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Community Cafe and its Drag Queen Story Hour find temporary home

Owner says the the story hour has caused ‘roadblocks’ as she searches for the cafe’s next permanent location.
People fill Community Cafe as drag queen Viktoria Sommers reads a Dr. Seuss book to children during Drag Queen Story Hour. [Times (2019)] [ALLIE GOULDING | Tampa Bay Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Community Cafe is still searching for its forever home, but in the meantime it’s setting up shop at a local church.

Allendale United Methodist Church has welcomed Community Cafe owner Mandy Keyes to host a regular weekend pop-up shop at its property as well as continue its Drag Queen Story Hour. The cafe opens this Friday.

“We are NOT giving up finding our permanent home,” Community Cafe posted on its Facebook page. “We are still trying, but there’s been a lot of roadblocks, and yes, some are due to Drag Queen Story Hour.”

Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, FL is known for his proclamations of inclusivity of the LGBTQ community throughout the church. [CORTNEY LESOVOY | Special to t]

Keyes’ business became a St. Pete staple after six years at its former spot on Central Avenue in the Kenwood neighborhood. But a few months ago, Keye’s landlords decided not to renew the cafe’s lease. The shop closed just before the new year.

The landlords declined to comment when a reporter asked in December why Community Cafe would no longer be a tenant. A ‘for rent’ sign appeared in the window.

Keyes said some prospective landlords viewed the story hour as a liability.

Starting in the fall, the cafe began hosting a Drag Queen performer to visit in a glitzy costume and full makeup to read a children’s book. The event aims to teach children it’s okay to be different and to be loving and accepting of themselves and others.

By the summer, out-of-town protesters began to gather outside at the behest of a Christian blogger. They held signs calling the Drag volunteers pedophiles. Counter protesters gathered with their own signs, too.

Keyes said difficulty in finding a new spot has been amplified by an expensive rental market.

Related: Drag Queen Story Hour in St. Petersburg draws protesters. We went inside.

“There’s a whole lot of competition for restaurant spaces," Keyes said. “Before you even know someone is leaving it’s already snapped up.”

Another entrepreneur and friend of Keyes came up with the idea to reach out to churches, because most have commercial kitchens. It wound up being a friend of a friend that connected Keyes with the Rev. Andy Oliver at Allendale.

“Talk about true community,” she said.

Keyes and her team will be able to set up a counter, take over the kitchen and have small seating area.

Keyes created Community Cafe to be a welcoming space. The cafe would host movie nights, swap meets and art exhibitions. It was a well-known haven for the LGBTQ community, regularly hosting social meet-ups with Metro Inclusive Health.

Drag queen Viktoria Sommers reads a Dr. Seuss book to children during Drag Queen Story Hour at Community Cafe in St. Petersburg. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times] [ALLIE GOULDING | Tampa Bay Times]

Keyes has been upfront with potential landlords about the story hour, even though the protests died down by winter.

“Drag Queen Story Hour is not controversial," Oliver wrote on the Allendale church Facebook page. “The true controversy is how members of the trans community are marginalized and oppressed by individuals and systems."

Related: St. Pete’s Rev. Andy Oliver practices ’ministry without fear’

He called the cafe a perfect partner to help the church create a gathering space for people "no matter race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or belief.”

Keyes said she hasn’t given up on finding a more permanent home, but that having a community presence again makes the whole process less stressful.

The new Community Cafe will be open Friday, Saturday and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at 3803 Haines Road N. It will have a limited menu featuring its most popular items, due to a smaller kitchen space. But it will deliver again through UberEats.

Keyes said the business will give 27 percent of its sales to the church, which has pledged to use the money to help fund social justice work in the community.

The shop will host a Drag Queen Story Hour on Sunday.

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