When the pandemic hit, Sparrow Cafe went down. This coffeehouse had thrived at the corner of 50th and South Penn Avenue in south Minneapolis. I liked that they were nearby and weren’t a chain. They were locally owned by Jasper and Sheila Rajendren, who knew, I would think, that they had to be better than the chains in order to to be as good. And they were.
Sure, I like Starbucks and Caribou and Dunn Bros as much as the next coffee lover, but I like to support fellow hard working, do-all-jobs small business owners when I can. By the huge windows at Sparrow, I wrote sections of my last two books, Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round and Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. What kept me coming back was a rich, chewy gluten-free brownie muffin, espresso, and rooibos tea. The brownie muffin was served on colorful non-paper plates (probably earthenware), the expresso with a small, charming non-paper cup and a tiny spoon, and the tea steeped in a small glass pot that filled with a non-paper cup twice.
Sparrow went that extra mile to satisfy customers, but it still wasn’t enough to prevent closing last spring. The neighborhood mourned, but then we all delighted when Sparrow re-opened in a limited fashion for carry-out customers late last fall.
Shortly after the re-opening, I approached Jasper and Sheila about providing lefse they could sell, thus setting Sparrow apart from other coffeehouses. I don’t know of a Minneapolis coffeehouse, and only one St. Paul coffeehouse, that sells lefse. I said I would provide the lefse free and deliver it every Saturday morning at 7:30. It was my small way of helping small businesses that have been hammered by the shutdown. They said sure, why not? Nothing to lose.
The deal meant making lefse dough on Friday evenings and getting up around 5 a.m. to make 15 rounds of fresh lefse. When I felt sorry for myself for having to get up so early on a normally sleep-in Saturday, I remembered that Jasper and Sheila get up at 2:30 a.m. every day but one to open the store by 7 a.m.
I’ve been making lefse for Sparrow Cafe since December, and now that customers have taken to lefse — not much doubt about that — Sparrow pays me. I’ve made lefse in a lot of places and in front of a lot of people, but making lefse to sell to customers who may not know about our favorite food is exciting. I press myself to make my best lefse, and it gives me a chance to do my weekly lefse-making meditation in the still, wee hours of the morn.
And then there is the joy and satisfaction of a job well done and of being a successful lefse ambassador. Of carrying a steamed-up bag of pretty dang good lefse into a warm Sparrow Cafe, ordering a cup of dark roast to go, and hearing about how customers are taking to the traditional lefse with butter and cinnamon sugar. But hand it to Sparrow for getting creative. They’ve rolled out lefse with cream cheese and lingonberry jam, which I have heard of but not tried, as well as lefse with Nutella and bananas, which is new to me. I’m going to try that, and I hope you do as well.