Mojo Coffee Gallery isn’t squished in the middle of a busy city street or packed with millennials working away on their laptops. It’s situated on its own little corner in Northeast Minneapolis, quaint, yet seemingly booming. As I walk in on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, I’m pleasantly surprised by the large, open space and diversely aged-crowd, ready to settle into my own cozy corner and focus on work.
As I stand in line for my chai latte, mentally running through my to-do list, I notice the art around me: ceramic cups, sculptures, photographs, paintings, antiques. I’m the first to admit that I don’t appreciate art nearly as much as I’d like. I can never seem to find meaning within the pieces. But here, some of the pieces are familiar and comforting, reminding me of collectibles sitting in my Grandma’s house, while others pair unique colors and patterns together. Mojo has personality.
The barista, an older man draped in a messy apron, stands behind the counter speaking to customers like he’s known them for years, and customers young and old seem to smile. “This is a 12 oz. coffee disguised as a 16 oz,” I hear him whisper loudly to the woman in front of me.
Later, when the afternoon rush has died down, he walks over to where a few of us have been sitting for at least an hour and drops a brownie by each of our computers. We glance up, surprised by the gesture. He says nothing as he walks away with a smile. I like it here.
The barista converses with the regulars and points to pieces of art displayed. He boasts about Mojo’s happenings, like artist demonstrations and musical guests. Since the coffee gallery is housed in the California Building in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, the space is shared with the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association and over 80 artists whose studios live in the floors above the old warehouse. On the second Saturday of each month, the artist studios are open to visitors.
Curious about the place’s history, I do some research while I eat the brownie – moist and rich – and find an article back in 2011, when the owners of the California building addressed a neighborhood problem in a creative way:
“After repeatedly watching juveniles throw rocks through the California building windows, the tenants decided to do something more than call the police. So on June 11, they extended an open invitation to kids and teens to come inside, meet the artists, and collaborate with them in a free drawing slam. Their artwork went up in the lobby.”
It’s nearly dark when I leave Mojo, yet I snap a few pictures of the colorful vases that sit near me and give the barista my cheerful thanks. He’s been engaged with customers all day, for at least the nearly six hours I’ve been there. But he doesn’t skip a beat – he smiles wholeheartedly, thanks me and walks over to a table of four, a family, that just sat down for their own Mojo experience.