Heritage Tea House & Cafe leads as community gathering place



The Heritage Tea House & Cafe, 360 University Ave. W., is one of the very few African American-owned businesses in the old Rondo Neighborhood these days.

Co-owner Rosemary Nevils-Williams said, “Since we opened in December 2017, we’ve been a gathering place for the community. It’s important to run a successful business, but it’s just as important to make a difference in people’s lives. Our staff greets every person who walks through the door with the same greeting, ‘Welcome to the Tea House!’ because we want to extend a warm welcome to everyone. Given the climate of the US right now, with people so divided by race, age, and class—it’s rare to find a place where all kinds of people can gather to eat, drink, and socialize. This is that place.”

St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood ran roughly between University Ave. on the north, Selby Ave. on the south, Rice St. on the east, and Lexington Ave. on the west. African American churches, businesses, and schools set down roots there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, creating a strong community that the construction of I-94 destroyed.

Most of the original Rondo Ave. and much of the historic Rondo neighborhood were destroyed when Interstate 94 was built in 1956-68. More than 600 African American families lost their homes, and many businesses also went under when their customer base was shattered. Nevils-Williams and her daughter/business partner Raeisha Williams come from a long line of female African American entrepreneurs, with several businesses to their credit. Still, Nevil-Williams said, it wasn’t easy to get the Heritage Tea House & Cafe up and running.

“It’s no secret that because of systemic racism, African American entrepreneurs have difficulty getting bank loans,” Nevil-Williams said. “When you don’t have the capital to start a business, or you can’t get the capital to maintain one, that’s when businesses fail early on. We were lucky to receive assistance from the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (which bolsters redevelopment in the Rondo neighborhood) and the Neighborhood Development Corporation. When we started working on our building, it was just a shell. The re-construction was challenging because some of the contractors were disrespectful toward us as African American women, but we got it done.”

Photo right: Mother-daughter co-owners Rosemary Nevils-Williams (left) and Raeisha Williams (right). (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The business they created was just what the community needed. The Heritage Tea House & Café won a St. Paul Business Award last year: the People’s Choice Award, which honors a business recognized for its excellence by St. Paul residents. The space is available for use for book clubs, community meetings, book signings, parties, or fundraisers. Contact the co-owners at 651—330-0171 or info@heritageteahouse.com for more information.

There are an impressive number of events happening monthly at the shop (check the Facebook page to stay current.) Just a few include the first Sunday of the month from 1-3pm with homeopath and healer Kinshasha Kambui; every third Saturday from 7-10pm features Black Cinema; Thursday night speakeasies have an open mic; Friday nights offer rhythm and blues and Chili Happy Hour; and, frequently there are Saturday night comedy performances.

Choose from more than two dozen teas available in the warm, Afro-centric space, a variety of coffee drinks, and a menu which, according to the mother-daughter team, is drawing raves. Stand-out comfort food menu items include chicken and waffles, toasted panini sandwiches, fresh mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, collard greens, chocolate cake, and coconut cake, all of which can be chased down with a tall glass of hibiscus punch.

Photo left: Jayda Pounds helped a customer at the counter of the Heritage Tea House and Cafe. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“We can see that the community is happy to have us here,” Nevils-Williams said. “The neighbors have been our main customer base. We’re proud to be an African American establishment doing business in the Rondo neighborhood, and we look forward to things getting better and better.”

Plans include producing a bottled tea line, starting with Hibiscus Punch. The business owners also have their eye on being a future presence at the Minnesota State Fair. The Heritage Tea House & Café is located on University between Western and Virginia avenues. Open Tues.-Fri. 11am-6pm; Sat. 11am–4pm; Sun. 12-4pm, and open many evenings for special entertainment.



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