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Rafiki Coffee and Cafe offers Afro-American fusion in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood

Updated: Apr 17

Rafiki Coffee and Cafe is the dreamchild of Ian Oundo, Executive Director of the annual Little Africa Festival. Oundo says he was inspired to open a cafe by the strong bond he experienced in his community over food.

“My mom cooks and my dad, my dad just loved cooking, and still does even at his older age now. And so I grew up watching him cook, I grew up cooking myself. And so cooking has always been a love of mine. But it's also the way that we build community, right? I remember growing up where everybody would sit down and eat on the same plate, literally, like everybody sits down and eats on the same plate. And it's a way of bonding with people,” said Oundo. “And so when it comes to this cafe materializing last year, the Griggs building is a huge historical building that houses a lot of offices and businesses. And I'm like, What do you mean, there's no place to eat in a big building like this? I guess I may just have to open up a coffee shop in here.”

Oundo describes the location of the cafe as a blessing. It’s located at the corner of University and Fairview Avenues, not far from the Midway Soccer stadium.

“I grew up playing soccer. Soccer is huge in Africa. I love cooking. I love serving people, I love the game. And obviously, I'm a Black man trying to make it–trying to be successful. And I said, I want to open up a restaurant… and I want that restaurant to embody and be an emulation of our community, but also be able to bring in the aspect of soccer and what I love and all of that.”

Oundo says sustainability of the community is an integral piece of Rafiki Cafe, so sourcing locally is a priority.

And when it comes to sustainability, I often say it's not about just saving trees, right? It's about how do we empower each other as a business but also as a community?

The cafe offers bagels and donuts, but it also serves East African sambusas and mandazi. Oundo says the cafe’s embodiment of Afro-American fusion stems from his personal connection to both of his homes.

“We live in a society and in a community that is not one dimension. We are so integrated, so diverse. I come from Africa, so I have my own DNA and history and my identity. But I also live in America, right, which is also part of my identity and now becoming my DNA. Our menu is going to be an infusion of our cultures, so that when you walk in here and say, Hey, what does African Chai taste like, you can buy and taste and try them. But what it also does is it means that if an African and Ethiopian or Kenyan Tanzanian, whatever walks into this place, they can order something on the menu that they identify with. Having that infusion is going to allow us to serve the community and everybody feels welcome.”

Rafiki Coffee and Cafe is open Monday through Saturday, from 7:30am until 2:30pm.

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