Birchwood Cafe owner Tracy Singleton comments, “We’re not just in the neighborhood, we’re for the neighborhood.” That “neighborhood” is the Seward area of Minneapolis, where it’s easy to concur with the cafe’s website description of what you’ll find: “A crossroads of hot food and cool comfort, Birchwood Cafe is one part funky coffee house, one part neighborhood cafe, and two parts eclectic organic kitchen.” GOOD REAL FOOD; everything on the menu typifies this slogan in the most creative way.
Before opening Birchwood, Tracy waited tables at Lucia’s. When she opened her own restaurant, she was able to continue to work with many of the local vendors she knew from Lucia’s. Tracy finds it rewarding not only to serve good food, but to support small, local farmers who are critical to a healthy local food system.
A hefty amount of the produce on Birchwood’s menu comes from Greg Reynolds at Riverbend Farm in Delano. Whether discussing the upcoming season’s crops with Greg, paging through seed catalogs filled with beautifully colored peppers, carrots and greens, or on a field trip to the farm picking beans and radishes, Tracy and her staff garner a lot of inspiration from this relationship. “Each season Greg asks, ‘What can I grow for you?’” Tracy says. “And my thought is always, how can I best showcase his beautiful food?”
Tracy values the personal nature of these relationships—it is the part of her job she loves most. She says, “I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with my farmer/producers. They are the face of our food. Victor Mrotz from Hope Creamery, Pat Ebnet from Wild Acres and the Hilgendorf family from Whole Grain Milling; we all face similar challenges of running a small business according to our values.” Tracy continues, “I love the summer deliveries, these hard working farmers with their children in tow, happy to be helping out. I always send them off with a cookie or lemonade or a loaf of rye bread made with the flour specially milled to our bread baker’s specifications. These relationships are at the core of Birchwood Cafe’s “good real food.”
When Tracy bought out her former business partner in 2004, the internal reorganization that was required gently forced her into thinking about what she was doing and why, and helped to solidify her mission and values. “At heart, the Birchwood Cafe is about connectedness and relationships,” she says. “Basically, we are building community through food. We live in such a fragmented world. Cooking with local seasonal ingredients helps ground and connect us to the earth. This lends a sense of respect for the ingredients we use and an appreciation for the food we eat, which connects us to each other and our community.”