Palm trees, tropical plants and a saltwater aquarium with its own Nemo. Chandeliers inspired by ships’ portholes. Ocean blue walls, gray floors that look like weathered planks. Pictures of Haiti and other exotic places.

“It just brings the world here,” said an enthusiastic Matt Pfingsten as he stood among 12-foot palm trees under an even taller exposed industrial ceiling painted a cool white inside Pelican Coffee in Hermantown.

Pfingsten, who owns the business with his wife, Gina, pointed to the pendant lights over the service counter that look like rusted metal.

“It looks nautical,” he said with obvious pride. “It looks like it came from the bottom of the ocean.”

When Pelican Coffee opens today at 5094 Miller Trunk Highway with a staff of 14, it won’t be your usual coffeehouse serving espresso, mochas and lattes.

The coffeehouse’s contemporary decor with a tropical, global bent isn’t the only reason. And it’s not just due to its tasty pastries baked on-site or its upscale food menu with healthy offerings created by food manager Erin Currier, who has a master’s degree in nutrition.

What makes this coffee shop different is that it will give away half its profits.

The coffee shop and eatery is a local partner of Praying Pelican Missions, a nonprofit Pfingsten co-founded in 2003. Praying Pelican Missions sends church and other groups from North America on weeklong missions to serve partner churches in Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

“Lots of people are interested in serving, helping and giving back,” Pfingsten said. “They just didn’t know how. We’re the bridge between cultures. We connect with the people who live there, and we work through them to create opportunities for people to really make a difference.”

Based in Hermantown, the faith-based effort has grown to a network of 4,000 participating churches and organizations in North America. This year alone, Praying Pelican Missions is coordinating the trips of 10,000 people to its partner churches worldwide, Pfingsten said.

Pelican Coffee reflects the coffee-growing regions, such as Guatemala and Costa Rica, that Praying Pelican Missions serves. It will serve fair-trade coffee - roasted at Duluth Coffee Co. - from those regions.

Moreover, half the coffeehouse’s profits will be donated  to help those regions and to help youth-focused efforts in Hermantown.

“I’m very excited,” said Pfingsten, 38. “This has been a long time coming. I always wanted to own a coffee shop. But it’s more than that. It’s a mission.”

Community focus

The startup business also sprung from Pfingsten’s desire to help build community, which is encouraged by Vineyard Church, where he is a member.

“This was really started as a community coffee shop,” said Pfingsten, who lives in Hermantown with his family.

For Pelican Coffee, that community effort extends to the locally sourced foods that it will use and to the restaurant’s tabletops, counters and serving platters that were fashioned by Epicurean in Duluth

Pelican Coffee seats about 30 people and has a drive-thru. A private meeting room in the back will accommodate small groups of up to eight people.

Located at Miller Trunk Highway and Lavaque Road, it will miss out on much of the mall traffic that doesn’t venture that far into Hermantown. Pfingsten remains confident, however, that some Duluthians, as well as Hermantown residents and workers, will be supportive.

“Word will get out,” he said.

Those at other Hermantown Square businesses approached last week perked up at the mere mention of the new coffeehouse. Staff at Reliable Insurance Agency were treated to a tasting of Pelican Coffee’s breakfast sandwiches on Tuesday morning.

“They’re really, really good,” said a smiling Scott Wojtysiak, one of the agents. “It’s pretty awesome. We’re pretty excited.”

His brother and fellow agent, Kyle Wojtysiak, agreed.

“It’s nice that they were were willing to cater to whatever you want,” he said. “Everyone here enjoyed their sandwiches and their coffee.”

A few doors down, at Miller Trunk Dental, receptionist Jalyn Reynolds said staff members there also are excited.

“Everyone is looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s close. And for coffee and lunch, it gives us more options.”

Their patients also have been asking about it, so there’s a lot of community interest, she said.

Former Daily Grind site

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The 1,300-square-foot space originally was the Daily Grind coffee shop. Then it became a branch of Republic Bank. The space had been empty a year or more before remodeling got underway in January to turn it into a trendy coffeehouse with a global theme.

The total investment to do it was a few hundred thousand dollars, including the cost of high-end kitchen equipment, Pfingsten said. The design came from Glo Interior Design in Duluth. Brian Moriarty, who was a barista and roaster at the Duluth Coffee Co., was hired to be the general manager.

The menu includes breakfast skillets, soups and salads, innovative sandwiches including a grilled salmon wrap with vegetable chips, hummus naan, flatbreads and other appetizers. It also has a chilled Greek yogurt dispenser. Its pastries will be baked on site and will include scones, muffins and cookies for starters.

“It’s really good food,” Pfingsten said. “We’re doing an original, never-created-before menu for the food.”

Prices start at $1.50 for coffee and tea, $3.50 for mochas and frappes, $8.50 for sandwiches and $6 for salads. Flatbreads are $8.50, cookies are $2, and scones and bagels are $3.

While Pelican Coffee is opening today, it will have a grand opening celebration in about a month.

As word gets out that Pelican Coffee is there and serving good food, Pfingsten hopes there will be another benefit - more people interested in what Praying Pelican Missions does.

“We hope people will just be more aware of how connected we can be to the rest of the world,” he said. “We bring a little slice of what is out there in the rest of the world. Coffee is a global drink that comes from far away. But you can go and visit and serve those who are bringing you the drink.”

Pelican Coffee

Pelican Coffee, at Miller Trunk Highway and Lavaque Road in the Hermantown Square mall, opens today.

The upscale coffeehouse  and eatery will be open from  6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays.

It offers fair-trade coffee, tea, and specialy hot and cold drinks; hot breakfasts, sandwiches, soups, salads, appetizers and pastry baked on site.

Half its profits will go to help coffee-producing regions and youth-focused efforts in Hermantown