Como’s Muddsuckers Coffee gets a facelift

The dive coffee shop is rebranding for a grand reopening in March.

A completely remodeled and refurbished space in Black: Coffee and Waffles, formerly Muddsuckers, located on the corner of Como Avenue and 15th Street. Black is in the process of fully rebranding.

Holly Peterson

A completely remodeled and refurbished space in Black: Coffee and Waffles, formerly Muddsuckers, located on the corner of Como Avenue and 15th Street. Black is in the process of fully rebranding.

Nicolas Hallett

Business at a local coffee shop in the Southeast Como neighborhood near the University of Minnesota got so bad that closing the doors or remodeling were the only two options.

So the owners of Muddsuckers transformed the 8-year-old store and changed its name to Black: Coffee and Waffles.

With the help of two students, co-owners Lisa and Andrew Ply closed Muddsuckers for two weeks in January to renovate its interior, menu and culture. The shop has since reopened “softly” with some of the new offerings, but the official grand reopening is scheduled for early March.

“Normally, businesses plan things ahead,” Andrew Ply said. “But it just kind of grew.”

Lisa Ply provided much of the new menu’s inspiration, but she said changing the business’s image was crucial.

“I feel that the food was not up to the standards that I wanted it to be,” she said. “The coffee shop wasn’t at the standard that we wanted it to be.”

Ply said the previous owner excluded customers and gave Muddsuckers — known by many as a grunge-style coffee shop — a bad reputation. She said he would yell at customers while permitting his employees to do the same.

The previous owner was unavailable for comment.

“That’s not appealing to us,” she said. “What is appealing to us is community and making everyone feel invited and welcome. If anything, that is more of a true punk rock vibe.”

Like before, the new menu will include breakfast and lunch sandwiches served throughout the day. But now, the coffee shop will use organic ingredients and be made-to-order.

The headliners, though, as the name suggests, will be the waffles. Carrying over the Muddsuckers tradition, Black will offer a hefty lineup of waffles, now including apple caramel streusel, fruit and granola, ham and Swiss cheese, s’mores and strawberry cheesecake.

Black’s interior has fresh paint, new furniture, metallic light fixtures and wood-paneling accents created from old warehouse pallets. The armchairs and couches of the old coffee shop are gone.

Ply said the store’s hours will cater to students looking for a place to study, and she wants the coffee shop to have a “community feel.” Artists will be encouraged to hang their work on the walls, and the side room may host acoustic shows.

Kel Nelson, a business management and marketing major at Augsburg College, and his girlfriend Rebecca Power befriended the owners and helped redesign the store’s interior and products. He said Black will fully transition to the new brand once they have everything perfected.

“We don’t want to force things,” Nelson said. “I don’t think we are ever going to be done. We’re always going to be improving.”

‘The woman steps in’

Ph.D. student Michelle Chen often goes to Como for lunch and coffee. When she walked into Black, she had to look around to make sure she was in the right place.

Chen said the previous store felt like it was stuck in the ’80s.

“As much as it looks different, it feels different too,” she said. “I think it will really resonate with the students.”

This is exactly the type of reaction Lisa Ply said she was hoping for when she dreamed of an overhaul a couple years ago.

She and her husband, Andrew, purchased the coffee shop four years ago. She said he and her best friend managed the day-to-day business operations.

“And so finally, I put my foot down and I said, ‘No, we’re going to do it my way now,’” Lisa Ply said.

Ply’s focus for the store’s makeover was changing the atmosphere and the food. She grew up in a large Greek family that loved to cook. She joked that force-feeding people is one of her favorite hobbies.

Lisa Ply left college in order to raise their children: Sophia, 8; Leena, 4; and 9-month-old Zephyr. She said caring for the children at home positioned her for success in her new role at the coffee shop.

“I’m a fabulous housewife,” she said. “I think because I cook all the time and clean that it was just natural to come in here and be able to do that.”

An ‘unconventional relationship’

A passion for the community around them brought the owners in contact with Nelson and Power, who live nearby and were regulars at the coffee shop.

It was Nelson and Andrew Ply who were the first to hit it off.

“I had had ideas, but there wasn’t anyone I could share them with,” Andrew Ply said.

Nelson said they had a lot in common and became friends through talking about plans for the shop.

Add in Lisa Ply and Power, and the four of them brainstormed for months on ways to modernize the aging coffee house.

“I think it’s a pretty unconventional relationship,” Nelson said. “We were friends, and we just wanted to help out.”

Nelson said the experience will be a nice addition to his portfolio, even if the project took longer than expected.

“Eventually, it ended up turning into quite a project,” he said. “The more we got into it, the more we found things we could be doing to improve the shop.”