Sunday, September 23, 2012

Avenue Eatery Closes its Doors; Northisde Misses the Idea a Good Coffee Shop

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

As of September 21st, the Avenue Eatery on Broadway and Emerson closed its doors for the last time.  I'll miss what the coffee shop promised to be when it opened a year and a half ago.  But the place failed to deliver on its potential and was mostly a disappointment.  At its grand opening, soup, fresh sandwiches, cheesecake, and ice cream were all served.  Outdoor seating was available, with a longer-term permit supposedly in the works.  There was talk of live music coming to the eatery.  The management at the time seemed to have all the right pieces in place to bring the north side a truly great coffee shop.

But then...

...the place abruptly closed down for a few weeks while it was undergoing new management.  From a customer standpoint, this move was confusing because almost everything about the management before the temporary closure was excellent.  The Avenue Eatery was never the same after that.

Basic problems with service.

Many of my visits were punctuated by baristas who were sitting at a table when I came in, instead of working behind the counter.  The gesture of having to get up and walk around behind the cash register to take my order sent a message that the customer was secondary to the employee's socializing or current round of Angry Birds.  I remember a few times when the barista didn't even get off of a cell phone call with a friend while she rang me up.

Other northsiders have pointed out that employees often wore pajama bottoms, and that wardrobe sent the message that these people didn't care about their job, the restaurant, or their customers.  I'd have to agree.  *Maybe* pajamas could work as a kitsch factor to draw customers in.  Have everyone wear pajamas as the standard work attire.  Throw in a slogan like "We were tired before our first cup too."  Make contests for who could come up with the craziest pajama getup.  If the manner of dressing were embraced and used as a draw, it could have been brilliant.  Instead, it was just another sign that people didn't really care all that much.

One friend of mine reported going there only to find out they had run out of Earl Grey tea.  Another time I was told they were out of coffee.  How does a coffee shop run out of coffee and tea?  If there is ONE THING people expect when they enter a coffee shop, it is that they will leave with more caffeine in their system than they had before.  Caffeine and good service can absolve a lot of missteps.  The Avenue Eatery sometimes had neither.

The nadir of my experience with the eatery was when I came in one Saturday morning and asked for a tankard of coffee for a meeting I had.  They did not have enough coffee made to fill the container.  No biggie; I had to pick up a few other supplies anyway.  I put in the order and ran some errands.  I came back forty minutes later and the coffee still wasn't made.  On top of that, they couldn't find a lid for the tankard, and the ensuing search kept me from arriving early to the meeting to set up.  Instead, I missed the beginning by about fifteen minutes and their mistakes caused me and my organization to look unprofessional.

(How does one fail to make a pot of coffee in forty minutes after an order has already been submitted?  I could have gone home and made twice the amount in half the time.)

If coffee and tea were scarce, good luck with other staples like pastries and breakfast sandwiches.  I understand there's a risk of having too much food on hand and then either not selling it or selling when it's no longer fresh.  On that continuum however, Avenue Eatery had too little food far too often.  Now these were not specialty items that were difficult to come by or could only be prepared by a certain chef.  These were the basic products on most any coffee shop's menu.

Unfulfilled potential.

Almost everything the Avenue Eatery promised to be at its grand opening never came to fruition.  Outdoor seating didn't happen.  Live music didn't happen.  Parties to display artwork didn't happen.  A quality menu never materialized.  Their Facebook page shows no activity for eight months.  It was as if the new management thought that since Broadway didn't have a coffee shop, they were just entitled to the community's business by default.

I'm not sure how much can be attributed to Catalyst Community Partners, but they were the owners of the business.  Catalyst did do great things with the building itself, but towards the end of their run in north Minneapolis they also exhibited disregard for the community and acted as if we should have just been grateful for their presence.  In any case, the Avenue Eatery never felt like a business that was aggressively pursuing customer patronage.  Instead, they were the place to go by default because there wasn't anything else around.

That didn't work so well, now did it?

14 comments:

  1. I'm piling on here, but even THE NAME gives me a case of the blahs. "Avenue Eatery"? That's the best someone could come up with? Even Broadway Eatery or Emerson Eatery would have at least given a name with a sense of place. How is a place supposed to carve out an identity inside the shop when the name on the outside tells the customer nothing of importance or distinction?

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  2. The abrupt change was definitely when Shericka left. When Shericka was there, she treated it like it was her own and everything was "on point." She loved discussing the next improvement she was working on (such as the outdoor seating). After her departure it was never the same. Nobody after her took the same pride in it. After all, it wasn't there coffee shop. It was run by a non profit. I think that was the ultimate failing. It lacked the pride and personality that an owner brings to their business. I do think there is a market for a coffee shop on West Broadway. Avenue Eatery just wasn't fitting the bill.

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  3. I never had a problem with "Avenue Eatery" as a name. I sort of thought it was a nod to the fact that folks who have a close relationship with West Broadway refer to it simply as "the Avenue." So me, that had meaning.

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  4. The story of north Minneapolis is a nutshell, unfulfilled potential. So many agencies and organizations all boasting what great things they can and will do for the north side, yet every day it's the same old thing. Millions of dollars funneled into the area neighborhood groups, and barely a damn thing to show for it.
    It's a good thing JCA works in the north side. It's the only organization that actually seems to be helping people.

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  5. 11:23 ...All that money doesn't just disappear.

    Most of it goes to well meaning idyllic social service personnel who firmly believe that the saddening lack of civilized behaviors that we see along West Broadway and in our neighborhoods can be overcome by offering one substandard service at a time.

    The rest goes to poverty pimp investors who are eager to use these public funds to profit on speculative ventures.

    The one thing these groups have in common is that very few actually homestead in this community, so those funds leave to support their suburban life styles.

    If they did live here, they would want to see that funding going into more enforcement and regulation that would improve the livability of our community so that consumers might actually take advantage and enjoy our urban streetscapes and these businesses could be profitable.

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  6. Well, maybe there is a silver lining. The employees at the new MPLS school building need a place to eat and maybe the location can be quickly turned into a functional cafe. Right now Broadway offers absolutely zero options for a healthy, sit-down meal and therefore no appeal for anyone from elsewhere in the city to come here. Twin Cities folk are g-d serious about their food and a decent place to eat is key for encouraging other businesses to come back here.

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  7. Look, the only thing that will succeed there is a liquor store, so get to building it and face your areas stark reality.

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  8. They were closed on Sundays. This is a largely residential area with lots of places of worship and thousands of people in the area Sunday morning. I never got that.

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  9. Long-time resident of North. In my experience/opinion, people who live in North are STARVING to support good, local businesses. That DOESN'T mean ANY piece of crap business will be patronized (see Avenue Eatery). One of the main benefits of living in North is the proximity and easy access to downtown. Northside businesses actually have to compete with places downtown/nearby. They have to have the same quality, affordable prices, or appeal as other places Northsiders can reach relatively easily. The Avenue Eatery had horrible food, horrible service, at ridiculous prices. It would have failed, no matter where it was located. Put a WELL-RUN, worth-while business in North and it WILL succeed, just like anywhere else. Northsiders WILL support it, if you give them a reason to. See Papa's Pizza, Victory 44, and The Lowry Cafe as prime eamples of restaurants doing it right. We just need more of them.

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  10. If you want a business to succeed you must tell your male employees to pull their pants back up over their ass and put the damn cell phone down and quit treating people like shit. I assume that half of the rude individuals that worked there will end up dead or in jail trying to take the "easy" route.

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  11. Lowry Cafe is excellent. I have visited many equivalently-sized diners across the country and the Lowry remains the only restaurant that prepares food that is like homemade both in quality and portioning. I enjoy the Cuban sandwich even more with each visit!

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  12. There were no male employees that worked there in the last year who wore baggy jeans or treated people poorly. There was one female employee who was not a good worker, but the other workers were very hospitable and friendly. The drinks were consistent, which they hadn't been in previous years. I went there almost every, and rarely saw other north-siders. Without consistent traffic, a business cannot hire employees, or is subject to a small pool of candidates that will work for little pay.

    Stop complaining and start supporting local businesses.

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  13. A small pool of candidates that will work for little pay? You sound like a white enabler who defends the rudeness of poor minorities. Were you there from opening to closing and see every transaction? How do you know there weren't other northsiders disgusted with the"service"? Also, why the hell DID it close?
    Stop enabling and feeling sorry for irresponsible behavior.

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