A new restaurant is coming to Smith Avenue, here’s how you can help (updated)

A renowned local chef wants to breathe new life into this vacant space on Smith Avenue.

If you live in the Smith Avenue neighborhood and want to see new upscale dining options in the neighborhood, it’s very important you come to the West St. Paul city council meeting tonight. (UPDATE: The city council approved a liquor license for the restaurant and is working to approve a permit for outdoor seating once new plans are finalized. Thanks to everyone who came out to speak!)

Robert and Ann Ulrich, the owners of Mendoberri in Mendota Heights, are planning to open a new restaurant called FoodSmith at 973/975 Smith Avenue. The building, which until recently was home to Deckci Deco/Cici Events, had previously been vacant for several years.

In their application, the Ulrichs say they have an agreement to purchase the building and plan to open a “bistro-pub” concept, focusing on a chef-driven menu along with beer and wine. The Ulrichs also highlight how their restaurant will help realize some of the goals of the Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan by introducing a new dining option along with outdoor seating.

Last week, the West St. Paul planning commission unanimously recommended approval of a liquor license and a permit for the outdoor seating area. As indicated in the planning commission’s report, some neighbors have already started complaining about parking, even though the owners are working to secure an agreement with the Doddway shopping center across the street, which has abundant parking in the evening.

The West St. Paul City Council will take up the issue tonight in a public hearing, as part of the regular meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. Please show up, or call or email Ward 3 council members John Bellows and Dave Napier if you support this new restaurant and want to see it approved.

Amore Coffee expanding, adding meeting room

This former barber shop will soon become part of Amore Coffee.

This former barber shop will soon become part of Amore Coffee.

Work has begun in earnest on a long-planned expansion of Amore Coffee into the space immediately to the south.

The 424 square foot expansion will include a conference room (available to rent for a fee or free with a minimum purchase) and art galley, as well as a second bathroom and overflow seating for busy days.

Mr. Dave’s Barber Shop, the former occupant of the space has moved to 797 Dodd Road (just north of Cherokee Service).

According to a Facebook post, the new conference space will be available for rent beginning March 1.

Oxendale’s has big plans for former Jim’s Market


Oxendale’s Market in Minneapolis

The grocery store at Smith and Dodd is changing hands for the second time in five years, but this time the owners are a little closer to home.

Oxendale’s Market, a grocery store serving the Nokomis neighborhood in Minneapolis, began operating the store as of November 1. The previous owner, Jim’s Market, was a rural chain based in central Minnesota.

Ray Oxendale, the retired owner of the Nokomis store (now run by his son, Neil), says there are big — but gradual — changes ahead for the West St. Paul store.

“Whatever they see at this [Nokomis] store, we’re going to try to have there.”

That includes more organic produce and local products, Ray says. The Nokomis store also has an in-house butcher shop, bulk goods (such as grains and dried beans) and a floral department. Local products carried at the store include Thousand Hills beef, Cedar Summit dairy products, Peace Coffee, Ames Farm Honey and others.

The existing staff will stay in place.

Ray also anticipates extensive remodeling of the Smith Avenue store, a process they’ve undertaken over the course of about seven years at the Minneapolis location.

The family sees a lot of potential in the neighborhood, which Ray described as demographically similar to Nokomis, and which doesn’t have a lot of competition in the grocery sector: “there’s nothing nearby.”

We’re excited to see another growing business set up in the neighborhood. You can find out more about Oxendale’s at their website or Facebook page.

[hat tip: Amanda Garza]

Wedding decor company moving in near Smith and Dodd


A long-vacant property near Smith and Dodd has a new owner with some serious plans to class up the joint.

Deckci Decor, an event decor rental company, is in the process of moving into the former O’Reilly Auto Parts location at 973 / 975 Smith, next door to Smith Liquors. The building, while well maintained, has been vacant for at least five years.

Owner Kristen Cici (presumably the “ci” in “Deckci”), says they plan to open in a few weeks, with an open house planned for March 29th. Cici says she serves 250-300 weddings per year. “We rent everything from table linens to paper lanterns, pipe/drape to charger plates and we focus on providing high quality for an affordable price.”

Cici says she toured 20-25 properties throughout the metro area before choosing Smith Avenue. “We decided on the Smith property because of its convenient location, affordable price, and great building. It has good bones – just needs primarily cosmetic updates. Hence our plans to update the front the building with lighting and paint once it’s warmer out.”

Once the company is moved in, Deckci will operate out of the north half of the building (973 Smith) and lease out the other half.

With Taste of Love, one of the top bakeries in the city for custom wedding cakes, and letterpress shop Nomadic Press nearby, perhaps the neighborhood is becoming a hub for the wedding-planning industry?

At any rate, it’s great to see this classic retail building in great hands. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Cookie shop is still a go, get a sample this weekend

Me want cookie!

Me want cookie!

Things are going a little more slowly than expected for the St. Paul Classic Cookie Company, but you’ll get a chance to sample their wares this weekend.

Last we heard the shop at 779 Smith was expected to open sometime this summer. But summer’s over, and there are few signs of progress inside the little storefront that used to be home to the coffin shop.

Fret not, says proprietor and baker Katie Novotny. The shop should open sometime in the next few months. Kitchen plans are underway, and once the requisite permits and inspections are complete, Novotny will be in business.

“We’ve got to be open for the holidays,” she said.

If you can’t wait that long, Novotny will be holding a bake sale the next two Saturdays (October 5 & 12) at the West Side Farmers Market at George and Stryker (in the parking lot of the Icy Cup, aka the old Dairy Queen). There will be cookies and scones available, and Katie is taking requests via email.

The market runs from 9 to noon, rain or shine. Be sure to stop by and support this new neighborhood business!

What’s going on with the Mohawk Theater?

photo(3)Earlier this month, the old Mohawk Theater was seized by the state for back taxes. The building’s most recent business incarnation as an occasional rental hall clearly hasn’t panned out, and the owner, with an address listed in Florida, owed the county more than $72,000, according to tax records.

It’s unclear at this point what happens next for the Mohawk – a source with the city tells me a sheriff’s sale is usually the next step, and the future of the building will be determined by whomever ponies up the dough to buy it. At a listing price of $400,000, it’s been sitting on the market for years, and although lots of people have great ideas for this structure, no one so far has come forward with the business plan or the capital to open the doors again.

Interior, upper floor. Probably not what you were expecting.

Interior, upper floor. Probably not what you were expecting.

The theater dates to 1921 and was a movie house for much of its early life. Darlene Lewis, a former West St. Paul city council member and Smith Avenue resident, grew up on the West End of St. Paul and recalls walking up the High Bridge to see movies at the Mohawk when she was a child. A comment on this history website says a Wurlitzer organ was installed in the theater in 1927.

According to a neighborhood history compiled for the Smith Avenue Task Force by Rebecca Harnik, the theater closed in the 1960s and has gone through a series of incarnations since then, none of which lasted more than a few years. This photo from 1984 shows the building in use as a Masonic Lodge, and later it was the High Bridge Sports Club, which Harnik’s report says was controversial but doesn’t elaborate.

The lower level.

The lower level.

Which brings us to today. I’ve been unable to find any interior photos of the theater in its heyday,and  the space was long ago split into two levels with most elements of the original movie house removed. While retaining much of its historic character outside, the interior can best be described as a church basement atop another church basement. It has a large commercial kitchen on the lower level, and a sort of performance space on the top floor. Practical, functional, but not exactly awe-inspiring.

By all accounts, it’s a solid, reasonably well maintained building. But what to do with it? It could be a restaurant, but with no windows, no parking and no other entertainment venues nearby it would need to be a major destination in and of itself. A small performing arts house? A church? Possibly – if a group has a large enough budget to buy and maintain the structure.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue checking for developments on this crucial piece of our streetscape.

Also, if you have any details, historical info or images to share, please post a comment or drop us a line at stubbornlylocal@gmail.com.

New space, familiar face


The little storefront next to the Capital View Cafe has gone through a succession of businesses over the past few years, but the latest tenant is likely to stick around for a while.

Artitude, a framing shop formerly located at 674 Smith, is moving across the street and one block down to the space wedged between the cafe and the old Mohawk Theater.

David Potratz, owner of Artitude, has been in business for 18 years, we’re hopeful the streak continues for a long time.

Artitude is planning to open for business in its new location tomorrow (just in time for Art on the Avenue, which we’ll tell you more about soon). Look for special grand re-opening deals for the next couple of weeks.

Coffin shop is moving to Midway

You may recall that Mike Zoff, owner of Affordable Coffins and Artery (formerly at Smith and Curtice) had outgrown his space and was looking for a new location.

The good news is that he’s found a space. The bad news, for us anyway, is that it’s in the Midway neighborhood, at 595 N. Snelling (former home of Mosaic on a Stick, which moved one block north).

Mike’s former spot on Smith will be the new location for the St. Paul Classic Cookie Company (which, incidentally, is relocating from Midway). Last we heard they’re still planning to open sometime this summer.

What’s going on with the coffin store?

No, the coffin store is not dead.

You may have noticed that the coffin store on Smith and Curtice is empty. I just spoke with owner Mike Zoff, and there’s good news, bad news, and possibly more good news.

The good news is that Mike’s business, Affordable Coffins and Artery, is successful and continues to grow. The storefront was too small, and he wants to find a place big enough to house both his workshop and retail space.

The bad news is that he may need to leave the neighborhood. He’s concerned about noise from the workshop disturbing residents, so that doesn’t leave a lot of options. He’s talking with the owner of the old O’Reilly Auto Parts near Smith & Dodd (next to the liquor store), but they haven’t talked about lease terms yet.

And finally, the possibly good news is that Mike’s former landlord told him a new business is moving into the space, so it won’t be vacant for long. [UPDATE: The new tenant will be the St. Paul Classic Cookie Company. Yum!]

Mike had great things to say about the neighborhood and wants to thank everyone for their support in helping him get his business off the ground. Hopefully this isn’t goodbye yet…