Getting stuck at a car maintenance shop while having work done is an experience right up there with waiting in line at the DMV. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a TV to watch; the chairs are uncomfortable, and there are no outlets to charge up your devices; and probably there’s an old coffee maker with something akin to battery acid for your digestive enjoyment while you wonder just how loud the ka-ching at the end of your visit is going to be.
Well, take heart. There’s at least one auto maintenance and repair shop that is concerned about its customers’ waiting experience. Northeast Minneapolis’ Good Carma handles only Volkswagens and Audis, and the shop offers coffee that’s a big improvement over battery acid. Even better, they have a shop dog, Harley, who showed up shortly after the garage opened. He is now the business’s congenial mascot.
But perhaps best of all is Good Carma’s most recent enterprise. After eyeing a building across the parking lot that had been empty for years, and wishing something food-related would move in, Good Carma’s owners decided to take matters into their own hands. Thus Carma Coffee was born — possibly the first coffee shop ever opened by a car repair shop. There are comfortable chairs, a variety of coffee drinks, a small but decent food menu, and plenty of outlets. Now that is customer service.
The cafe appears to fill a need in the neighborhood. Given that the closest coffee shop is either Anelace Coffee or Mojo Coffee, each about a dozen blocks away, Carma may be serving a purpose beyond aiding car-repair customers; on a recent lengthy visit (curses on you, aging Volkswagen Beetle), we saw a steady stream of customers who appeared to be divided pretty evenly between people getting work done at Good Carma and locals coming in for a latte to go or a cup of soup.
And the coffee? While not as exemplary as that at Anelace, the brewed coffee ($1.75 small, $2.50 large) and lattes ($3, $4) were certainly a vast improvement over most chain offerings. Carma Coffee sources its coffee beans from Morningstar Coffee, and it also offers Gray Duck Chai ($3.75, $4.75).
On the food front, Carma Coffee decided, wisely, not to reinvent the wheel and instead has partnered with local food providers. In the morning you’ll find pastries from either A Baker’s Wife or Mon Petit Chéri (the cranberry sweet roll from the latter is definitely worth the $3.50), and from lunchtime on, you’ll find sandwiches and soups from Gastrotruck Catering.
A salami sandwich ($7) was served on a chewy baguette with a thin layer of tangy, mildly spicy olive spread. The salami was thinly sliced and appeared to be of a better provenance than you’d find at an average sandwich shop, but the server wasn’t sure where it came from. The meat had a nice garlicky flavor, and if anything, the sandwich could have used more. The soup of the day ($3.75 cup, $5.75 bowl) on our visit was a hearty tomato lentil — it was broth-based rather than cream-based, which really accentuated the flavor of the tomato. There were large chunks of carrots and celery, and the broth had a nice spicy kick. Overall, it could have used more salt, but it was still satisfying on a cold, rainy day.
So, if you’re the driver of a Volkswagen or an Audi, here’s a place where you not only can get your car taken care of, but can spend your wait time in a coffee shop with decent coffee and food options. No sitting on a plastic chair, hunched over your laptop, trying to tune out The View emanating from the enormous TV overhead while sipping battery acid. If only more car places were willing to take this step.
Coffee shop in Northeast Minneapolis
520 Lowry Ave NE
OWNERS: Liz and Bill Jaap
ENTREE RANGE: $4-$7
PARKING: Street / lot
Mon-Fri 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sat 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sun 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Sometimes