CEDAR RAPIDS — Brad and Britt Danielson didn’t plan for their baby’s birth to coincide with the opening of their new coffee shop, Cafe Saint Pio.
But babies, and city inspection schedules, wait on the whims of no one. They opened the cafe May 29, and then two days later the baby came. After a short weekend break, Brad Danielson reopened the doors June 4.
The coffee shop, at the corner of 16th Avenue SW and C Street SW, is one of the newest additions to the Czech Village.
Danielson previously opened NewBo coffee shop Brewhemia with Matt Danielson and Steve and Andrew Shriver in 2014. He said he and his wife were ready for their next venture when the opportunity to take over this space came along.
With a new baby and a new business, he’s tired but grateful, he said. The cafe represent prayers answered, which is why he named it after the Catholic Saint Pio.
More than a year ago, he and his daughter, who was then three, were attending a service at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. They prayed at a shrine to Saint Pio, and Danielson told his daughter they were going to ask the Italian saint for an intercession.
“I laid out everything we were looking for,” he remembered. “I said, ‘I will name the cafe after you and hang a portrait of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the space.’”
The next day, Mary Kay Novak McGrath, who purchased several Czech Village properties, reached out to the Brewhemia owners and asked if they would be interested in opening a coffee shop in one of her buildings.
Danielson jumped at the opportunity. True to his word, a portrait of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Perpetual Help now hangs on one wall, and the Saint Pio signage fronts the building.
The name is also an homage to European cafes named for saints, he said.
“I looked at thousands of photos on Pintrest of classic, turn-of-the-century French and Italian cafes, and I loved their style,” he said. “I didn’t want to copy them, but to steal some of their essence.”
It’s an aesthetic he’s curated carefully, with marble cafe tables, gold leaf-framed mirrors — he learned how to do gold leaf so he could upcycle one of the mirrors — and 19th century paintings and portraits on the walls.
The building was once a bank, and a heavy vault door still opens off the small kitchen area. The former bank vault now houses a food preparation station and storage area.
Renovations to the historic building, which was inundated during the Flood of 2008 and has housed a number of businesses since then, included rebuilding the electric and plumbing systems and installing an ADA-compliant bathroom. The couple also remodeled the apartment above the coffee shop and now live there.
The cafe’s kitchen is small, and so is the food menu. A pastry case and Danielson’s homemade crustless quiches compliment offerings like French toast, avocado toast and egg and cheese sandwiches. Lunch includes salads, panini and soups.
Much of the focus is on the coffee and espresso, and Danielson said he said he hopes Cafe Saint Pio becomes part of a wider cafe scene he sees growing in Cedar Rapids.
“Cedar Rapids in the last six years has really matured as a coffee culture place, a cafe culture place,” he said, naming other recently opened coffee shops like Lightworks and Dash Coffee Roasters, along with Brewhemia. “There is really vibrant coffee culture.”
Asked what he means by coffee and cafe culture, he elaborated that, to him, it is about more than espresso, but about an experience.
“You’re not selling just coffee, you’re selling the romance of going to a cafe. You can get coffee anywhere, so you’re selling a little bit of extra care — the roast, the latte art, the hand ground chai.”
While he said he’s not the most expert latte artist, he enjoys the act of creating patterns in foam on the top of espresso. It represents what he’s trying to get at with “cafe culture” — something to be enjoyed for it’s own sake, perhaps as a moment of quiet conversation in a busy day.
“I love it. It’s the most ephemeral art form that exists,” he said. “Your canvas is the coffee, your brush is the foam. It’s so Zen.”
If You Go
• What: Cafe Saint Pio
• Where: 99 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids
• Hours: 7 to 4 p.m. daily; kitchen closes at 2 p.m.
• Details: (319) 200-1000
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