Saturday Single No. 318

The place was called Mojo’s. It wasn’t much different from a hundred other coffee houses in Minneapolis in the early 1990s: You could get lattes (with or without flavored syrup), espresso and just plain coffee. And there was a display case with a few scones and some pastries.

Well, there was one thing that made it different: Mojo’s was less than a block away from my apartment in south Minneapolis, and from the time I moved to Pleasant Avenue in early 1992 until Mojo’s closed sometime around 1997, it would have been a rare week when I didn’t get into Mojo’s at least once.

It wasn’t fancy. Jimmy, the owner, had put his money into his coffee-making equipment and had then collected chairs and tables where he could. Most of them matched but not all. It didn’t matter, though. Folks in the neighborhood filled many of those chairs in the evenings and nearly all of them on weekend days. I was one of those folks. I spent quite a few Saturday mornings during those years sipping coffee at Mojo’s while my clothes were in the washer and dryer at the laundromat two doors down. And I spent many Sunday mornings reading the Minneapolis Star-Tribune over a couple of lattes and occasionally hearing Cities 97’s “Acoustic Sunday” program come from the overhead speakers through the din of conversation.

As busy as Mojo’s was at some times, I think it was tough for Jimmy. There were only a couple other people who worked there, so he put in a lot of hours behind the counter. And the restaurant/café business is a tough one financially, too. Even if Mojo’s was making money, I’m sure the profit margin was low. That was probably why the coffee shop downsized after a few years. When I first started spending time at Mojo’s, the shop occupied two storefronts on Grand Avenue, spaces connected inside with an archway. A couple years later, an artists’ cooperative took over the northern storefront, trimming by more than half the number of tables in the coffee house but also trimming, I assume, Jimmy’s overhead.

Eventually, the balance of cost vs. return tipped, and it wasn’t worth it for Jimmy to keep Mojo’s running. Maybe the rent was getting too high, and I imagine the cost of everything else was increasing: coffee, supplies, insurance and more. I don’t know. I never asked Jimmy about it. All I know is that one day, there was a sign next to the cash register that said Mojo’s would be closing.

Before he shut the doors, however, Jimmy had a little evening get-together for his employees and a few neighborhood regulars. I was one of them. We pulled a couple of tables together and sipped some lattes, and then Jimmy opened a bottle of champagne and we raised our glasses to Mojo’s and to the future.

When I went past the place a couple days later on my way to the butcher shop, it was empty. Sometime during the next month, a vegetarian restaurant was doing business where Mojo’s and the art cooperative had been. I ate there a couple of times and enjoyed it, but Mojo’s closing left a hole in my routine, one that was never really filled during the rest of my time – two years or so – on Pleasant Avenue.

There’s no great tale here, but something this week brought Mojo’s to mind. I remembered Jimmy’s grin as he handed lattes over the counter. I remembered the steam on the large front windows on a January morning. I remembered Jimmy letting me run a tab for a couple of days when I was between temp jobs and pretty close to broke. And I remembered the afternoon right about that time when the gal behind the counter – and I’ve lost her name over the years – had to leave for a family emergency and Jimmy wasn’t due in for another hour.

I shooed her out the door and went behind the counter. For an hour, I explained to customers that I was filling in, that I did not know how to make espresso or lattes, but that I could draw them coffee from the urns. I couldn’t run the cash register, but I was able to make change and kept track on a piece of paper of that hour’s transactions. When Jimmy came in, I told him what had happened and showed him my accounting. Then I refilled my coffee cup and went back to my table and my book.

Moments after I sat down, Jimmy called my name. I looked up. He stood behind the counter, holding my tab. “Thanks,” he said, and he crumpled my tab and tossed it in the trash.

So for Jimmy and Mojo’s and for any neighborhood business like the one Jimmy ran for those few years, here’s Roger McGuinn and Calexico performing Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee.” It’s from the soundtrack to the 2007 film I’m Not There, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 318”

  1. Paco Malo says:

    Whiteray, that is a great little anecdote about you covering for the owner at Mojo’s. I think we all have special memories of our favorite coffee shops.

    And blessings be upon you for pulling this deep album cut from “Desire” out of the mix and making it your Saturday single. For reasons I’ve never fully fathomed, I’ve always loved this song. It was quite a pleasant surprise for me when it turned up in “I’m Not There”.

    ‘You got your mojo workin’!’

  2. Yah Shure says:

    I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but your story made me feel as if I’d been a Mojo’s regular.

    Just a day or two before you’d posted this, WCCO Radio ran a story listing the urban amenities that are drawing suburban and exurban residents back into Minneapolis and St. Paul proper. Being within walking distance of neighborhood coffee shops and shorter commutes were right at the top of the list. Jimmy may have been ahead of the curve.

    Your Mojo’s fill-in stint jogged a memory of my own: I’d worked at an ice cream establishment in St. Louis Park during high school and into college, then transferred to the chain’s outlet in the then-new IDS Center’s Crystal Court in downtown Minneapolis. The store’s sales volume – #2 in the nationwide chain – was sufficiently high that it made for quicker and less-complicated transactions by including the state sales tax in the price.

    Several years later, the St. Louis Park store owner desperately needed a last-minute fill-in, so I agreed to help out. Having to compute sales tax (which had increased during the intervening years) on each purchase for the first time in several years was like learning arithmetic all over again. I must’ve looked like I was adding on an abacus on the sales floor. Even though it was a one-time event, that scenario still manages to pop up in the dream rotation now and then.

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