By Sagirah Shahid
Saint Paul has an abundance of Black artists who keep our spirits fed, but they aren’t alone in this. We’re giving a customary head nod to three Black-owned restaurants where creativity, community care and deliciousness come to kick it:
Come for the goodies and stay for the tea. Somali-American fusion specialties like veggie fantastic, afro steak, sambusa, sweet plantains and yes, that worth masking-up-for signature Somali rice, beckons even timid hearts to strap on some purell, stand the appropriate distance and grab some to-go. Afro Deli has multiple locations, two of which are located in downtown Saint Paul. Owner Abdirahman Kahin’s philanthropic approach to community engagement has attracted the likes of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and recording artist Lizzo.
A few weeks ago, @lizzo reached out asking if we’d like to be one of the Black businesses she gives back to.— Afro Deli (@AfroDeli) July 25, 2020
This week, her donation was used to provide the people of Powderhorn Park experiencing homelessness and surrounding encampments, with meals from Afro Deli. pic.twitter.com/lljikbEtUC
Since the pandemic, Afro Deli has served up 100,000 meals to families in need. When Black artists inked their brushes to create street art in honor of Black Lives Matter, Afro Deli was there to feed them. Over the years the restaurant has prioritized stepping up to serve the needs of our community and it looks good on them. The tall windows of the eatery’s West 7th Place location filters in an enclave of brick pavers, a mural of the city and cutesy trees where the flute-like soliloquies of little birds charm.
Saint Paul’s jazz and poetry renaissance found a safe haven in Golden Thyme. Located on the outskirts of the historic Rondo neighborhood, this cafe pays homage to the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington while also steaming up an array of buttery grits and your favorite rendition of egg stylings. Co-owned by husband and wife duo Stephanie and Mychael Wright, Golden Thyme has a reputation of being an “it” spot where Black artists across generations gather. One could say that founding the annual Selby Avenue Jazz Festival and opening its doors to premiere poetry and storytelling organizations like TruArtSpeaks and the Saint Paul Almanac bolstered this cafe’s presence as a nexus of creativity and comfort food. A vanguard of rising talents like Dua Saleh cite this cafe as a creative starting point. Since the pandemic, Golden Thyme’s swanky and recently renovated eatery has adapted to prioritize the safety of its devoted customer base. Sneak a peek at their custom drums-turned-light fixture while grabbing your pickup order. Alternatively, you can scat over to their chic patio seating during a mask-clad brunch with your quarantine boo.
Bole Ethiopian Cuisine
Ethiopian American restaurant Bole has swag and class. When Bole’s newly renovated building went up in flames during the uprising, the family-owned restaurant took to social media to express solidarity with those grieving George Floyd. They also quoted lines from rapper Nipsey Hussle’s “Dedication” and crowdfunded $150,000 to rebuild their restaurant anew.
Co-owned by husband and wife Solomon Haile and Rekik Abaineh, Bole is located within Little Africa, the art and culture district of Saint Paul’s Hamline-Midway community. Bole offers a medley of smittenly seasoned meats, a variety of vegetarian reveries and brewed-to-perfection coffee that makes traditional Ethiopian cuisine akin to a summer love. You’ll have to wait to order their tasty eats. Although Bole is temporarily closed while in repair, the restaurant still takes to social media to help raise funds for other small businesses impacted by fires and to also draw attention to social justice causes important to their community. When Bole reopens, double up, grab your mask and eat like it’s a celebration. Afterward, take a victory lap toward Snelling Avenue and check-out the Berbere mural, the Mosaic on a Stick gallery, or any of the other quaint Black-owned shops and parks that make Little Africa glitter.
Sagirah Shahid is a Black Muslim poet, arts educator, and performance artist. She is a recipient of a Loft Literary Center's Mentor Series Award in poetry and a Twin Cities Media Alliance public art and performance fellowship. Her debut collection of poetry "Surveillance of Joy" is forthcoming from Half Mystic Press in 2021.