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RJ’s Coffee Den is a small coffee shop in West Duluth owned and operated by Renea Johnson. It is attached to her daughter’s business, the Kom-On-Inn, which she likes because she gets to see her daughter everyday. She also gets to work with her sister, and hang out with her friends who are always there.
“My favorite thing, I’d have to say, is my friends,” she said. RJ is retired and so are the majority of the workers there. They don’t run a coffee house because they need the money but because they like doing it.
“I make enough money to keep it open and pay expenses but nothing more,” said RJ. “I have made so many friends and every day I get to see people I care about.”
The social aspect is clear when you walk in the door. You are greated by three small dogs and every table is full of people sipping coffee, eating omeletes or pastries and talking to one another.
The dogs names are Luna, Ty, and Reggy. Luna is RJ’s service dog, or will be once she is fully certified, but she keeps barking too much. When customers walk in the dogs quickly run up to meet them. Not many coffee shops can say they have pets roaming the lounge, making RJ’s feel more like the living room of your Nana’s house. That is what it is trying to be. RJ’s does not exist for the owner but for the customers and the community created there. Every Wednesday is craft day where you can come and knit, croquette, or sow. Every other day you can sit, chat, or read one of the many books they have lining their window sill.
RJ’s Coffee Den opened in 2013. It had been in Proctor in the past and was run by RJ’s son. When he got married it closed down. RJ said her daughter encouraged her to open it back up when the location beside the Kom-On-Inn was available. She said everything just came together and the business has been there every since.
The Coffee Den is located a minuet down the road from Denfeld High School. When I asked where she went to high school she paused and laughed before telling me Duluth East.
“A gentleman asked once where I graduated high school and I said East, and he said to me ‘don’t tell anyone around here you went to East.’ That’s why I’m always a little reluctant to answer that question.”
RJ, her sister and friend Mike laughed at the anecdote and talked about how they dated people from other high schools all the time, and how much they loved to hang out at the London Inn, a now gone restaurant on London Road. They told me they had the best onion rings. Then they told me this is usually how most of their conversations end up going.
While I was there I had a cup of Arco coffee, a roaster they proudly serve in bulk. Once I had ordered my coffee I knew I had to know the story behind this little coffee shop because this just might be Duluth’s most unique one.