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Thinking big--and delicious--at 38th and Chicago

Mike Stebnitz
Mike Stebnitz
Eighty-odd years ago, the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis was a thriving place.

That's what developer Mike Stebnitz learned from old photos and receipts he came across when researching the area. The streetcar line was dismantled several decades later and the area suffered as businesses left. 

But the intersection has started to make a comeback, he says, and its movers and shakers are working in areas that few would’ve foreseen only a handful of years ago. This new crop of businesses at 38th and Chicago stresses all things artisan, local, and sustainable, including a couple of healthy-food developments that are in early planning stages.
 
Stebnitz, who is a developer and the owner of a couple of buildings on 38th and Chicago and a representative of Keller Williams Commercial, is pleased that “Every new business is creative or artisan-driven."

He adds, “It says a lot about the viability of the neighborhood and the direction the city is going."

Turning 38th and Chicago Around

When Stebnitz bought a vacant, boarded-up building at 38th and Chicago a couple of years ago, and then purchased the neighboring structure later on, he had a vision for turning the block around, but it was a tough sell. Except for a lone dollar store, there had been no retail establishment on the block for decades.

Even though crime is way down, many people believed “that it was much more dangerous than it is,” he says. In fact, when he was applying for construction loans, “No one would touch it," he says, adding that it was hard to get people “to think that things could be different, that you could have a reason to walk down to 38th and Chicago."
 
To get tenants, “I had to go to pioneers, people who thought like I did,” he says. “I believed in the intersection.”   

It helped to have another rehab across the street: The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center is a hub for sculptural welding, blacksmithing, glasswork, and jewelry making.  

Today, Stebnitz's first buy, a 1925 two-story building, is home to the Blue Ox Coffee Company, a soon-to-be-complete “gray box” restaurant space, plus a handful of apartments, while the next-door one-story structure is home to Covet Consign & Design, The Third Place (artist Wing Young Huie’s photography studio and gallery), and the Fox Egg Gallery.

“They’re all unique and interesting and doing well,” he says.

Now, along those same lines, Stebnitz and others are on a mission to bring more healthy food to the area.  

An Art Studio for Foodies  

Down the block at 3722 Chicago Avenue South, Journey Gosselin has plans to turn the 2,000-square-foot cinderblock structure into City Foods Studio.

Gosselin, the building's owner and developer, is prepping the space while he waits for building-permit approval and financing for the $150,000 project. He’s hoping to open the place this spring.    

Gosselin, who was a bread-maker and has taught cooking classes in his home, envisions a place where people can learn what he calls "elements"--how to to make bialys, cheese, tamales, or artisan breads, or how to understand fermentation or honey production. “I want to help people who want to make foods locally,” he says. “It’s hard to start up.”

A rentable kitchen will service food trucks and carts and farmers' markets; there’ll be a storefront area for picking up orders and flexible space for events as well. It could have a rooftop garden, along with a demonstration garden alongside the building.
 
As someone who grew up around artists, “I think of it like an art studio,” he says, adding, “I’m used to places where people share space.”  In some ways City Foods Studio will be similar to Kindred Kitchen in North Minneapolis and Kitchen in the Market in the Midtown Global Market in South Minneapolis but “It’ll have a different tone and focus,” he says.

Although he’s contemplated a business like this over the past ten years, the recent increase in food trucks upped the demand for it, he says. The project also dovetails with new local food initiatives such as Homegrown Minneapolis.

Addressing a "Food Desert" 

Beyond 38th and Chicago, Stebnitz has teamed up with another neighborhood leader, Eric Weiss, to try to bring a much-needed grocery store to the greater west Powderhorn area, which includes the Central, Powderhorn Park, Bancroft, and Bryant neighborhoods.

Through the project, which is called the Carrot Initiative, “We’re focusing on accessibility and affordability and fresh, high-quality produce,” says Stebnitz.

As it is, the area has 85 percent “leakage"--people going outside of the area to buy what they need--according to Stebnitz. On a neighborhood survey, “a grocery store was a top hit on all of the lists of things people felt they needed in order to increase livability.” Further, the federal government has designated the Bryant neighborhood a “food desert,” where healthy food at an affordable price is tough to come by, according to Stebnitz.  
 
So what has the response to the Carrot Initiative been? “There’s been a tremendous outcry," says Stebnitz. "I think that’s because the nodes are becoming more insular,” and people don’t want to venture too far away to go shopping. “They want a healthier alternative and something that’s closer.”   

To carry the project out, the group is putting together an incentive track package to attract community-minded developers. “A great incentive is demonstrating the desire that the community has, that it’s looking for it,” Stebnitz says.

As a part of that process, the group, which meets every other week, is trying to identify potential partnerships and funding sources. Later on, the group will scout out sites for the grocery.

The Carrot Initiative will probably take a couple of years to come to fruition, Stebnitz says. “It’s quite amazing. The more the word has spread, the more the consensus seems quite unilateral that it’s an important goal,” he says. “No matter how it evolves, people are on the same page. It has really brought people together.” 

Anna Pratt is Development Editor of The Line.

Photos, top to bottom:

Mike Stebnitz, high above 38th and Chicago

The first building Stebnitz bought, home to Blue Ox Coffee

The second building, where art and photography dominate

Journey Gosselin

The future home of City Foods Studio

All photos by Bill Kelley
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