Magnolia Cafe seemed relatively quiet Saturday, Feb. 13, with just one customer waiting for an online order and a small group of regulars chatting in the back.
Behind the scenes was a different story.
Yvette Maijala was in the kitchen frying up dozens of beignets while her small staff prepared the Carlton cafe’s online orders for pick up. Maijala — a Louisiana native — opened Magnolia Cafe four years ago and started offering the traditional New Orleans treat on Saturday mornings.
Over the first three years, Maijala said she typically ran out, but when the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly a year ago, she turned to online ordering to allow customers to schedule pick ups and keep the number of people inside the business low.
For Valentine’s Day, she upped the ante by offering packages of beignets and house-made hot cocoa bombs. The response was overwhelming. Maijala said she sold more than 50 dozen beignets and 300 cocoa bombs that were picked up over two days.
The response was so strong that Maijala kept the cafe open on Sunday, Feb. 14 — a day Magnolia is typically closed.
Much of the prior week, Maijala and two members of her staff, Madeline Nelson and Naomi Johnson, worked in the cafe's back room to make the cocoa bombs.
The cocoa bombs also had another purpose: they were a fundraising partnership for Churchill Elementary School in Cloquet.
“Churchill Elementary reached out to a lot of businesses trying to fundraise because their fundraising opportunities have changed with COVID. I responded and said ‘Hey, let’s do some kind of sale,’ and we came up with the idea of doing the cocoa bombs for Valentine’s Day," Maijala said.
The idea of partnering with local individuals and organizations is nothing new to Magnolia. In fact, the motto of the business is to “do good” in the community.
“I’ve had a lot of people do good for me,” she said. “For me, and I believe my staff and everyone that’s involved, they just tend to help out and we’re always looking for the opportunity to do good for the community.”
There have been plenty of other community partnerships, too, Maijala said. An anonymous donor recently paid for Magnolia to provide lunches to teachers at Carlton High School and South Terrace Elementary School.
In addition, with fewer people spending time in the restaurant, Maijala converted the front of Magnolia into an impromptu arts and crafts gallery. Carlton Goldschmidt and Gina Beste-Wuorinen, both of Esko, have had an array of items for sale in the coffee shop, from Goldschmidt’s photographs and homemade mittens to Beste-Wuorinen’s variety of wool crafts.
“It’s a good way for me and others to continue to create the art and the products that we make,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s a passion we have and it’s a good way to get it out into the community and support Yvette and the coffee shop. I think she does a great job of coming up with ideas to keep the business going and draw the community together.”
Maijala said the “do good” concept has circled back around in some unique and touching ways.
One person has consistently volunteered to help out with beignets each week and many of her regular customers remained loyal, coming in six days a week to stump each other with a stack of Trivial Pursuit cards, according to Mario Ferrer of Carlton. Maijala said January is typically slow and she considered closing for the entire month, but she wanted to make sure she had a place for those regulars to gather for their daily quiz.
“We are so grateful for the support of our community,” Maijala said. “It’s been stressful with all the ups and downs, but it’s also heartwarming to have the community come out and support us. It’s given me opportunities to be creative and work with others that may not have happened.”