Anoka businesses staying positive

Local small businesses are overcoming the emotional challenges caused by COVID-19, with the help of the community.


Sara Gonzalez

ABOVE: Avant Garden’s barista, Cionah Salinas, taking a carry out order from customer Dana Pitzen while following COVID-19 prevention measures.

Sara Gonzalez, Staff Writer

The people who run a local coffee house, ice cream shop, diner and grocer have all been impacted by the pandemic. One thing they have in common is a shared appreciation for the community.  

Avant Garden 

College students need a place to get away from their campus and be productive. Avant Garden is a coffee house and expresso bar that offers exactly that. Jenni Hill, who became Avant Garden’s owner a couple of months before the pandemic started, said that it was challenging to deal with all the changes.  

“We had to learn very quickly how to accommodate, how to keep the business, how to survive,Hill said. “It was really difficult for me. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t handle it gracefully,Hill added 

Seeing the customers after closing the coffee house for several days was very helpful for Hill.  

“To me, it was therapeutic to go and be able to see the community” she explained. Hill has two children that were doing distance learning at the time. 

Avant Garden currently offers carry-out options. Their indoor sitting and popular shaded patio are closed. Hill said she is hopeful to soon be able to offer Avant Garden’s great surroundings to Anoka-Ramsey students, who are “some of our favorite customers.”   

Two Scoops 

Two Scoops ice cream shop is well-known for their super premium hard ice cream and 10 years of history in downtown Anoka. Two Scoops manager Angie Zbanski said having limited seating and reduced hours is hard for the shop, especially for the workers. Having dedicated costumers that still stop in gives them the strength they need to keep going. 

“It’s amazing seeing the younger generation that used to come here when they were kids. Ten years later, now that they are older, [they are] still coming here and loving it just as much,” Zbanski said. Some of them even having kids themselves and bring them here.”  

Two Scoops offers 20 ice-cream flavors, ice-cream cakes and various treats. The shop also supports local programs that benefit the youth of our community.  

Anoka Meat and Sausage 

Famous for their beef sticks and jerky, Anoka Meat and Sausage is a locally owned business that offers fresh meat food and snacks to our community. Like other businesses, they have had to deal with changes of hours and reduced number of workers. 

Some employees have missed [work], said Jay McCarthy, the store manager. That makes it harder on the employees that are working. 

No one in the store has had COVID-19 but relatives and people who are close to the workers have had it. Impacted workers have to quarantine and miss work for at least two weeks 

“We try to keep a good perspective on it,” McCarthy said. 

 Anoka Meat and Sausage offers curbside and togo options.

Sparky’s Cafe 

Sparky’s Cafe is a diner-style breakfast restaurant that offers home-made food with a focus on their distinctive, oversized portions. The cafe’s manager, Janea Dart, said it is difficult for her to see customers coming in alone.  

“It is kind of sad,Dart said.You don’t want to ask them where their significant other is. You don’t say anything. You just smile and hope they are still around.”  

Despite all the struggle, Sparky’s Cafe is still offering great food and positive energy by currently allowing half capacity, along with curbside and carryout options.  

“We still have a great number of people coming in to support us, which has been super helpful,” said Dart. We are making it work. We are getting by.