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Kenwood mall in Duluth gets a coffee shop

Ria Takhar (left) and her mother, Jodi Takhar, will open Perk Place coffeehouse and bakery Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, at the Kenwood Shopping Center. The new business will cater to students and other residents who have lacked a coffee shop in the area. (Steve Kuchera / / 3
The new Perk Place coffeehouse was being readied last week for its opening this Wednesday at the Kenwood Shopping Center. (Steve Kuchera / / 3
A lighthearted sign is one of the coffee-related decorations at Perk Place. (Steve Kuchera / / 3

Jodi Takhar and her daughter, Ria, had wanted to open a coffee shop for some time.

It's something they could do together.

But finding the location really came first.

"That's when the ball started rolling," Takhar said.

The 2,000-square-foot storefront in Duluth's Kenwood Shopping Center had been vacant since Game Planet moved out more than three years ago. But, located near the University of Minnesota and the College of St. Scholastica, it was ideal for a coffee shop.

"The location is busy, and it's by the schools," Takhar said of the strip mall at Arrowhead Road and Kenwood Avenue. "It's by a lot of residential homes. And there wasn't another coffee shop for a long ways. There wasn't a place to just come in and sit down, read a book, have a cup of coffee and relax."

So after nine months of preparation -- including extensive barista training for Ria -- they'll open Perk Place coffeehouse and bakery on Wednesday. It'll be the first business for both of them, but Takhar helped manage her husband's consulting business for years.

With four employees to help them, they'll be open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (or 10 p.m. if there are customers), serving up gourmet coffees, teas, lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, smoothies and frappes. They'll offer sandwiches and fresh pastry from Johnson's Bakery in Duluth and cookies and cakes baked on site.

Prices still are being determined, but Takhar said they'll be competitive with Starbucks and Caribou Coffee.

Preparations for the startup have included their quest for the perfect cup of coffee.

"I've been an early guinea pig," said Takhar's husband, Harry. "I'm very particular about coffee. I was having trouble finding a decent cup of coffee. I started having Starbucks coffee. Then they made their coffee and said, 'Try this.' Since then, I was sold on the whole thing."

They learned that starting with good-quality water was essential. So they use Duluth water that's gone through a water purification system. Their coffee beans come from Duluth Coffee Company whose owner Eric Faust has helped them with their brewing .

The store space has been totally remodeled, with seating for 40, including a comfortable lounge area and plenty of outlets, USB ports and free WiFi.

Much is driven by Ria's experience while attending UMD several years ago. Away from her family's home in Bemidji, she would have liked to have had such a coffee shop to go to with ample seating and plug-ins.

"She keeps pointing out things she wanted, things she would have loved to have had," Takhar said.

As she does, they incorporate it into the coffee shop.

During finals week, they'll try staying open 24/7, for example. If the business is there, they'll keep it up.

But they expect more than students to be their customers.

"We have had a lot of response from people who live around the area," Takhar said. "We have had older people come in, saying they want a place to come in and read in the afternoon."

The coffee shop will be for them, too, she said.