Sometimes, life takes the most unexpected turns in the most surprising way. Medea Noel of Montevideo was chatting with a customer at her job at Coborn’s when just such an event occurred.  

For the past year, she had worked as the Assistant Deli Manager at the Montevideo Coburn’s. However, the store recently announced their plans to close, Noel suddenly found herself looking for another job. She joked with the customer about running a restaurant instead, and asked if he knew of any opportunities. Grinning, the customer replied in all seriousness that he knew of exactly the right place.

Within a few short days, Noel was touring the former Friendship Cafe in Clarkfield (now owned by the Clarkfield Economic Development Authority) before signing a management agreement with the city. She says that the whole process has at times been “overwhelming,” but she’s very excited to get things going again.

Noel moved to Montevideo from Minneapolis in 1991, and has many relatives in the area. She comes from a large family, and explains that cooking was a big part of her childhood. “We never got store-bought goodies,” she reflected. Noel thinks that this early exposure to “down to earth, home cooked meals” inspired her life-love of being in the kitchen.

To this day, Noel makes it a priority to spend time cooking with her two kids Jane (aged 16) and Hunter (aged 9). She tells them that “cooking is like being a mad scientist.” By teaching them how to cook at an early age, Noel hopes they will “be able to feed themselves and not be hooked on McDonald’s.”

Although Noel initially wanted to work as a nurse, she decided to change course and focus more on food service. She spent many years working at different delis and restaurants, including a local food truck. Recently, she took classes food and beverage preparation, a valuable experience that she said helped her grow as a cook.

One of the projects that she worked on during her time as a student was putting together a hypothetical menu. She hopes to use this menu as a template for a new cafe menu which is currently under development. She has also been working with local residents to come up with ideas for what customers would like to see served at the cafe, adding that she has “received tons of feedback.”

Noel says that she will “stick to a traditional breakfast menu” and that she wants to “keep it simple for now.” She plans on having an omelet bar, explaining how her father taught her how to make omelets the “moment I could reach the stove.” Noel also made several additions to the dinner menu after speaking with Clarkfield residents such as fried steak. Eventually, she hopes to have a wall menu where she can make changes and try out new dishes on a weekly basis.

Although the cafe will primarily focus on typical cafe style fare, Noel says that she will draw on her Native American heritage to include several popular indigenous dishes. One idea for a dish is flat bread tacos (popularly referred to as ‘Indian Tacos’). She also explains that she enjoys cooking with wild rice, and hopes to feature that ingredient on the menu as well.

Under the recently signed management agreement, Noel directly manages the cafe. The EDA will still own the property, but provides Noel with a cafe budget. After five years, Noel will have the opportunity to purchase the cafe outright. There will be a five month review, after which Noel and the EDA will sign another contract.

Noel and EDA staff are currently exploring different business hours. The plan right now is to be open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 am until 2 pm. They also plan on having dinner hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5 pm until 8 pm, though Noel stresses that final plans are subject to change. She encourages local residents to reach out with their own suggestions.

The team is also working to tie up final loose ends. Although the EDA has already renovated most of the interior dinning space and kitchen area (thanks in part to community donations), Noel explains that she still needs to purchase additional equipment, organize and clean the existing supplies, and complete utility hook-ups. She is also singing contracts with food distributors, and recently made an agreement with Cisco.

Nevertheless, Noel hopes to have the cafe ready for business on September 4. Although she is nervous about everything that still needs to be done, she says that she has been blown away by the support from community members. For more information about the Clarkfield cafe, or how to support the project, please contact the city of Clarkfield.