OLD NORTH ST. LOUIS – Wake up Siri.
Ask Alexa over and over.
Google it from the break of day to nightfall.
Or get on the grind and stir around yourself and try to seek out a nice comfortable coffeehouse in north St. Louis. You may want to grab a cup coffee first – it will take some doing.
North St. Louis is devoid of many amenities, and coffeehouses are one of them.
Our “sister” newspaper, The SouthSider, went in search of the best spots for coffee on the south side this week. We had plenty of spots to choose from, and boiled some blood with other locations that were left out. We wanted to do the same thing in this space, and quickly discovered that north St. Louis’ shortage of investment and commerce in the business sector definitely carries over into the world of coffee.
But we searched anyway, for answers to both the “where” and the “why” when it comes to the dearth of gathering spots north of Delmar Boulevard.
Google spilled out two Downtown coffee joints and one in Old North St. Louis. The quaint and lively La Mancha Coffeehouse (2800 N. 14th Street) sits across the street from Crown Kitchen Candy. That appears to be the top choice, and in some ways, the lone choice for folks on the north side.
After being told by a northsider that there was a coffeehouse in Hyde Park (which is in north St. Louis), also in somewhat of a mixed-race part of the north side, Google wasn’t woke to it.
The closest thing to a coffeehouse in that neighborhood is the River Lillie in Hyde Park. It serves coffee and has Wi-Fi, but it’s actually a Southern food restaurant.
Note: White Castle and McDonald’s also serve coffee and free Wi-Fi. The Julia Davis Branch Library, which also has free Wi-Fi, allows patrons to bring in their favorite cup of joe, so long as it has a lid.
Even chain coffeehouses such as Starbucks and Kaldi’s don’t exist on the north side.
“I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why there aren’t many coffeehouses in north St. Louis, but a lack of disposable income is one of them,” Elle Moore, a real estate broker, commented at a recent neighborhood meeting on the north side. “Businesses need to make money.”
The search continued.
Turns out that a few years back, there was Chronicle Coffeehouse. It was situated in the Covenant Blu-Grand Center neighborhood at 1235 Blumeyer Street and Page Boulevard at Blumeyer Renaissance Place at Grand, a mixed-income housing complex.
Google has it listed as “permanently closed” now. It opened in 2013 and closed the following year. However, when searched, it takes you to the owner’s new, thriving artisan coffee ventures.
They are Northwest Coffee Roasting Co., one in the Central West End (4251 Laclede Ave.) and one in Clayton (8401 Maryland Ave.).
Although not in north St. Louis, they are black-owned. The owner is Jason Wilson, a 2008 EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration) graduate of Washington University’s Olin Business School.
In an interview with the business school’s Olin Blog, Wilson said, “We wanted to fill this void of a food desert and offer quality products on the north side of St. Louis, but the data suggested I should not do that.”
He did it anyway, and at first the venture went well. Then came the events of August 2014 in Ferguson and the wider area.
Kurt Greenbaum, the blog’s author, relayed that after the Ferguson and Michael Brown ordeal, sales plunged, causing the good-hearted, earnest venture to eventually fail.
“I took a major hit,” Wilson told his alma mater’s blog. “In business, revenue minus expenses equals profit. That’s the rule, but I wanted to help people out. Am I wrong?”
Not exactly, according to Stuart Bunderson, co-director of Olin’s Bauer Leadership Center and the George and Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics and Governance.
“We want our people to think more broadly about their role,” Bunderson told the Olin Blog.
“How can our leaders be maximally responsive to all their stakeholders? There is not a small set of values that is important. What’s more important than making a buck? Figure that out and take action based on those values.”
“I had to look at other data points that were more civic-minded,” Wilson said. “What else is important?”
In the end, the business blog suggested that despite the failure, opening a java joint in north city was eye-opening and helped Wilson succeed in other ways.
His high-quality product is now served at a coffee shop, Grounds for Change, on Washington University’s campus.
The blog was put to bed with Wilson saying, “It’s because I went on the north side and tried to do that.”
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