BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Cafes and coffee shops
I visited a couple of places on Selby Avenue but barely scraped the surface of the classic or quirky coffee shops, patisseries and breakfast cafes that dot the length of Selby. In a single day, a friend and I had lunch at Golden Thyme and dessert at Yellowbird Coffee Bar. There is a lot of buzz right now about BIPOC-owned coffee shops, but a lot of Twin Citians may not have known that Mychael Wright founded Golden Thyme in 2000, as well as founding the Selby Avenue JazzFest. Recently I heard that Wright is handing over the reins of Golden Thyme. See twincities.com/2023/08/11/golden-thyme-coffee-shop-in-st-paul-to-get-a-new-owner for the whole story. Golden Thyme’s drinks are all named after famous jazz artists. They are top notch quality, and they have non-dairy milk options. The decor, too, reflects the jazz world, with old instruments used as light fixtures and occasional furniture. The walls are covered with art and photos reflecting Black history and local BIPOC culture. The menu is simple, cheap and accessible.
Yellowbird Coffee Bar shares a small storefront building with a hair salon. There is even a connecting door between the two businesses. The vibe there is that of a very close-knit, proud, working-class neighborhood. My friend and I were the only ones in the place on a weekday afternoon who were not solitary and with a laptop, and possibly the only ones from outside the neighborhood. They have great drinks, both hot and cold, and a pastry case with a wide selection.
Some other coffee shops of note are Nina’s Coffee Cafe at Selby and Western in the Blair Arcade building, and Wee Claddagh Coffee, which is the extension of a larger place on West Seventh. Another neighborhood favorite was Cahoots Coffee Bar, which has spent the summer changing its name and ownership and being refitted. It is now in the soft opening stage as Luminary Coffeehouse, open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays. Two more well-loved establishments grace the intersection of Selby and Snelling – Rose Street Patisserie, with both sweet and savory offerings, and Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, which besides selling bakery goods also offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. Other breakfast/lunch cafes along Selby Avenue include the New Louisiana Cafe, the Neighborhood Cafe and the French Hen Cafe.
Some stellar nonprofits and radical innovators
In Black Ink is a nonprofit located next door to Golden Thyme. Their mission is promoting Black authors and publishers and preserving Black stories and histories. They have two major projects going on – producing the Rondo Children’s Book Series and recording oral histories of Black elders in the Rondo and surrounding Black communities. If you want to know more, in addition to a Facebook page, the organization has a great website, with an online bookstore where you can buy a few of the books. inblackink.org/store
Closer to the cathedral, in the Blair Arcade, there are two women-centered nonprofits (not related to each other). The newer one is The Coven. This is part of the recent wave of co-working spaces, but it’s more than just a hot desk office venue. In a 2018 article, the media arts nonprofit Pollen wrote: “The first of its kind … The Coven is a new
community and co-working space created ‘by women, for women and those who identify as non-binary,’ built on a system that values inclusion, mentorship, and abundance.” Post-pandemic, The Coven has grown to three Twin Cities spaces, and has a platform where people can invest in it via a crowdfunding model, and also offer franchise opportunities to spread their witchy energy to other towns and states.
The older one is also a “first of its kind.” Founded in 1989 by a merger of two nonprofits, the first such merger in the Twin Cities, WomenVenture is now massive in its scope. The services they offer are training, lending (offering U.S. Small Business Administration loans and micro-loans) and child care business services. They have backed hundreds of women-owned new businesses, and delivered training in leadership, entrepreneurship and more. Check out their business directory of 414 clients at www.womenventure.org/client-directory.
Restaurants, bars, small businesses … and the coming B Line
J. Selby’s is another landmark spot on Selby Avenue. It was part of the growing wave of vegan eateries back in 2017, its debut year. The cafe is now owned by the Herbivorous Butcher siblings, Aubry and Kale Walch, who bought the business from founder Matt Clayton and took over at the start of 2023.
The Walches had hoped to put a little parklet/patio outside the Selby frontage, but learned a few months into their tenancy that a) Selby Avenue would be closed in early summer for construction of the Metro Transit B Line, a rapid bus service (BRT), and b) one of the BRT stops would be located right at their door on Selby. They were not the only Selby Avenue business owners caught off guard by the poor stakeholder engagement by Metro Transit. Tameka Jones, owner of nearby beauty salon Lip Esteem, and brand-new business owner Aretta-Rie Johnson of the Tooth Fairy Candy Store both complained of inadequate warning and no public input on the timing of the construction.
There are a lot of diverse small businesses on Selby Avenue as well as restaurants, bars and coffee shops. From Fairview Avenue’s crossing
down to Dale Street, there are around half a dozen antique stores or vintage stores. One notable example is Northwest
Architectural Salvage at 981 Selby Ave., which sells items like light fixtures, doorknobs, bath fixtures, doors and built-ins recycled from older homes. A great new addition to the avenue is Betty’s Antiques, which had its grand opening in June. Their lovely store is chock-full of classic, European-inspired items including elegant antique furniture, rugs, tableware, baskets, linens and much more.
In addition to J. Selby’s there are lots of great restaurants and bars on Selby Avenue. Two of them have changed owners and names recently. The former Bon Vie Bistro is now The High Hat, opened in July by Michael Noyes, formerly of W. A. Frost. And the former home of The Naughty Greek is now occupied by Spicy Feta. Any of these excellent places would make a good night out on Selby Avenue. Finally, let’s not
forget everyone’s favorite, Pizza Lucé, at 1183 Selby Ave. Besides their award-winning gourmet pizzas, Pizza Lucé offers a full menu of appetizers, salads, pastas, hoagies and desserts, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options across the board. They also have happy hour and late-night food and drink specials. And for those nights when you just feel like staying in, they also have efficient curbside pickup service or free home delivery from one of their eight neighborhood locations across the metro area.