Now that construction on the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit system — dubbed the Green Line and set to enter into service in 2014 — is over 90 percent complete, businesses and residents are feeling some relief from the disruption and looking toward the future.
Already, the Metropolitan Council is predicting robust growth along the 11 miles between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis, and that optimism is looking well-founded as new companies, retailers, restaurants, and nonprofits begin eyeing the area for open space. Here’s a trio of ventures who gravitated to the Green:
Gourmet Eats for an Art Scene:
Erica Strait and Foxy Falafel
District: Raymond Creative Enterprise Zone
Green Line stop: Raymond Avenue Station
Located near Raymond Ave. and University Ave. W., the cozy Foxy Falafel restaurant has a unique blend of neighborhood-style friendliness and gourmet-level dishes. Owner Erica Strait is a frequent fixture, buzzing between the kitchen and the dining room, and she’s looking forward to business post-construction.
“This neighborhood supports us, and it’s been such a great experience to be here,” she says. “With the end of construction of the Green Line, we think we’ll see amazing things.”
Strait started her restaurant path three years ago at Kingfield Farmers Market, where she set up a tent, fryer, and prep station, and made her distinctive falafel creations for market customers. She drew on her experience as a personal chef and caterer, with a particular focus on local, organic, and sustainable ingredients.
Last year, she acquired “Foxy Roxy,” a food truck that let her go to more markets and venues, and garnered recognition in the area’s highly competitive food-truck scene. Only a few months after that step, she decided to take the plunge into a full-scale restaurant, and she chose a spot along the Green Line that seemed to have a great deal of potential.
“I looked more at what the future of this area would be, and what the Green Line would bring to this neighborhood,” she says. Customers will be able to get to the restaurant very easily by public transportation, she notes, but she sees more benefits to the light rail than just an uptick in diner traffic.
“Already, it feels like this area is changing every day, it’s becoming an artist community,” she says. Called the Raymond Creative Enterprise Zone (and once known as the “West Midway”), the area was once one of the country’s largest industrial landscapes, but is now shifting toward a mix of art spaces, sidewalk cafes, and ventures like TU Dance.
Those changes are putting Foxy Falafel in sync with her neighbors, she says, and making the area into a vibrant destination that’s definitely worth a Green Line ride. “The light rail will breathe some life into this area,” she says. “That’s exciting.”
Med-Ed for Urban Opportunity:
Rachele Simmons and Foundations Health Career Academy
District: Little Mekong
Stop: Western Avenue Station
Located in St. Paul’s newest district, Foundations Health Career Academy isn’t turning a profit quite yet, but founder Rachele Simmons isn’t concerned. “This is a blessing, being able to open this place,” she says. “I know it’s doing a lot for the community, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.”
A nurse with 25 years experience, Simmons first had the idea of starting a healthcare education program while she was touring colleges with her son. In Maryland, she noticed the large number of medical facilities, but was struck by the high unemployment rates, especially among minorities. “That didn’t make sense to me,” she says. “I thought, why aren’t they training people to be part of that healthcare industry? By the time I stepped off the plane back in the Twin Cities, I had a mission.”
She took entrepreneurship classes and obtained a teaching license, then cashed in her 401k and drained her life savings, ready to zoom toward her goal of training more minorities to enter the healthcare field. She rented space in Minneapolis in 2011, and opened the academy with six students — offering four of them free tuition so they could afford to attend.
When her lease ran out in 2012, she decided to locate in the Little Mekong area, along the Green Line, so that students would be able to reach classes more easily. The academy’s space, located inside the Hmong Professional Building, is just across the street from a clinic where students are able to get hands-on training.
Simmons is enthusiastic about what the program is providing for the community, and at this point, she’s graduated over 160 students, comprised of a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds.
Being on the Green Line should help to keep the program going strong, she believes.
“Definitely, I think there will be an uptick in enrollment because of the light rail,” she says. “I’m getting people from North Minneapolis calling, and even from the western suburbs, asking me about the program. Without public transportation, and especially the light rail, many of these people wouldn’t even be able to consider coming here. It’s creating change for everyone.”
Daily Diner Frogtown/Union Gospel Mission
District: Historic Frogtown
Stop: Dale Street Station
Foxy Falafel offers stunning food and Foundations Academy boasts top-notch training; another new venture on the Green Line combines both those worlds.
Daily Diner Frogtown, a new take on the classic American diner experience, is nestled into its historic St. Paul neighborhood as if it’s always been there. Although the restaurant draws a food-loving clientele, this is more than a typical restaurant. The diner serves as an outreach program of the Union Gospel Mission, which helps transition people out of homelessness.
The mission provides food, shelter, spiritual support, and rehabilitative care to at-risk and homeless populations in the Twin Cities. The nonprofit’s advocates have found that clients often lack job skills and support structures that can keep them from overcoming obstacles. Daily Diner is ready to be an important component for changing that situation.
“My general manager of food service and I had a vision to provide some kind of vocational training that could give our clients a way to be self-sustaining,” says Nick Gisi, director of training for Union Gospel Mission.
They looked at several different locations in the Cities, and were attracted to the Frogtown location, in part because the area has seen its share of challenges in the past few decades, and is steadily improving, especially with the Green Line. Gisi says, “We could see that the area is in transition, and we wanted to be part of that. We want to be a source of light.”
Next year, more development in downtown St. Paul is expected, and Gisi believes that will spur more housing and business activity. For example, it’s likely that more restaurants will open up, and thanks to Daily Diner’s kitchen and hospitality training program, there will be a strong supply of talented individuals who know how to cook, manage, and serve.
The 12-week course just began with a few students, and Gisi notes that the goal is to increase student numbers to 30 per year.
“The Green Line is helping to revitalize this area, and that’s great for everyone,” he says.
This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Elizabeth Millard is Innovation and Jobs Editor of The Line.