Officially, it’s the Lake Elmo Coffee shop.
But it could be called the Comeback Cafe.
After all, the new store is seen by city officials as a clear sign of a revival for Lake Elmo’s historic downtown. The city has spent millions to upgrade the area in hopes of attracting quaint, locally owned businesses — and the new coffee shop fits that discription.
City Administrator Kristina Handt said the coffee shop will open in November as the first new retail business downtown. It will join an insurance agency, which opened in April.
“These are not large establishments. They are unique local businesses,” she said. They will help preserve the city’s old-time charm, even as the city installs new streets, lights, sidewalks and sewers.
The coffee shop is the brainchild of Paul and Sarah Marshall, who live in Lake Elmo.
Paul said the idea came to them last year, when Sarah casually mentioned that the downtown would be a good place for a coffee shop.
They began to think about it. Paul Marshall knew how to run a business, being an owner of Catrina’s Mexican Restaurant, with locations in Oakdale and St. Anthony.
They were impressed with Lake Elmo’s fast growth, spurred by the city’s infrastructure work.
“Paul drove us around, and we saw all the streets torn up,” recalled Bill Lockwood, Sarah’s father and the manager of the shop.
“He said, ‘In the next 18 months there will be this many more homes, all within a mile from here.’ “
Paul Marshall figured that all those newcomers would be thirsty. “I noticed that all my neighbors were driving 15 minutes in all directions to get coffee every day,” he said.
The 1,200-square-foot shop will have about 10 tables. In addition to coffee, it will serve soup, sandwiches, wraps and salads.
“The building is gorgeous. It’s an old farm supply store, with wood timbers — so much character,” said Marshall.
Thanks to the city’s improvements, he will be able to connect drains from the coffee shop to the sewer system, instead of relying on a septic system.
“This coffee shop would not have been feasible two years ago,” Marshall said.
“A couple years ago someone tried to open a shop here with a kitchen, and the outgoing water needed to go somewhere. The cost was exponential.”
Lake Elmo native Dan Stoudt opened an insurance agency nearby. He, too, was attracted by the city’s downtown makeover.
“For a while, you couldn’t tell if Lake Elmo was even going to be a town,” said Stoudt, whose State Farm agency is in an old bank building.
Stoudt said that businesses were leaving, and the downtown area looked empty and depressing.
But that has changed. Administrator Handt said the city is largely done with the first two phases of the city’s redevelopment plan, about $10 million in roads, sewers and water service.
The downtown looks spruced up — a fertile ground for new businesses.
Stoudt is delighted with his new neighbor, one block away. “I’m excited to walk down the street and get coffee,” said Stoudt.
“I lived here as a kid. I really want to be part of the turnaround of Lake Elmo.”
By Bob Shaw, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
(Saint Paul Pioneer Press)
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