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A booming gluten-free bakery plans 1st storefront – but a beloved coffee shop has to find a new home

The coffee shop, a neighborhood staple, has to leave. In its place will be a fast-rising gluten-free bakery business.

This is a story about two small businesses.

One is an upstart gluten-free bakery that just a couple years ago was selling at neighborhood farmers markets – but has been so successful, it's on the verge of opening an actual storefront.

The second is a coffee shop that's been in the same space, on the same south Minneapolis corner, for nearly 20 years; where the owners – triplet sisters – know nearly everyone who comes in the door.

These two small businesses now find themselves at a crossroads, with one's continued existence at odds with the other's continued growth.

Sisters' Sludge Coffee

April 3 will mark 20 years of Sisters' Sludge Coffee shop occupying its small, shotgun space in Minneapolis' Northrop neighborhood, on 46th and Bloomington.

"I’m in love with every customer who walks through my door, I know almost all of them," said Maggie Morris-Gronlund, who runs the shop with the other two sisters that make up the triplets – Judy Morris-Meyer and Katie Morris-Buch.

Their time there, however, is coming to an end. Abruptly.

Last week they got a letter – which they shared in a Facebook post Tuesday – notifying them that the building Sisters' Sludge is in has been sold. Work on a new business will begin soon, and Sisters' Sludge had to be out of there by March 31. It was news that was met with frustration, sadness and support by longtime customers.

"Utterly shocked," Morris-Gronlund said. "We just, we were in shock when [the building's new owner] handed it to us, and trying to just absorb."

In the letter, the buyer acknowledges that Sisters' Sludge "has been an important part of the neighborhood," and says she respects their contributions.

But the sisters have to find a new home for their shop.

The rise of Sift gluten-free bakery

It was four years ago when Molly Miller started Sift – all gluten-free bakery treats, inspired by her own experience dealing with Crohn's disease.

She started selling at farmers markets in south Minneapolis, and things “just took off," she said. Soon she was selling her baked goods wholesale to shops, and about two years in was able to quit her advertising job to do Sift full-time.

"It’s so fun to have a purpose that means something to me," Miller said. "Because the reason I’m gluten-free is tied to my own personal health, and in doing this I’ve learned I’m not alone."

Miller, who grew up in eastern Wisconsin, has been baking since she was a kid, and said the rocketing demand for Sift goods made looking for a storefront spot the next logical step.

She knew she wanted to be in south Minneapolis, since that's where the business started and it "felt like home." She began looking a couple years ago, and last spring a real estate agent alerted her to a building up for sale.

"It’s hard to come by space down here," Miller said of the area. "So when I came across this intersection I thought, 'Oh yeah, I could see it happening here.'"

That spot: The corner of 46th and Bloomington.

The intersection

The Sisters' Sludge triplets held a meeting with their employees Monday, telling them about the building news and encouraging them to look for other jobs.

Morris-Gronlund said they've known the property was for sale for awhile, and even thought about buying it before deciding it didn't make financial sense.

"You always know that if the building is going to sell, the chance is that your rent is going to be hiked up or whatever," Morris-Gronlund said. "But we also knew – or thought we knew – that we would have at least some months before we had to leave."

There is a dispute over their lease that could give the sisters more time before they have to vacate. The two sides hadn't been able to meet and discuss it by the time of this publishing. But Sisters' Sludge leaving isn't a matter of "if" at this point – only "when."

"She bought a building, she has a dream ... and I don't think it was in a mean way," Morris-Gronlund said, and stressed they aren't mad at Miller.

"We even wish Molly the best," Morris-Gronlund added later. "We would just like to have a bit more time."

Miller said she understands why they would be upset, and wants to be clear it wasn't personal.

"There’s nothing vindictive, there’s nothing bad or anything. It’s just, it was a pure business decision," Miller said.

What will Sift be?

For Miller, this is an opportunity to realize a dream and grow a business she's been tending to for years.

When asked what it means to her, to be taking this step and opening a retail space, she could barely get out words.

"Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to start," she said, though gathered herself after a second to add:

"Just to meet other people who are going through a similar experience or just want to be healthier in general, and to be able to offer them that option is amazing. To really love what I do and contribute to the community, and build community around it means so much."

She's got some major renovation work to get done before the larger single space is ready to open – it'll take up the Sisters' Sludge spot, plus one currently empty storefront.

Miller didn't want to share too many details about the final look, since there's plenty still to do. But there will be a bakery with retail and a coffee menu.

What's next for Sisters' Sludge?

The sisters hope to find another space in the same neighborhood to reopen, Morris-Gronlund explained. They need parking and good access so that might not be easy. That's the goal, though.

"And if we don’t find something in the neighborhood, then we’re really wondering whether we’re going to reopen or not," she said.

The reason? The customers, who Morris-Gronlund says have been "great" about alerting them to possible new locations.

"The thing about it is, for us, it’s not that we have to have a coffee house, it’s not that we have to even be in this building," she said. "But what we want and need are all of these people that we have created a relationship with over 20 years. I don’t want to suddenly not see everyone every day."

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