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Red Raven Espresso Parlor is being forced to move

The exterior of the Red Raven Espresso Parlor's longtime location, inside a former Fargo Fire Department station.
The exterior of Red Raven Espresso Parlor's longtime location, a former Fargo Fire Department station.

Fargo listeners may be familiar with the Red Raven Espresso Parlor. For 11 years, they've been hosting arts events, slam poetry nights, open mics, concerts, and more at their Main Avenue location, along with serving up coffee and food. But you can't go in there right now, because they're being forced to move by July 30. Café co-owner Lexx Francis has more on that.

"It really came out of nowhere that this person was going to lease to a new tenant when we've been here for so long. There isn't another place like this, which is why I think it was so devastating that for a while, we didn't know what was going to happen."

The co-owners do have some new location options by now, but the move was still a surprise and put the future of this unique coffeeshop in jeopardy for a while. Like Francis said, there isn't really another place like it in the Fargo area:

First of all, the co-owners.

"The Red Raven started as a group of friends. People wanted to be very radical and different in the way that this espresso parlor works, so people didn't feel like they were having to talk up to anybody or talk down to people."

There's what the space physically looks like.

"You look around and it's like, a brick wall, a mismatched mish-mosh of chairs, there's a ton of artwork that spans from very recent to when the Red Raven first opened. It's not clinical; it doesn't feel like a national chain coffee shop. It feels like a lot of people have come through here and that there's a lot of soul."

And then, there are all the arts facilities that the Red Raven provides.

"Our craft room is upstairs on the mezzanine and that has a bunch of free supplies: you can use the sewing machine, there's a bunch of yarn. We also have the artists' studios and I think we have eight artists in residency. I rent down there. We do comedy nights and poetry nights, like spoken word nights."

And then it's also a safe haven for misfits, as Francis puts it. This is not a cliché. Talking to Francis, I get the feeling that it's an essential service.

"We want you to feel safe and we want you to feel seen, we want you to feel heard. We don't just say that because they're buzzwords; everybody who works here has felt that. We're about 60% BIPOC, 90% queer, all of us are poor. It's very difficult to find a place to feel at home, or to feel like you're in a safe place just walking to the grocery store. We're open, usually, 2 to 11, which is crazy considering that everybody on the team has a full-time job outside of this. We try to keep it open so that it's a bar alternative. We try to keep the prices down even past inflation. We are not going to kick somebody out. People who have severe mental illness, who don't feel safe in other places, come through here and just can be."

I'm beginning to understand that losing the Red Raven would also mean losing a place that provides an infrastructure for care and creativity, a literal embodiment of misfit community in the form of a coffee shop.

Running the place has never been easy. It's seen a lot: from disagreements among co-owners to struggles with the landlord, to harassment by far-right radicals. But Francis is optimistic that the Red Raven will find a new home soon.

"Right now we do have a couple options in mind. I am optimistic about reopening. I think we have a lot of community backing and a lot of community support."

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