Breaking Bread Opens in St. Paul’s Union Depot
Many in the Twin Cities are familiar with Breaking Bread Café in North Minneapolis, which first opened in 2015 and is designed to be a casual neighborhood eatery and community gathering space. As of July 2019, however, Breaking Bread took a pause and temporarily closed to address inconsistencies found with wait time, quality of service and menu items. The popular café, run by nonprofit Appetite for Change, is set to open back up in April.
“Breaking Bread was always mission-driven first and business-driven second, which is difficult to rely on during a tough cycle,” said Aaron Palm, chief strategy and finance officer at Appetite for Change, the parent company of Breaking Bread. Prior to his position at Appetite for Change, Palm worked in a variety of roles with Kaskaid Hospitality as a general manager and director for Crave restaurants and Crave catering.
Breaking Bread Catering has remained open during the process due to its better margins and higher ceiling, since customers don’t need to visit a fixed location. When St. Paul’s Union Depot offered to make Breaking Bread Café their main caterer at the historic railroad station and Lowertown hub, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse—and the idea for Station 81 was born.
Appetite for Change opened Station 81 Drink & Eatery in St. Paul on December 6, 2019—the day of the big tree lighting outside Union Depot where Station 81 is housed. The overlap was an intentional choice to try and garner public attention, even though it was only 30 days after their agreement was signed.
“Many of us didn’t take a day off in a month,” Palm said. “It’s a special kind of punishment to choose one of the busiest days of the year and just try everything out for the first time.”
Their efforts paid off. From 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., there wasn’t a seat open for more than 30 seconds. Station 81 even had a group of 15 people come in, and against better judgment, decided to just try pushing a bunch of little tables together to accommodate the group.
“It was a whirlwind, you didn’t have time to sit down and remember to eat until you looked at your watch and realized you’ve been here for 14 hours and need to go home,” Palm said. “But it’s all worth it.”
When asked how Station 81 plans to stand out in the Union Depot, a historically difficult place for restaurants to thrive, Palm mentioned Christos’ success, a Greek restaurant that chose not to renew their lease in 2016. Palm also said more residents are moving into Lowertown and looking for well-priced, healthy-food options, and with Kelly’s Bar gone, Station 81 has the perfect opportunity to be St. Paul’s new lunch spot.
“We’ve worked hard at getting our name out and letting people know we’re here,” Palm said. “It’s all about earning trust…Our intentions don’t matter if nobody shows up for them.”
When Appetite for Change chose to pause Breaking Bread, they were able to retain about 40 percent of the total staff and placed them in positions at their catering business. Palm doesn’t believe they have any more hiring and retention problems than the restaurant industry has as a whole. One unique aspect of Appetite for Change’s enterprises, however, is how they go about hiring.
“We don’t discriminate based on backgrounds,” Palm said. “Some of the best staff we have today would’ve had employment discrimination. We only judge you based on attitude, work quality and being interested in our mission. It’s important for us to try to meet people where they are, within reason.”
Appetite for Change offers youth and workforce development programs such as urban farm plots and a Community Cooks program in North Minneapolis. They also contribute fresh produce to the West Broadway Farmers Market.
“Our roots will always be in North Minneapolis…but as a social enterprise, sometimes you need to go where the demand is,” Palm said. “Minneapolis and St. Paul kind of feel like different worlds, but we can help to bridge that gap.”
If a potential customer is on the fence about trying an Appetite for Change enterprise, Palm likes to tell remind them how when you dine at Station 81 or hire Breaking Bread Catering, you’re supporting urban farms, nurturing youth development programs and enriching local economies.
“You couldn’t spend your money in a better way,” Palm said. “I think every day as people, we vote with our dollars.”