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Iowa All Over: Warm cup of coffee on a cold day

A customer gets his name on the breakfast menu

Patrons visit the Magpie Coffeehouse for lunch in Decorah on Monday, January 5, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Patrons visit the Magpie Coffeehouse for lunch in Decorah on Monday, January 5, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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DECORAH — It was a bitter cold and snowy day in downtown Decorah in early January, but it was warmth inside Magpie Coffeehouse.

Coffee lovers came and went, asking about the day’s brew. Today, it was Sugar Baby, with notes of caramel and hazelnut.

Painted on the walls by a Magpie employee are tall, thin trees with sparse branches and even fewer leaves.

A sign on a wall over the café reads: “Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee.”

Magpie Coffeehouse, 118 Winnebago St., serves brewed coffee, espresso drinks, breakfast and lunch. The coffeehouse supports local farms by using locally grown eggs, as well as milk, yogurt and coffee from across Iowa.

As breakfast hours came to a close, owner Kathleen Ritner moved from kitchen duty to helping clear tables in the café.

Ritner, from California, bought the Magpie in 2010. She believed it had great potential.

To Ritner, the name is perfectly suited for the establishment.

“A magpie is a bird that collects things and, to me, it’s collecting friends, and that’s what the Magpie is all about,” she said. “My favorite part is just when I get to sit and talk to the customers. We have regulars, we have a lot of vacationing people, we have all kinds of people.”

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The extensive menu offers a wide selection of breakfast and lunch dishes. An employee behind the counter recommended the Magpie burrito for breakfast. The burrito is stuffed with three scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheddar and topped with house-made green chili sauce in a tomato basil wrap. The green chili sauce is especially fragrant.

Paired with a hot vanilla latte, it’s a satisfying late-morning breakfast.

Among the other breakfast items is a dish called “Uncle Bill’s Favorite.” Uncle Bill is a regular at the coffee shop.

His indulgent namesake dish is two biscuits and scrambled eggs topped with house made sausage gravy and a side of meat.

As the café begins to serve lunch, Uncle Bill arrives soon after and takes a seat at a booth by the window. He likes to sit where he has a view of outside.

Uncle Bill — Bill McLain — is dressed for the weather. He’s wearing a winter coat and a cap pulled over his head. In front of him is a single cup of coffee.

McLain is now retired. In his free time, he likes to write. He lives in the country north of Decorah. He has lived in Eastern Iowa his entire life.

“In a small town, when you get your name on a breakfast menu, you’ve reached big-time publicity,” McLain said with a laugh.

The coffee shop’s welcoming environment is intended to cater to guests of all ages. In certain spots along the brick wall, there are holes where a brick should be.

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Instead, there are tiny toys standing at the ready for children. There is even a hidden train set that children can ask for and take to their table.

The Magpie soon will have a new home in downtown Decorah. Before the end of the month, the café will relocate a few blocks away to create space for a bigger kitchen and more room for customers.

“The Magpie kitchen really has no space, and we have very little space up here,” Ritner said. “When we’re busy, we’ll be completely full, no place to sit, standing room only.”

A bigger kitchen will mean opportunities to make more baked goods and breads, Ritner said. Ritner intends for the new space to keep the same friendly atmosphere.

While the Magpie moves, the Nest, an apartment directly above the café, will stay in its spot for now. The apartment has two loft beds, a full bedroom and kitchen.

And a stay at the Nest even comes with a $20 gift card to Magpie.

More on Decorah:

• Decorah is the county seat of Winneshiek County.

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2013 population estimate of Decorah is 8,089.

• The median household income from 2009 to 2013 is $47,619.

• Decorah is home to Luther College, a liberal arts college affiliated with the Lutheran Church and a major employer in town.

• Some other major employers include the Decorah Community School District, Bruening Rock Products and the Gundersen Health System.

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