Coffeehouse comeback: the return of Tillie’s Bean


Tillie’s Bean is a survival story, still hoping for a happy ending. Last summer, owners Maggie and Dave Turner looked forward to better business after two years of street construction. Then came the break-in that left the coffeehouse with a damaged glass door, cash register and computer. An acid-etched graffiti incident left Tillie’s windows ruined. But the last straw came in the fall, when the city of Minneapolis ordered Tillie’s Bean to pay more than $600 for an entertainment license. The live music had to end, and Tillie’s closed on November 5.

For more information on Tillie’s music struggle, see Tilie’s Bean and Coffee unplugged. Also see Tillie’s Bean Web site or call (612)276-0100 for more information. Tillie’s Bean is at 2803 East 38th Street in Minneapolis.

Despite it all, the husband-and-wife duo persevered. A month after closing, Tillie’s re-opened December 8, thanks in part to musicians and friends who raised almost $5000 in a benefit for the coffeehouse.

Maggie and Dave want everyone to know that they’re back to being a neighborhood and community hub for good coffee, food, local art, and live music.

Located on the first floor of a condominium, Tillie’s Bean is a cozy neighborhood coffeehouse, with muted earth-toned paint, stuffed chairs and tin ceiling. Music plays softly in the background, and small tables, electrical outlets and wireless Internet make the place work-friendly.

Most customers are neighborhood residents and people who work nearby. But it’s only about two blocks from the 38th Street station of the light rail line and on a bus line, making it easily accessible to customers from other parts of the city.

The entertainment at Tillie’s is “definitely a draw for the neighbors,” said Maggie. She says the ambience of Tillie’s is like that of a living room, but one where people can gather with friends, drink coffee and listen to live music “without having to clean up.”

For Tillie’s re-opening/anniversary celebration, the entertainment included folk music, a Cajun band and even a spoken word artist. Maggie hopes to continue “easing back into the entertainment scene” by booking more performers soon. But the Turners, who book all the musicians themselves, are finding that the musicians they want are often so popular that they can’t schedule them without a big advance time. (Maggie says local, in-demand artists are often booked anywhere from six months to a year in advance.)

Maggie and Dave also offer a selection of art sold on consignment by local artists. Maggie tells the story of spotting a neighborhood woman crocheting baby hats one day in Tillie’s. Maggie convinced her to offer the hats for sale there. Now, the tiny hats sell well, according to Maggie, since many young families live in the area. Other local art for sale includes: pottery glazed in natural tones, animals fashioned out of painted and ornamented gourds, hemp-and-bead bracelets, decorated hair combs, painted light-switch plates, intricately-designed glass mosaic pieces, graffiti paintings, and framed black-and-white photographs.

Then there’s the coffee, which has won both the “Golden Cup Award” from the California-based Specialty Coffee Association of America and the “Best Regular Roast Coffee” award at the Calhoun Square Coffee Festival in 2006.

Dave roasts all the coffee beans, and other ingredients are meticulously selected. For their mocha, made with an exceptionally good dark chocolate, Maggie and Dave taste-tested different combinations of chocolate and espresso until they found the perfect taste mix.

“We kind of laugh about being coffee snobs,” said Maggie, noting that many of their customers now realize how inferior other coffees taste after drinking Tillie’s.

The Turners even sell black T-shirts featuring a red coffee cup and the words, “You say ‘coffee snob’ like it’s a bad thing” on the back.

Besides exceptional coffee, Tillie’s offers soups, salads, sandwiches, and an assortment of baked pastries, cookies, cakes and desserts. Almost all of the baked items are made from scratch from family recipes.

The Turners run Tillie’s with help from Maggie’s family. Maggie’s mother, Nita Losey, does most of the baking, while Maggie’s sister, Sarah Loiotile, helps Nita with the baking (she makes specialty cakes) and whips up drinks. Loiotile has also started catering for meetings and other events.

Since re-opening, Tillie’s has been closing by 4 p.m. on weekdays and by 3 p.m. on the weekends. Look for Tillie’s hours to be extended after temperatures start to rise this spring and summer.

Lori Wolter is a student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.