Get to Know Sparrow Cafe

Just celebrating its sixth birthday (the longest tenant in the space in recent years), Sparrow Café at 50th and Penn touts itself as “the only coffee shop in Minneapolis with Certified Bird Friendly Coffee!”  What exactly does “bird-friendly” coffee mean, you might wonder?  Bird-friendly is the strictest environmental certification that exists in the coffee industry. From the Smithsonian website: “Bird Friendly certified coffees grow under biodiverse shade that provides habitat for migratory songbirds and other wildlife, sequesters carbon and fights climate change. Certification standards cover everything from canopy height to insect biodiversity to protect the wildlife that lives where coffee is grown. Bird Friendly coffees are also certified organic, meaning they are grown without pesticides, which is better for people and for the planet.”  Sparrow also offers teas and handcrafted espresso drinks – the maple cold press, Swedish latte (with a house-made vanilla and cardamom syrup), and Jade tea latte (jasmine tea and green tea matcha) are customer favorites. Sparrow uses only compostable paper and plastic cups and straws.

Owners Sheila and Jasper Rajendren had long planned on opening a little neighborhood cafe. Sheila grew up in the neighborhood – her father had an office in the same building about 50 years ago! A freelance photographer, Sheila has always had a passion for baking and received her baking certificate from St. Paul College in 2008. She makes her muffins and scones (which took first place in the Irish Fair scone competition) from scratch every day. Jasper and Sheila rent a commercial kitchen on Chicago Avenue where they start their day around 3:30 a.m. 

They met when Jasper worked at a Stadium Village coffee shop where Sheila would go between classes. “She came in to get a latte, and the rest is history.” While Sheila was busy photographing musicians, models, doctors, and lawyers, Jasper managed restaurants, cooked, and polished his wine knowledge at the International Sommelier Guild and working with a high-end Italian wine distributor. Jasper’s restaurant career was interrupted when he was called up to serve a tour in Iraq in 2003. 

Jasper named the cafe “Sparrow” because sparrows are “urban birds with a sense of community. Sparrows are the ultimate city bird, and often disregarded as a pest, when in reality they are just birds doing what birds do. I feel that’s life in the city, we all have our blemishes and we all have our strengths, together we make our community. We really wanted our little space to be a place where people can meet, get a little refreshment, and enjoy the company of their friends and neighbors. That’s what it’s all about in the long run. It’s not just the beauty of that rare little bird, it’s about enjoying the ones that are around you.”

A huge mural of sparrows painted by local artists, Broken Crow, adorns the walls. Broken Crow is a stencil-based collaboration between Mike Fitzsimmons and John Grider, who create large scale street-art murals. In their murals, Fitzsimmons and Grider seek to reintroduce animals back into urban habitats, and their mural at Sparrow Café accomplishes that goal. The feel is definitely urban, but cozy and comfortable with a neighborhood feel and friendly service. 

Jasper and Sheila are very happy to have chosen Lynnhurst as home for their café. As Jasper explains, “It’s so close to the lakes, and the creek, and the parkway, it really is a perfect combination of urban living with green spaces to stay connected to nature. It’s amazing to see how much wildlife lives right next us. What I truly love about Lynnhurst though is the people. From young professionals to the third-generation types, it’s a good mix of people committed to keeping a beautiful neighborhood. We’re happy to be a part of that, to be your office, be a relaxing space, host your first date, or just propose to your soulmate (Cheers to James and Abby Patterson)!”