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.
...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.
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?