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ISSUE 119 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 9/30/2005

Ole store all grown up

By Brenna Bray
Staff Writer

Friday, September 30, 2005

By virtue of its name alone, the Ole Store represents itself as an entrepreneurial extension of St. Olaf College. But are $15 entrees and $22 bottles of wine really what Oles want and expect?

The new Ole Store is certainly not the traditional relic that its predecessor was, but it has not lost sight of its tradition.

The new Ole Store is an embodiment of the future rather than a testament to the past, and it's fully equipped to meet the expectations of current and future Oles.

The Ole Store Café, rather than the coffeehouse or the wine bar, has generated most of the buzz on campus of late, particularly its expensive (and exotic) entrees. Even if one "goes Dutch" on a date, what first year can afford a $25 meal more than once or twice a year? But the café is a great place to dine when your family is in town - you will have the luxury of an elegant meal at their expense.

More students should take advantage of the coffeehouse. The spacious tables all have free WiFi, and the it is fast becoming a great alternative to the Cage. But the coffeehouse does not offer tables to groups without purchasing anything, and students are right to wonder whether a study session in the coffeehouse is worth the cost.

Much has been made of the fate of Northfield's most famous pastry, the Ole Roll. The new Ole Store is prohibited from using the Ole Roll's recipe and its name, and every Ole should mourn the loss of this bit of Olaf tradition.

But the coffeehouse does sell caramel pecan rolls, one bite of which should go a long way towards easing students' nostalgic pain. The rolls are giant, gooey and great - and for $3.95 each, they should be. The Cage, by contrast, sells smaller caramel rolls for $1.25.

The Ole Store's other bakery items are similar to those of the Cage in palate and price, if slightly more expensive. They're also tastier, in my opinion.

Likewise, the Ole Store's gourmet sandwiches and salads are more expensive than their Cage counterparts, but well worth the extra money. And unlike Bon Appétit's sometimes strange soup offerings (Chipotle sweet potato, anyone?), the soups at the Ole Store are uniformly delicious.

Even better, the Ole Store also sells coffee, espresso drinks, tea, cocoa and smoothies at prices similar to those in the Cage, and at a much higher quality. What students shell out in dollars, they well earn back in taste.

But the Ole Store's most innovative feature is not a coffeehouse with good coffee, but rather (gasp) its wine bar. "We wanted to create a fun and lively atmosphere that would appeal to the up-and-coming adults at both colleges," co-owner Lindsay Byhre said. "But we didn't want the bar atmosphere."

Lindsay and her husband/co-owner Todd see wine bars as a new and growing trend in the restaurant and catering industry, and indeed, city-dwellers may find the Ole Store wine bar reminiscent of Twin Cities hotspots like Café Latté in St. Paul or Minneapolis' Café Vin and Zeno.

In this sense, the Ole Store meets Oles' needs in a unique and progressive way: It prepares us to become responsible connoisseurs and social butterflies. The co-owners are around most nights, and are more than willing to educate budding wine-lovers.

The idea of a wine bar less than half a block from Olaf's dry campus initially seems a bit odd, but such questions are ultimately irrelevant. For those of legal age, the wine bar is an excellent addition to Northfield's somewhat patchy social scene; for those underage, it's another reason to count down the days until your 21st birthday.

Some may think the new Ole Store is "too cool for school," but it is the perfect pair of training wheels for the real cosmopolitan routine. Pass the Pinot Grigio, the caramel pecan rolls and that $15 pasta.

Staff writer Brenna Bray is a senior from Stillwater, Minn. She majors in psychology with a concentration in media studies.

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