One year along the Green Line: Barbeque thrives, but not because of the light rail

I called Ron Whyte, one of the owners of Big Daddy’s Old Fashioned BBQ on University Avenue in St. Paul. I was trying to ask him how the trains of the Green Line had affected his business since the line opened a little more than a year ago. It was mid-afternoon, and he was behind the counter.

“Call after 6:00 pm, when we’re closed,” he told me. “I can’t talk. We keep getting customers.”

Big Daddy’s BBQ is doing well. The success is less about the Green Line and more about entrepreneurship, but the spark for the new success came from the new light rail just outside their door. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | You really don’t want to meet the Dicks at Dick’s Resort in the Mall of America

I’m not one to cry. Truth is, I rarely cry, but during a visit to Dick’s Resort in the Mall of America I was literally reduced to tears! The bartender was abusive, abrasive, and mean as HELL. I wasn’t sure why he was in a bad mood, but later found out that it is their “niche” to be mean as spitfire. Were they really trained to treat people like this, to the point of harassment? Continue Reading

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro: “We knew this was right for us, and we knew light rail was coming”

Hai Truong was born in Vietnam and came to the United States with his family at age five. That was in 1979. While the Truong family lived in various places—Minneapolis, St. Paul, Mounds View, Maplewood—Truong’s deepest connection has been to the storefront at the corner of University and Avon Aves. It’s where his father opened his first Caravelle Restaurant in 1984, and where Truong has been the chef-owner of Ngon Vietnamese Bistro since 2007.This article is part of the series, Along the Corridor: University Avenue business owners navigating change, an oral history project funded through a State of Minnesota Historical & Cultural Heritage Grant. Knowing that University Avenue would soon be served by light rail was one of Truong’s main incentives for leaving the corporate world and launching his own business. Continue Reading

Latino community leaders discuss work and organizing

Worker’s rights and immigration reform, the role of organizers in the community, and building connections among organizations were all part of the discussion at the January 22 Organizer Roundtable. Organizers from the Latino community gathered  at St. Paul’s Rondo Library for the Latinos in Action roundtable hosted by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. Joan Vanhala, Coalition Organizer with the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, said “I believe there is some very dynamic organizing work and political work being done in the Latino community that needs to be highlighted more. And, also, … I found today the Latino community itself wants to come together and think big picture about their future and work together to make it happen.”Gloria Castillo, a panelist and community organizer with La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, added “I think these conversations need to keep happening, keep discussing how we can work together for a better community. Continue Reading

Lao Family Community of Minnesota: A struggle in the right direction

A well known organization in the Hmong community has been undergoing a large change since March 2013, and it’s being spearheaded by a group of six young Hmong women who just recently graduated from college. Under Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC), the Hmong Higher Education Scholar Program (HHESP) was developed to encourage educational attainment and leadership in the Hmong community. Not only does this signal a change of direction for the organization, but a change of leadership.Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC) is a 30-year-old organization that was founded in 1977 to lift the Hmong refugee community, coming from Thailand and Laos, up by providing social services, educating the Hmong population on American culture, and also providing cultural activities. Today, youth make up the bulk of the Hmong population, gender norms are changing, and refugee issues are no longer ‘issues.’ But in recent years, instead of being known for its leadership or community activities, LFC has come under fire for charges of corruption, clan politics, election fraud, and struggles to maintain relevance in the Hmong community.“I guess from the beginning I didn’t know we had an option to work with Lao Family,” said Ka Lia Lor, a member of HHESP. “It’s never really been that kind of community organization where you just walk in and contribute your ideas. Continue Reading

Unify University celebrates neighborhoods in St. Paul

The August 17 Unify University parade featured organizations as diverse the community itself. Children from Heart and Soul Drum Academy sent the parade off to vibrant rhythmic beats. Giants puppets operated by youth from the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent towered overhead. Unifying University refers to University Avenue, which divides the neighborhoods of Frogtown and Rondo.”Unify University is about bringing this neighborhood together,” explained organizer John Slade, “…it’s about bringing the white community, the black community, the Hmong community, the Asian community, the immigrant community who live here, together.”Since this is an election year, campaign workers representing mayoral and city council races frequently darted from the parade to greet and apply stickers to spectators. The parade began at Maxfield School and concluded at the West Minnehaha Rec Center where an open microphone provided community residents the opportunity to share their unique talents. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | East Side of St. Paul is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ until a serious incident happens

In recent weeks, a devastating incident occurred on the Eastside of St. Paul where several teens allegedly beat a passerby until he was unconscious. This is a circumstance that no person should have to endure. One of the notable pieces of information that has surfaced is the fact that the passerby was white and the teens were African American. Although some within the broader community argue that the attack was based on race, the reality is that in light of the circumstances under which the attack occurred, the victim could arguably have been any individual who was within the vicinity of the young people in question. Actually, a similar severe beating of an innocent Black man, Edwin Daniel, by five young Somali men occurred on the Eastside just a few years prior to this most recent incident.The factors that contribute to these types of horrific episodes, including shootings by young people against other young people, may revolve around underlying issues at the intersection of race and poverty that are pervasive on the East Side of St. Continue Reading