Where everybody knows your name

Lori’s Coffee House gives St. Paul’s University campus its daily dose of coffee and community.

Vincent Staupe

University alumna Rachel Shahin had no idea that, after completing her English literature degree in 2002, she would marry the owner of a St. Paul coffee shop.

These days, Shahin and her husband Mahmoud Shahin own Lori’s Coffee House near the St. Paul Campus Connector stop Rachel Shahin used in her undergraduate years.

“I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this community,” Rachel Shahin said.

Lori’s Coffee House, named after the previous owner, is a St. Paul campus oasis in an area that sorely lacks independent businesses, she said.

“It’s the only coffee house within walking distance of the St. Paul campus,” Rachel Shahin said, adding that the shop is unique because the “Minneapolis campus has about 10 of them.”

In addition to coffee, Lori’s offers lunch items such as soup and sandwich wraps.

Mahmoud Shahin bought Lori’s in 1996. Since then, he has acquired the building that houses the coffee shop and also recently opened a restaurant next door. Mim’s, which touts Middle Eastern and American food, was named after the Shahins’ daughter Miriam.

Together, the Shahins and their two young children – with a third on the way – live in one of the eight apartments above the shop.

John Watson, a barista at Lori’s, said he originally was a loyal customer at the shop until one day six years ago when Mahmoud Shahin offered him a job.

“He wanted to go and visit Palestine, his home, and he needed someone to cover for him and that’s how it all started,” Watson said.

Watson said he’s impressed with the amount of customers the shop draws without any real marketing efforts.

“But the people just come Ö” Watson said.

The clientele at Lori’s tends to be a mix of University students, staff and faculty, as well as nearby residents, Rachel Shahin said.

“It’s so nice to be around people from the University,” she said. “They’re great customers.”

She added that much of their clientele are routine customers.

“It makes the line go fast because we already know what they want,” Rachel Shahin said.

Some patrons have been customers since before her husband bought the coffee shop, she said.

Chad Burgess, a University alumnus who studied ecology and evolution of behavior, said though he lives in Roseville, he passes up other coffee shops to come to Lori’s.

“The whole community is here,” Burgess said while sipping coffee.

Burgess, a former Bailey Hall resident, said Lori’s is more than just a coffee shop for him.

“My wife and I actually had our first date here,” Burgess said, adding that Watson, the barista, attended the ceremony.

Chris Curtiss, a former Hennepin County prosecutor and retired Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs employee, said she and her colleagues sometimes would commute from the West Bank just to eat at Lori’s.

“It’s supporting an independent business instead of a chain,” she said.

Curtiss, who lives nearby, said that Lori’s offers a “friendly and funky” environment that would be hard to find in a chain.

“I was able to watch (Rachel and Mahmoud) court, marry and have two children,” Curtiss said. “That was fun.”

Curtiss said the sense of community Lori’s offers is one of its definite benefits.

“This is like Cheers,” she said, referring to the popular television show. “Everyone knows your name.”