Cookie Cart opens to embrace of the East Side

Marjorie Otto/Review • St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter helped cut the ribbon during the May 17 grand opening of Cookie Cart, a new St. Paul bakery at 946 Payne Ave.

Marjorie Otto photos/Review • Cookie Cart, a high school youth employment nonprofit, will employ 50 young people by the end of the year.

Marjorie Otto photos/Review • More than 300 people showed up to the small bakery to help celebrate its opening and get their hands on a box of cookies.

After nearly a year of construction, the much-anticipated Cookie Cart bakery at 946 Payne Ave. opened on May 17. 

The grand opening follows years of East Siders rallying to get the bakery’s St. Paul location to be in the neighborhood. The original Cookie Cart bakery is located in North Minneapolis. 

More than 300 people came to the small bakery to celebrate its grand opening. 

People spilled out the front door and onto the sidewalk trying to catch a glimpse of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which included local politicians and leaders like Rep. Fue Lee, an alumni of the Cookie Cart program. Lee represents North Minneapolis in House District 59A. 

Many of the community leaders spoke about how the bakery is important not only for youth, but also for the revitalization of Payne Avenue, which for years has struggled economically.

“I could go on and on because this means so much in so many ways, or I can say, ‘Take a moment and look around. Every room in this building is filled with people,’” said Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough. “They’re lined up on the street to get in to celebrate this day with us.”

“For [executive director Matt Halley] and Cookie Cart to make [this] investment on the East Side is absolutely huge,” McDonough continued.

St. Paul City Council member Dan Bostrom, who represents Ward 6 on the East Side, talked about how important it is for kids to have activities in the neighborhood, something he saw working as a detective in the juvenile division in the St. Paul Police Department. 

He also talked about the revitalization of Payne Avenue and how the bakery will help with that progress, especially with the investment put into renovating the more than 50-year-old building the bakery now calls home. 

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter joined the celebration, adding that he remembers when, as a St. Paul City Council member, he’d meet with Halley to convince him to open a bakery in St. Paul. 

“Through Cookie Cart, our young people are picking up employment skills; our young people are picking up relationships with other young people and with caring adults. We know that’s really critical,” Carter said. “They’re picking up a sense of ownership of our city, of our neighborhood, of our community, of Payne Avenue. We’ll need that moving forward. Our young people ... are picking up the future right here at Cookie Cart. That couldn’t excite me more.”


A first job

The ultimate goal of Cookie Cart is to provide youth the opportunity to get their first job and to work in a safe, open and welcoming space. Cookie Cart also aims to help young people build confidence, leadership skills and teamwork skills. 

Students rotate through a series of positions — making and baking cookies, customer service, taking orders over the phone, packaging the cookies and learning how to manage a business. 

In the two years prior to the physical bakery opening up, Johnson High School students were able to participate in an after-school business program taught through Cookie Cart. 

The program, which was taught by local business owners, helped students learn job interview strategies, budgeting and other job skills.

For the past month, Cookie Cart has been hiring and training students at the new bakery, baking cookies prior to the grand opening. 

Nkaujliamtshuj, a 15-year-old student at Johnson High School, was one of the first students hired by the new bakery. She said she is looking forward to learning leadership and communication skills in her new job. 

She said this is the first job she’s ever had and she had been nervous about the interview. However, she said the interviewer made her feel so relaxed and welcome and she aced it. 

Nkaujliamtshuj said one thing she would tell other students who may be interested in working at Cookie Cart is that it is a safe environment and everyone makes you feel welcomed. 

Kezaria, 16, another student from Johnson, echoed those same sentiments. She said she looks forward to working on her customer service skills and was excited to get her first job. 

Marvelous, 15 and also from Johnson, said he was having a hard time finding a first job. He said his teacher mentioned that he should apply at Cookie Cart.

“I didn’t know what it was at first, but when she mentioned baking cookies, I was like ‘Cookies?!’ so I went for it,” he laughed.

All jokes aside, Marvelous said he’s enjoyed making new friends during his month of training, and he’s not only excited to learn some cashier skills, but he’s also looking forward to working on his baking skills. 

Halley said now that the bakery is open, Cookie Cart will focus on expanding its St. Paul programming. He said right now the bakery currently has 15 employees — by the end of the year, they’ll hire 50, and next year the goal is to employ 100 youth. 

He added, “It feels like we’re just embraced in this community.” 


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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