Beyond coffee achievements

Friday, August 20, 2004

Submitted photo

This is a close-up of the finished sculpture By Kathryn Alfisi ~ Southeast Missourian

KELSO, Mo. -- The building at the corner of Messmer Street and Route PP in Kelso, Mo., has become hard not to notice. Banners are proclaiming Farmers and Merchants Corner, an awning is showing off the words Cappuccino Cafe and a sign is announcing an Oct. 2 grand opening.

While the building's facade is already greeting customers, a lot of work remains to be done to the inside before the Cappuccino Cafe can open its doors.

Owner Ray Russel is hoping people will be taken with the store's unique mix of ice cream parlor, coffee shop, antique store and art gallery. Russel plans to make his opening into a community event, with musicians, tents and outside dining.

For the recently returned Kelso native, the cafe is more than an attempt at running a successful business. He aims to revive a building that has been a landmark in the town since it was constructed in 1920 and has been part of his family history for three generations.

Russel's grandfather, Werner Russel, purchased the building in 1934, five years after it closed its doors as Farmers and Merchants Bank. The grandfather opened a grocery store called Russel's Cash Store.

Werner Russel ran the grocery store for 42 years before passing it on to his son, Raymond Russel. Raymond Russel ran the store for another 10 years before he retired and started using the building as his residence until his death last year.

Now Ray Russel is attempting to bring the building back to its former glory and make it a Kelso destination for locals and outsiders alike.

"My wife and I, even when my father was here, always thought it'd be neat to fix it up. It's such a beautiful building," Russel said.

Although a Kelso native, Russel has not lived in the town for more than 20 years. Russel and wife Cindy Russel had been planning on moving back when the death of his father accelerated their plans.

Soon after his return to Kelso about nine weeks ago, Russel began an extensive renovation of the building, which had not had any maintenance in 15 to 20 years.

The building's brick exterior was partly covered in yellow paint and in poor condition. The paint was sandblasted off, and in its place are now gleaming-new red bricks that look like they were just put in place. At the front of the building is a mix of small, original windows near the roof and brand new windows that will soon be installed.

Inside, Russel, who has gotten his hands dirty with a good deal of the renovation, works along with his wife and son, Michael Russel. They had to remove the plaster that was covering the wall in order to reveal the brick underneath. There was also an entire tin ceiling to repaint.

With the exterior now finished, the focus is currently on getting the rest of the interior ready to go in six weeks. More work needs to be done on the walls, and the marble floor must be refinished, as well as the marble that covers part of the walls.

Russel's intention with all this work is to recall the building's 1920s past. Outside, in addition to having the original brickwork exposed, there are the banners with the name of the former bank printed on them. Inside, Russel said he will decorate with retro decor, such as the grand chandelier he recently installed which looks like it could have been a part of the building since its inception. There are also some of the building's original materials to work with, including the marble floor and tin ceiling. But erasing 84 years of wear and tear is not easy or cheap.

Russel estimates he has already spent close to $20,000 on the building's refurbishing.

"I want it to look exquisite," Russel said. "I don't want it to look like a building that we put some coats of paint on and opened back up."

Beyond coffee

Despite its name, the Cappuccino Cafe will offer more than java drinks. The front half of the cafe will house antiques and original artwork available for sale, as well as candles, greeting cards and local crafts that people can purchase. Patrons can go to the back of the cafe for coffee drinks, ice cream, sno-cones and other assorted treats. An outside patio will provide patrons with a place to take their drinks or cones when the weather is nice.

"We were just trying to think of what would work here without infringing on other businesses," Cindy Russel said.

The cafe combines the Russels' love of antiques with Ray Russel's interest in art and gives the town something it doesn't have -- a coffee shop.

Currently the only place to buy coffee in Kelso is the Kelso Kwik Stop, although in about a month, the Ilmo Bakery and Cafe, which will offer an assortment of coffee drinks, will open in nearby Scott City.

Dustin Benson, who works at the Kwik Stop, thinks the cafe will be a success because it offers something different to Kelso.

Kwik Stop customer A. J. Schott also foresees the Cappuccino Cafe bringing in customers.

"It will be a place to go and gather," Schott said. "It will be good because we don't really have anything like that here."

Schott, who has lived in Kelso since 1962, remembers when the building was a grocery store and is impressed with the renovation work that has been completed since Ray Russel took over the building.

He also thinks the cafe's location across from St. Augustine will encourage people to stop by after church.

Russel believes his coffee shop can draw in more than just folks from Kelso.

"I know a lot of people who will go out on a drive with no particular destination," Russel said. "My thought is, why not make Kelso part of your journey?"

335-6611, extension 182

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