Since offering its first class a year ago, Duluth Folk School has been largely nomadic. Appropriately enough, it recently found a home in the burgeoning Lincoln Park Craft District. A teaching kitchen and café are among the many plans for the massive space at 1917 W. Superior St.
It might seem surprising for a school that teaches crafts and practical skills like how to use a circular saw and maintain a bicycle to start a café, but director Bryan French says it fits with the school’s ethic.
“No matter what we do, the whole deal with the folk school is to show you how to do stuff and make things right in front of you,” he says.
The menu hasn’t been finalized, but French is envisioning a creperie, with sweet and savory options assembled in front of patrons. Soup, sandwiches, tea and coffee are other probable menu items, along with grab-and-go options from local providers. Beer and wine are likely additions, pending licensing.
Though the restaurant hasn’t been built yet, it already has a name: Dovetail Café. Dovetail is a woodworking term for a strong, interlocking joint. “We like the idea of different things coming together here,” explains French.
In addition to regular serving sizes, French says he’d like the café to offer what his kids call “dad-sized portions.” Picture bite-sized morsels of brownie, for instance, or a 5-ounce glass of beer. The idea is to include snackable and affordable options. Hours will be late morning until 10 p.m. or so, to accommodate people who want to relax after class.
“People taking classes show up early and afterwards they want to hang out, so we already have a small, built-in audience,” says French.
The café will be prominently featured at the entrance of the 7,000 square foot building, with tables set up on a raised platform near the expansive picture windows, and additional seating for maybe 50 people. It will also include a store that sells products made primarily by Folk School instructors.
An opening date for the Dovetail Café is yet to be determined. A kitchen manager needs to be hired. And the building, located just two doors from the recently opened OMC Smokehouse, must undergo some major renovations first. There’s electricity and running water but not a functional kitchen.
The Duluth Folk School had been leasing space at the nearby Venue at Mohaupt Block but French says the freedom to customize a space and have a more permanent home was desired. The school purchased the building at 1917 W. Superior St. from Lam Investments for $230,000 on May 19.
French says it’s a plus that Folk School staff and volunteers can do much of the work themselves. He was tearing down bright blue stucco walls last week and was excited to find exposed brick. Photos of progress can be seen on the school’s Facebook page.
The building dates back to 1915. When it originally opened, it housed both the Minnesota Tea Company and the O.F. Wennerlund Jewelry Co. (1917 and 1919 W. Superior St.). Since then, it has hosted a variety of businesses, including Johnson Furniture, Lake Superior Office Furniture, Paper Capers party supply store, the Autism Treatment and Resource Center — and, most recently — Politi-Calls, a telemarketing firm.
In addition to the café, there are plans for a teaching kitchen. Once it’s installed, the folk school will be able to offer more food-related classes, which have been in demand. Recent classes in sausage making and fermenting vegetables have been popular. A collaborative class on building a backyard brick pizza oven will be offered at the Food Farm in Wrenshall in September.
The café and classes will provide income for the Duluth Folk School. It addition, it has plans to rent out artist studios in the building. These three revenue streams will help ensure the school is financially viable well into the future, according to French.
Teaching people how to make things is only one aspect of the folk school’s mission — it also aims to build community and encourage fun. The open floor plan lends itself to community gatherings and music performances. French anticipates the café will help draw people in from the neighborhood and beyond.
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