230
Pulse of the Twin Cities also recommends the following restaurants. For
more information on good local businesses check out the Twin Cities Green Guide
and the Blue Sky Guide (www.findbluesky.com).
Fireroast Mountain Café
3800 37th Ave S, Minneapolis | 612-724-9895
3311 East 25th Street | Minneapolis MN 55406
3753 42nd Ave S | Minneapolis, MN
612-722-7234 | RiverviewCafe.net
300 1st Ave. N. | Minneapolis, MN 55401
612-342-9230 | CafeBrenda.com
4754 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis
612-825-2021 | PumphouseCreamery.com
1930 Hennepin Ave S | Minneapolis, MN 55403
612-871-0777 | AurigaRestaurant.com
Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar
308 Prince St, St. Paul | 651-228-9274
Anodyne Coffee @ 43rd
4301 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis
612-824-4300 | AnodyneCoffeeHouse.com
Cahoots Coffee Bar
1562 Selby Ave | St Paul, MN | 651-644-6778
Trotter`s Cafe & Bakery
232 Cleveland Ave N | St Paul, MN 55104
651-645-8950 | Trotters-StPaul.com
Mill City Cafe
75 22nd Ave NE, Minneapolis | 612-789-8262
Swede Hollow Coffee Cafe
725 E 7th St, St Paul | 651-776-8810
428 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis
612-375-1971 | SaporCafe.com
791 Raymond Ave | St Paul, MN 55114
651-646-2655 | ChetsTaverna.com
Tanpopo Noodle Shop
308 Prince St, St Paul | 651-209-6527 | www.tanpopo-noodle.com