A new beginning for the Aster Café

Owners Tom Peterson and Matty O’Reilly bring their Excelsior experiences back to Minneapolis.

Tony Libera

These are difficult times for the mom and pop café, but that hasnâÄôt stopped Matty OâÄôReilly and cousin/business partner Tom Peterson from taking over Main StreetâÄôs Aster Cafe. The pair, who also own the 318 Café in Excelsior, Minn., believe they can find success by taking a localized approach and challenging any perception that the Aster is just a coffee shop. To that effect, theyâÄôve remodeled, added a diverse and affordable menu, which includes beer and wine, and plan to offer live music in September. OâÄôReilly and Peterson have found success with this model in Excelsior and wanted to bring an equivalent to Minneapolis, where they claim their roots. OâÄôReilly viewed the Aster as the perfect spot to set up shop because of its location in the neighborhood. âÄúOn this street thereâÄôs a tavern, thereâÄôs a fine dining place, thereâÄôs a burger place, but the neighborhood café was kind of missing,âÄù OâÄôReilly said. âÄúIt was a good opportunity to do what we do best: be in an urban setting and then really fulfill a niche on this street.âÄù The AsterâÄôs location is undeniably a draw. Just feet away from historic St. Anthony Main Theatre, the Aster hosts a large open patio, which faces out onto Father Hennepin Bluffs Park and the Mississippi River. If the killer view doesnâÄôt grab you, OâÄôReilly hopes the food will. âÄúWeâÄôre open 17 hours a day, and everything on every menu is under $10. So weâÄôre trying to be that super accessible neighborhood café for everyone,âÄù OâÄôReilly said. Keeping in line with that accessibility, the Aster tries to offer diverse fare despite its small kitchen. The lunch and dinner menu lists sandwiches, flatbread pizzas and cheese plates to go with an assortment of wines. ThereâÄôs a selection of beers that one wouldnâÄôt normally find on tap in this area, including MinneapolisâÄô own Fulton. And the booze list further expands with AsterâÄôs signature cocktails, which include tea-infused concoctions like the Jalopy âÄî a blend of lemon solstice tea, ginger beer and Jameson Irish Whiskey. It might sound strange, but itâÄôs mixed right and chilled to perfection, making it a solid drink choice for those hot summer nights. As the school year begins, the Aster will start hosting live music on an interior stage. OâÄôReillyâÄôs hope is an eclectic lineup, with fans coming to see their favorite bands in an intimate setting. There will be everything from jazz acts to rap groups, which ties into OâÄôReillyâÄôs business model of pulling in all kinds of assorted patrons. âÄúAnyone can come any time of the day. If someone wanted to sit here on a laptop for three hours and do homework, or if someone just wanted to come for a glass of wine, they could. We seat almost 200 people with both the patio and the inside, so no one is going to get on their case for lingering,âÄù OâÄôReilly said. As much as OâÄôReilly and Peterson want to attract a broad clientele, theyâÄôre aware that they need to establish the Aster among the local crowd first. TheyâÄôre certainly prepared, and OâÄôReilly sounds more than confident in his strategy. âÄúWe want to see people from everywhere, eventually, but if you donâÄôt win the hearts of your neighborhood, youâÄôre kind of missing the mark,âÄù OâÄôReilly said. âÄúThatâÄôs what weâÄôre trying to shoot for, and everything else should fall into place.âÄù