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For Birchwood Cafe, branching out means watering roots too

The Birchwood Cafe occupies a special place in the Twin Cities--and not only because it's perfectly poised, five blocks off the Mississippi River and five blocks from each of two major south Minneapolis thoroughfares: East Lake Street and East Franklin Avenue.

The Birchwood is also the consummate neighborhood cafe in a neighborhood that, to many inside and out, is the consummate Twin Cities community: Seward.

That special perch complicates Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton's desire to expand what has become a landmark for locavores and lovers of its environmental vibe and "good real food."

The building began life in the 1920s as a dairy, becoming a neighborhood store in the 1940s that lasted until Singleton made it a cafe in 1996--with the Birchwood name a constant. Business, however, has not stayed still, and Singleton's excitement and anguish over expansion options have played out publicly in venues such as the cafe's monthly newsletter and a neighborhood blog.

A bid for a commercial building across the street to house the cafe's catering arm was aborted in the face of concern for existing tenant businesses (though Singleton promised to preserve several). Now Singleton is again contemplating an alternative that would be a blow to the personal roots she has laid in Seward: sacrificing her own home next door to the cafe.

"Last month I said that we were going to expand the Birchwood without using my neighboring house on the corner," Singleton writes in her latest newsletter. "Now it looks like we cannot achieve the breathing space we need without considering this option in the mix."

Source: Tracy Singleton
Writer: Chris Steller
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