BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Seward Cafe is back! After a launch event in April, the Seward Cafe officially reopened, albeit with some changes, on May 16. Since the pandemic and the George Floyd uprising, the cafe has been closed although the collective owners and the building were not idle, at various times hosting the Seward Free Store and, in the kitchen, Southside Food Share and Midori’s Floating World (until Midori’s acquired a new space on Lake Street last year).
Currently, the cafe hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, and the menu is limited to coffee and tea. They continue to host and work with local mutual aid programs, fundraisers for radical causes and neighborhood activists. Find out more at their newly updated website: www.sewardcafe.com.
Just west of the Seward Cafe is Franklin Avenue newcomer Bolé Express and Lounge, the second location for the popular Ethiopian restaurant in St. Paul’s Como neighborhood. Three years ago, an earlier version of Bolé Express was just about to open at the original University Avenue location of the restaurant, but it burned down during the unrest surrounding George Floyd’s murder. Now recently opened in Seward, Bolé Express serves fast-casual Ethiopian fare, focusing on quick service, authentic taste, and healthy options, including vegetarian and vegan menu items. It’s located at 2111 E. Franklin Ave.
Other great places to eat are also found along Franklin Avenue. Among those I like to (sadly infrequently) frequent are She Royal Bar and Bistro with its delicious and affordable vegetarian Ethiopian food, Soberfish with its choice of excellent sushi or well-executed Thai favorites, Maria’s Café for breakfast, and way over west on the corner of Nicollet and Franklin, NOLA-style seafood spot Cajun Boiling for takeout or delivery.
Did you know that there is a 50-plus-year-old housing cooperative on Franklin Avenue? Built in the late 1960s as a private rental development, the Franklin Housing Co-op at 2300 E. Franklin is part of the Riverton Community Housing organization, which operates zero-equity housing co-ops, some, like Franklin Avenue, with affordability options, and others for student housing. With housing in the desirable Seward neighborhood getting more expensive, this might be an option if you’re afraid of getting priced out.
If you live on or near Franklin Avenue, you have a lot of choices for grocery shopping. Of course there is the Seward Co-op at 2823 E. Franklin, which is a favorite of mine since I’m a longtime member. If I need to save money, though, there is Aldi at 1311 E. Franklin Ave.
And just across the street from Aldi, if it happens to be a Thursday between June and October, there is the Four Sisters Farmers Market, one of the smallest and most interesting farmers’ markets in the city. Four Sisters opened on Thursday, June 1, this year, and features foods from Dream of Wild Health (as well as other vendors), including some heritage varieties and herbs that you can’t get at other markets. If you’re not familiar with Dream of Wild Health, check them out at this site: dreamofwildhealth.org. The market is located in the parking lot of 1414 E. Franklin and runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They take SNAP, Market Bucks and cash, and some vendors take cards.
One thing there is not a lot of along Franklin Avenue is retail. That’s why it’s so important to patronize the businesses that are there. Jack’s Hardware and Farm Supply (and bicycle repair) is the current store occupying 2201 Franklin Ave., the original site, way back in the 1970s, of Seward Co-op, and most recently Welna II Hardware. Jack’s Hardware has diversified a bit in its offerings. They have three new things since they opened a few years ago: bicycle repair services and bike parts and accessories; a handyman service that includes locksmith services, as well as painting, plumbing and the usual handyman stuff; and, only for the over-21 crowd, THC beverages. Yes, it is a rather unusual offering for a hardware store, but the drinks cooler was already sitting right there, so why not? It appears to be a popular line. They also have lots of garden supplies, including hay bales, soil, starter plants, etc. Don’t drive out to the suburbs! Keep your local shops in business!
Two venerable institutions on Franklin Avenue have renovation news. For Norway House, the news is that their renovation – an expansion in fact – was completed in the fall of 2022 and celebrated with a Grand Opening and Block Party on Oct. 15. In attendance were Queen Sonja of Norway, many donors and volunteers from Norway House, the Norwegian artist Finn Eirik Modahl (who produced the new stainless-steel sculpture “Seeds”), members of the neighboring Norwegian language church, and hundreds of other neighbors and fans of Norway House. The project, which included building a new annex, the 18,000 square-foot Innovation and Culture Center, was undertaken in order to upgrade Norway House into a welcoming and inclusive representative and repository of modern Norwegian culture here in Minnesota.
The other hot spot on Franklin Avenue is just beginning renovations this year. This is the Minneapolis American Indian Center or MAIC. After many years of planning, they broke ground on an ambitious ($32.5 million) construction project last December. In addition to upgrading systems and designs in the nearly 50-year-old building, the project will add over 16,000 square feet of new space to the complex.
The new design calls for an impressive entrance right on Franklin Avenue with ceremonial space, and also expands and moves the Gatherings Cafe up from the basement to face the avenue. There will be larger and more modern fitness space, office spaces, and a greatly expanded art gallery. The renovations are so extensive that the building is closed for the duration and services and programs have been moved to nearby partner locations, such as the Little Earth Learning Center and the Many Rivers East Building. The first phase of construction is expected to be complete by summer of 2025.
Franklin Avenue houses some great community organizations, and three of them are in the former Bethany Lutheran Church building, an institution on Franklin Avenue since 1902. Bethany Lutheran closed as a church in September of 2021. In anticipation of the closing, they voted to give their then-101-year-old church building to Augsburg University. Read all about this part of the church history and its interesting beginnings in this piece in Southside Pride by Elaine Klaassen: southsidepride.com/2021/09/20/bethany-lutheran-church-closed-sept-12.
The current tenants in the former-church-cum-community-center are Soup For You! Cafe, a free lunch program started by the church eight years ago; CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has had its offices in the building for years also; and Open Door Learning, an adult education center. I don’t know a lot about Open Door Learning, apart from the fact that they offer adult literacy, citizenship classes and college prep, all free. I have visited Soup For You! several times. They offer free hot lunches, with soup, sides and coffee, five days a week from noon to 1 p.m. in a cafe-style, full-service setting. Their soups are restaurant quality, I’m not kidding. All are welcome, and if you’re too rich to be visiting a soup kitchen, just be nice and drop a $50 bill in the donation can.