A view on CARAG from behind the espresso machine

Neighborhood Spotlight / CARAG


Liz Abene has had a barista’s-eye view on the intersection of 33rd & Bryant for about eight years.

That’s around the time Abene started working at the corner coffee shop in the heart of CARAG, then an outlet of Urban Bean. Formerly an investor in that business, Abene took over the location in 2014, renamed it Canteen and launched the city’s first toast bar. Stop in on weekends for a smorgasbord of breads and spreads.

You’ll also find Abene’s own line of Canteen Girl granola and baked goods on the café counter. Her convection oven turns out about 600–800 of her vegan oat Holly Bars each month, and her goal is to double production by this summer.

The space feels cozier after a recent remodel. While she appreciated “mod, spare lines” of Urban Bean, Abene said she prefers an “up north” vibe now that the shop is hers.

The Southwest Journal sat down with Abene in early February. The following conversation was edited for length and clarity.

Southwest Journal: You’ve been coming to this space almost every day for eight years. What do you learn about a neighborhood?

Abene: I do feel a little bit like ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ I see the same people. Even my client base is probably 90 percent regulars and 10 percent new people, which is great.

What Urban Bean wanted to be was a hip, destination shop. I’ve always wanted a regular, community-based coffee shop that’s for the community. I don’t care if we’re the coolest shop in town or doing the most current things. I just want to provide good product to nice people, and so that’s what we’re trying to do here.

We know all the babies’ names. There’s one baby I hold, Agnes, every single day. She came here before she went home. (On their way home) from the hospital, they stopped here to get coffee.

She called me “dada” for a while, but she’s out of that phase now. I’m like, “Stop trying to correct her. I don’t get to be a dad for very long.” So cute.

So, I just like that about it here. It’s a great space. It’s got really good energy in here, good light and all that.

What do you like about this neighborhood?

All the people are just approachable. There’s some money and some not-money. There’s some rentals, which I like, because we do get some 20-somethings in here and it’s nice to get a wide range of ages. I like that.

I volunteer at the VOA (Volunteers of America, just over the neighborhood border in East Harriet) once a week because it’s nice. I love it. It’s weird, because I’m an introvert, but I’m an extroverted introvert. I just like people, I like people’s stories, the whole thing. So, I get little bits and pieces of people’s stories every day.

You have a lot of regulars here, so I wonder: Can you just open up a café and people will show up with their laptops? Or is there some secret to creating a welcoming space?

I was really lucky taking over here because I had already been here, so I had kind of a built-in client base. Because they already were familiar with me, that made my transition really easy.

What I really try and do with my staff here is I try and have everyone be very welcoming and inviting. I try and have them find their people.

I always tell them, “You can be as hipster and cool as you want to, but you have to be nice.” You have to be nice to people. People are everything.

Being a café owner, do you get any special insight into your neighbors, beyond their coffee preferences?

Sometimes. I get all kinds of stuff. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I get told. I’m like a bartender, only no one’s drunk so there’s a little bit of a boundary, but sometimes not.

Yeah, I get windows into people’s lives because I see them every day, and it’s mostly nice. I’m actually a very open person, so I feel like if they give me something I can share something, too.

Because, you know, sometimes if you tell someone a whole bunch of stuff about yourself, when you leave you’re kind of like, ‘Oof.’ But I try and have it be so people know about my children and my life a little bit. That’s good.