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How One Independent is Coping with Social Distancing

Chef Jeff, as the owner of the Marine Cafe likes to be known as, is using this uncertain time in the restaurant industry to diversify his offerings by helping local artists and "Goodwill flipping."

Chef Jeff at the Marine Café in Marine on the Saint Croix is going to use this nonseasonal slowdown in business to “repair an old car.” His hole-in-the-wall coffee shop/bakery only has seating outdoors, so no need to shoo people outside after ordering one of his popular scones and espressos. But the public restroom is barricaded by order of the state.

The Marine Cafe used to sell bikes, as the ceiling demonstrates. In the background are the T-shirts with the saying: “Everybody must get Sconed."

When we visited on Saturday, the charming town, which already looks like something out of a retro movie, was pretty much deserted. The busy season is summer; winters tend to be slow, but even here the affects of the coronavirus pandemic is being felt. 

His list of projects includes cleaning out the second room and making more wall space for local artists to display their work. He also uses the space for “flipping Goodwill,” which means finding treasures to resell among the items people donate to the charity.

Chef Jeff, as he wanted to be known, doesn’t have a freezer in the tight space, so when he picks up supplies he has to make a big loop which includes a stop at the nearest Goodwill store.

He makes a mean corned beef hash, he says, and the locals swear by his scones. Some people make the long trek to the remote town in Washington County, just for the scones—the selection Saturday included pistachio, blueberry and chocolate chip. How good are they? Good enough to have them memorialized in a T-shirt with his café’s logo and the saying, “Everybody must get Sconed.”

When asked where he learned to cook, he says as a child he watched a lot of Julia Childs on TV before Mr. Rogers Neighborhood came on. “Those were the days before remotes,” he points out, when changing the channel meant getting off the couch and walking over to the TV set.

Although he says he’s getting better at Facebook marketing, the sign on his building greeting the public lets them know they’re in for a treat: “Espresso, some breakfast, some lunch.”

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