Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Reflections on a Big Butter Night

On the evening of January 26, after a cold snowy day, more than 80 butter bakery cafe friends made a visit to the Center for Performing Arts to share their love for a neighborhood cafe. I am still glowing a bit from the warmth, energy, and reminders of what our little spot on the corner of 37th and Nicollet has become.

Starting our 14th year, we announced a change to our corporate structure to become a Social Benefit Corporation. While this doesn’t change much about the cafe other than the three letters (GBC) that now show up on legal documents, it was a public reminder of who and what we are all about. Benefit Corporations can choose to identify specific benefits they are focused on providing, for us at Butter it will be:

1) provide a model of a sustainable business seeking a zero waste goal

2) share a model of a healthy workplace and advocate for changes to restaurant working culture

3) provide meaningful training opportunities to the young adults living in Nicollet Square Housing through internships, mentoring and employment at Butter.

These have been at the base of our vision and mission here for the past six years and now will be built into how we manage, make decisions, and report to the public about our efforts.

So, although in the eyes of many we’re just another fast-casual-family restaurant, Big Butter Night was a reminder that we’re so much more.

The musicians (Matt Yetter, Ben Glaros, Phala Tracy), artists (Scott Anderson, Tammy Ortegon, Peggy Paul, Jymme Golden, Sherrie Stockton, Deeanna Lee, Nan Onkka, Bud McLeod) and crafts people (Jon Buck, Marianna Padilla) who shared their work for our silent auction reminded me that we’ve been a gallery, performing space and supporter of art as a tool of community building.

The words of our present and former council members (Andrea Jenkins, Elizabeth Glidden) and presence of our State Representative (Aisha Gomez) reminded me that we’ve been a voice and model that have helped push policy changes at our city and state level.

The presence, products and gifts from suppliers (Hope Creamery, Tea Source, Big River Farm, Anderson’s Maple Syrup, Ms Marty Jams) reminded me of the relationships that we’ve been building that mean so much more than having a food service semi pull up and pull out of a parking space.

The gifts from our community connections (Mark Berge, Nathan Lind, Camille Gage, The Jungle Theater, Life Force Chiropractic, Leonardo’s Basement, Common Roots and the Birchwood Restaurants, KFAI Radio, and the Good Acre) were tangible reminders of how our model of community building is expressed.

The willingness of a Butter family (Sam Rockwell/ Molly Sullivan and children) - to host the evening and share their experiences of Butter Bakery reminded me of so many others (a cast of thousands literally) who have called our cafe “home” in so many ways and how each customer’s story adds to who we are.

And yes, the ability to share this evening with members of my family and with several of the Butter staff was the reminder of how much care and love goes into holding all of this together in one lovely organized mix of ingredients!

Just A restaurant? Just a coffee shop? Just a bakery? Nope. it was clear once again, we’ve been able to create something much more.

Back in early November, I put out a call to the Butter community that (to some) sounded a bit dire. The honest truth was that it was dire. I was having trouble holding on to image of hopeful future for the cafe. I saw two years of freeway construction impact ahead. I felt the pressures of heavy debt loads straining our daily cash flow. I was fatigued from carrying too much weight in our kitchen and weekend brunch service. And yes, the political climate had been less than comforting as I considered the opposition I was facing as an advocate for high road business practices. I needed to know this was all worth the personal and financial investments I was putting into it.

A massive Thanksgiving outpouring, another ButterBall drop, and a very Big Butter Night have rekindled the spirit to keep standing up. Over $4500 has been gifted during these past three months and a generous offer to refinance one of our debts has positioned us for winter survival. The interest of many neighbors to connect with our mission and share their expertise and energy is fueling my hopes for a big butter year ahead.

And much like the feeling I would get watching my students perform a play or share a story they had written, or present a final report to their class, Butter’s Big Night reminded me that my community building lessons are indeed sinking in.