Blue Ox Coffee Company in South Minneapolis
Here comes the neighborhood. With the opening of Blue Ox Coffee Company, and some adjacent new businesses, the intersection at 38th and Chicago suddenly has new vibrancy.
The cafe is situated along the corridor from Midtown Global Market to the much-more-hopping 48th and Chicago, in an area that’s been known for needing plenty of police surveillance. The gas station next to Blue Ox features a thick bulletproof barrier between customers and clerks, for example.
“This is such a notorious neighborhood, so people are surprised that we opened here,” says owner Melanie Logan. “But, to be honest, we’ve had a great reaction from the people around here. It feels like everyone who lives around here has been in, and they all love it.”
Without any art on the walls (coming soon, from a local artist) and with a menu that’s in the process of being tweaked, Blue Ox seems more about potential right now, but for Logan, that’s okay. She’s seeing the cafe as a work in progress, and she has big plans for the space.
Well, cozy plans, at least. She envisions children running around the store as parents read their books and newspapers, and teleworkers tapping away at their laptops all day, making a little nest of coffee cups and dirty dishes for themselves. Logan notes that her wife is a schoolteacher, and that she and some of her fellow teachers have already signed on to do some storybook readings on weekend mornings.
Those type of plans fall perfectly in line with those of the building’s developer, Mike Stebnitz at Stillwater Companies. He’s been focused on bringing the whole 1920s-era building back to life after being boarded up for nearly 40 years. The stretch is the work of architect CW Farnham, who also designed a Mediterranean-style villa along Lake Harriet.
Next to Blue Ox is a home design shop, an art gallery, and a photography studio. Across the street is the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, another major revamp of Farnham’s work that’s creating favorable attention for the neighborhood.
Creating a little haven in the midst of a busy Powderhorn intersection, Blue Ox feels like a quiet gem. The walls are a light blueberry color, and with its high ceilings and wide-open space, the cafe is airy and distinctively sunlit. Logan found the tables at an auction, and the counter is hand-constructed, giving the place a cheerful vibe of resourcefulness.
“What I love is the chance to be part of the neighborhood, to create something positive here,” says Logan. As she talks, people wave to her from across the cafe, and the barista hustles over with some new coffee they’re trying to get her opinion on. Already, Blue Ox seems to have found its laid-back, easy groove.
Not surprisingly, given the cafe’s mission to be a local gathering place and its Paul Bunyanesque name, Logan is focused on sourcing her food and drinks as locally as possible. With the exception of some tasty Italian sodas that come out of England, she’s been finding her bread, meats, and produce as close to home as she can. Right now, she’s looking for honey, and she mused that it would be nice to find a beekeeper in Minneapolis.
Suddenly, she sighs over a prosciutto she found that comes from a small farm in Wisconsin, and it’s a vital ingredient in what is likely to become signature dish: a sandwich that blends the cured meat with fig jam and brie on a baguette, Logan’s favorite so far.
Although the coffee isn’t sourced locally — alas, if only this were a climate where we could grow coffee beans and cocoa beans — Logan is looking into using area roasters. In the meantime, she’s relying on Counter Culture, a firm started in North Carolina that specializes in sustainable coffee options. Another pick for her is Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company out of Milwaukee, which produces a delicious, caramel-tinged decaf that made this writer’s afternoon go just a little more smoothly.
“When I moved here in 1997 [from Texas, by way of Pennsylvania], I just fell in love with the area,” Logan says. “It’s so green in this city, and it seemed like home. So, I’m happy to have a place that’s neighborhood-focused and very Minnesota in its way.”
Blue Ox Coffee Company
3740 Chicago Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
HOURS: Mon-Thurs 7am-8pm; Friday 7am-9pm; Saturday 9am-9pm; Sunday9am-6pm
OWNER: Melanie Logan
ENTREE RANGE: $3-$6
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No