Longtime Selby Ave. cafe Golden Thyme reopens as pop-up space for two Black-owned restaurants

Rondo CLT
April 29, 2024
Rondo staff with the Liberated Land Trust Tour delegation
Rondo staff with the Liberated Land Trust Tour delegation

Pioneer Press, Nov 3, 2023

Golden Thyme Presents, the successor to the longtime Selby Avenue coffee shop now owned by a Rondo nonprofit, opened Tuesday as an incubator for Black-owned food businesses.

Two restaurants are now up and running in the space: On weekdays, Sammy’s Avenue Eatery will serve sandwiches, salads and coffee. This is its second location; owner Sammy McDowell has run the restaurant in North Minneapolis for about a decade.

On weekends, Gravy Babies will serve soul food. Currently a catering company, the business is owned by Jocie Thomas, who grew up in the Rondo neighborhood.

The front door of Golden Thyme Presents, a new incubator space on Selby Avenue for Black-owned food businesses, is shown on Oct. 31, 2023. It’s owned by the Rondo Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that seeks to building community wealth and affordable developments. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

The original Golden Thyme Coffee and Cafe was founded in 2000 by Stephanie and Mychael Wright, who also started Selby Avenue JazzFest. Earlier this year, the couple sold the coffee shop to the Rondo Community Land Trust.

Now, as Golden Thyme Presents, Rondo officials hope the space will further the organization’s mission of building community wealth and affordable developments in the city, deputy director E. Coco previously told the Pioneer Press. The Rondo land trust aims to restore the vibrancy that existed in the predominantly Black neighborhood before much of it was destroyed by construction of Interstate 94, in the 1960s.

Thomas started cooking as a teenager and launched a catering business in 2007, she said. For a few years, she ran a soul food restaurant called The Cozy Kitchen, but ultimately returned to full-time catering several years ago as Gravy Babies.

After all, she said, her business is a “one-woman show.” So even though Gravy Babies is only at Golden Thyme on the weekends, Thomas is always busy. Even when she thinks she wants to branch into another career, she said, she always finds herself gravitating toward the recipes her mom, aunts and grandmother taught her.

“Soul food is what I do all day, every day,” she said. “And I keep getting drawn back into it!”

At a grand opening ceremony on Oct. 31, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter praised the project as a step toward equity, in both its definitions — boosting pluralism and opportunity in a social context, and building long-term financial stability for Black entrepreneurs in an economic sense.

He recalled, back in the late 90s and early 2000s, that parents — including his own — warned their kids to avoid this particular stretch of Selby Avenue. By opening Golden Thyme, he said, the Wrights were “angel investors in Selby.”

“It’s exciting to take this business — which was so much at the heart of the revitalization, reimagination, transformation of this avenue — and say, look: The next stage of this is community ownership,” Carter said to the crowd of about 50 people at the grand opening.

In transforming the space into Golden Thyme Presents, the Rondo land trust also installed new visual and sculptural art, and plans to host occasional artist talks.

The organization plans to revive the Golden Thyme Coffee and Cafe brand as a cooperative business, owned collectively by a group of Rondo community members. The new cafe would open sometime later next year on the corner of Selby and Victoria Street, about a block away from the original location.

They’re asking former Golden Thyme customers to weigh in on favorite menu items to retain at the new iteration of the cafe via an online survey. If you’re from Rondo and interested in joining the ownership group, you can email rondo@rondoclt.org.

At Golden Thyme Presents, Sammy’s is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Gravy Babies is open weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.