Community Cafe aims to fill niche in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — Like many St. Petersburg night owls, Mandy Keyes felt a hole in her heart, and stomach, when the much-loved Globe Coffee Lounge closed its doors two years ago.

Since then, the niche for a vegan-friendly, late-night hangout remained unfilled for fans of the First Avenue North coffee joint, which was the only non-bar option after midnight for healthy fare and drinks for quite some time.

Keyes hopes her new cafe opening in the Grand Central District will fill that void in the city’s dining scene.

What makes her Community Cafe distinctive isn’t the tofu paninis, she says; it may be the only restaurant in town where loyal patrons get a vote on everything from the color of the paint to new menu items.

“Bringing people together, that’s really what I’m all about, and the food is just a niche that St. Pete doesn’t have,” said Keyes, who is transitioning from a career in interior design to open the cafe.

Keyes made her first friend at The Globe when she moved to St. Petersburg four years ago.

The cafe owned by JoEllen Schilke gained a large and loyal following of artists, musicians and late-night caffeine addicts as the Central Avenue corridor west of downtown transformed into rows of art galleries, boutique stores and restaurants.

Some of them keep their kitchens open into the wee hours. Burritos and beer from Taco Bus isn’t for everyone, though, Keyes said.

Community Cafe, which replaces the neighborhood breakfast nook Mayster’s Café at 2444 Central, will offer up more veggie-centric choices like the Green Tomato Vacon Melt; that is, green tomato, Swiss cheese and veggie bacon on rye.

What makes the menu distinctly communal is that many of the signature sandwiches and wraps were suggested by community members.

Supporters who contributed to a $5,000 online fundraising campaign for the cafe earlier this year gained the right to recommend their ideal dish, resulting in creations like The Katrina, a fried Portobello mushroom with roasted red peppers and feta on sourdough.

The first members also get a vote on the colors of the interior walls, which of several hand-painted tables will grace the dining area, and other aesthetic decisions.

Regulars can become members with varying perks for $20 or $40 a year and will contribute to future menu and design choices.

“When we do have members vote, it will be more like voting for a new sandwich versus voting on existing things,” Keyes said. “No menu ‘Survivor’ here.”

The long-term plan is to make the cafe a co-op with shared community ownership, but for the time being, members will act as collaborators rather than co-owners.

The small space also will serve as an intimate music venue for local bands, starting with a grand opening show Jan. 10, and its walls continually will be decorated with works on sale by area artists.

Should Keyes nab a good portion of the hundreds who came out on Black Friday for a one-day revival of The Globe at Local 662 on Central, many patrons may have to take their coffee and conversation onto the sidewalk outside.

The cafe will be open until midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

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(727) 215-1277