By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Blue Moon coffee shop (3822 E. Lake St.) owner Lisa Berg (photo right) is almost done paying off her medical bills, thanks to neighborhood residents and friends who donated $20,000 through Go Fund Me.
“That was a godsend,” stated Berg. “It blew me away.”
After insurance, Berg was left with $40,000 in bills from her hospitalization and subsequent rehabilitation. “I’m a pretty low-income person, so it was a jolt,” admitted 58-year-old Berg. She dug into her life savings, but still came up short.
That’s where the Go Fund Me came in.
As she wrote on the fundraising page: “Your help will go directly to pay the bills. It means so much to me because although asking for help feels difficult, I have to.”
She had to relearn everything
Two winters ago, Berg was fighting what she thought was just a cold that hung on and on. “I just thought I had a bug,” recalled Berg, but she was so very tired. One day her sister and niece visited and could tell that things weren’t right. They called an ambulance.
At Regions, Berg was diagnosed with influenza that led to kidney failure. Following her hospital stay, she spent five weeks at Walker Methodist Health Center.
“I had to learn everything again,” said Berg. “How to walk. How to count change. Sitting up in bed. Dressing myself.”
She praises both the staff at Regions and Walker Methodist for their care and hopes to be able to get to Walker Methodist soon to thank staff personally, although she’s waiting until she doesn’t have to maneuver through the snow. “It was kinda hard—they really work you,” remarked Berg. “But the staff there is outstanding.” Her wonderful occupational therapist started crying when she took her first steps.
Berg left the rehabilitation facility in a walker and returned to her second-story apartment in St. Paul. It was six months before she could make it down the stairs. Each day she practiced stepping down one step and then up. Down and up. Then she added another. Then she could make it down five steps. Finally, she made it down all 17 steps and sat on a bench. To celebrate, she posted on Facebook. “I’m outside!” she wrote.
Through her recovery, Facebook has been a solid source of support. Berg has appreciated the encouragement over each small accomplishment. “Sometimes I’d just cry out of gratitude,” recalled Berg.
She hasn’t been able to make it into her coffee shop much, but when she does, it’s been wonderful. “It’s so nice to go in there and see people,” said Berg. “I just like being there.”
She doesn’t drink coffee at home but indulges in her favorite when she’s there: a little espresso in a dark roast topped with brown sugar cubes.
“Having been fortunate enough to be in good health my whole life, I’m working hard to view parts of the past year as a fleeting illness, a recuperation, and a strength-building exercise,” wrote Berg in a Go Fund Me update to supporters. “And, of course, sometimes I feel sad about it and tired of it. But the coolest things for me are the healing and the good care I experienced and the love of all of you.
Whether or not you are supporting me financially, you are all supporting me in your words and good thoughts.”
22 years as Blue Moon
Berg started working in the food industry when she was in graduate school earning a degree in chemical dependency. She began baking bread and croissants at night in the Gelte’s kosher bakery on Hennepin Ave. in 1984, and then transferred to a day position baking pastries and tortes. Eventually, she rose to manager. Her time at Gelte’s was life-changing, and Berg points to owner Dennis Gelte as a role model for how to run a business and manage staff.
“He taught me how to be gracious and kind and also mindful of the business at the same time,” said Berg.
She left in 1992 to help a friend at Cafe Weird and the offshoot, Weird Kitchen Catering, cooking simple but delicious vegetarian dishes.
Then Cindy Kangas approached her about opening a coffee shop off E. Lake St. in a building owned by John Kolstad. Cindy managed the construction while Berg focused on financing. They gutted the space to the exterior wall, tore down the suspended ceiling, and pushed out the back wall to add a bathroom.
The Blue Moon opened on Oct. 23, 1994. “It was quite an adventure,” said Berg. For several years, Kangas and Berg operated a second coffee shop on Franklin, but divided the business when Berg realized she didn’t like splitting her focus.
Berg has always strived to provide a quality coffee beverage that is consistent no matter who is making it. She does this in part to recognize that people pay a lot of money for their beverages. Plus, others spend their whole lives picking coffee beans and getting them to coffee shops like hers. “That’s a big deal,” said Berg. “So I want to be a good caretaker for their work.”
Gina Palandri was one of the first baristas at the Blue Moon. “Lisa has provided jobs for people (like myself), provided a great, safe space for all the community, supported other local businesses, and provided neighbors with coffee and lattes,” she remarked.
Berg has worked hard to create a space where everyone is welcome, including the LGBT community. She’s never wanted to be surrounded by people who agree with her all the time and finds the diversity stimulating.
Her staff has echoed the customer base and is an “eclectic bunch of people.”
They’ve pitched in to keep the place running during her illness. The coffee shop has continued to stay open 365 days a year, just like always. It wasn’t closed for even a day due to her illness because of the staff.
“I’m very fond of all of them,” said Berg. “I hope I convey to them my gratitude every day.”