Penny's Coffee (3509 W. 44th St., Mpls.) is closing its Linden Hills location on Dec. 13, but the building won't stay dark for long.
Shawn McKenzie, the gifted pastry chef who has made Penny's a destination for all things butter and sugar, is taking over the site of her former employer (she left in October) and opening her own place, Café Cerés, within the next few weeks.
"This space just popped up and fell in our laps," she said.
The "our" is her collaborator Daniel Del Prado. The two met when they were both working at a seafood restaurant in Portland, Ore. He was the sous chef, and it was her first pastry chef gig ("A fish house needs desserts, too," she said with a laugh) and they became fast friends.
"He dug my temperament," she said.
Eight years ago, he recruited her to Minneapolis to help open Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre's Burch Restaurant.
"He said, 'Do you feel like dealing with cold weather and becoming my pastry chef' " she said. "And I said, 'Do I ever.' That's when I met Isaac, and he's become such a great influence and mentor me."
Her work at Burch? Spectacular. Her baba au rhum will surely go down in history as one of the most memorable desserts to ever grace a Minneapolis menu.
McKenzie stepped into her role at Penny's two years ago, and the showy Linden Hills kitchen (diners can watch the goings-on behind large glass windows) was built to her specifications. Del Prado went on to open Martina and Colita, with acclaim trailing in his wake.
"We've been talking about doing something together for a while," she said. "If he were here right now, he'd be, like, 'Don't talk about me.' He's taking a back seat but god knows I'll be pulling him in the front when I can."
The menu will continue with the Middle Eastern flair that McKenzie infused into Penny's, a taste she gained following an influential culinary tour of the region.
"I just got inspired by everything they do there," she said.
The cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
"The main focus will be lunch," said McKenzie. "Salads, savory items, tartines, quiches, sandwiches and what I do best, the sweets: cakes, babkas, a couple of tarts and of course cookies."
She's planning on including a number of Penny's favorites.
"I'm probably going to retool the babka, but I think people might be mad if I didn't bring back our croissant or our tahini chocolate chip cookie," she said. "Why reinvent the wheel?"
(One staple that isn't making the cut: soft serve ice cream, "but down the road we might offer ice cream," said McKenzie).
McKenzie and Del Prado have recruited Casey Underkofler, a Bachelor Farmer and Martina vet, to run the cafe's coffee and espresso program, which will include Turkish coffee.
"He's coming up with great syrups and flavors," said McKenzie.
There will be little done in terms of interior design ("A few touches here and there, but it's a great space and it doesn't need much updating," said McKenzie) and her plan to open shortly after Christmas is a challenge during a global pandemic.
"It's a little scary, I won't lie," she said. "But honestly, this has all been a great distraction. I didn't think that I still had this in me, and I think that this project has given me some new life."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib