Karen and Nepali Foods store opens in former St. Paul strip club site with ‘troubled’ history of violence

Karen and Nepali Foods store opens in former St. Paul strip club site with ‘troubled’ history of violence

Karen and Nepali Foods store opens in former St. Paul strip club site with ‘troubled’ history of violence

The former site of St. Paul’s sole strip club reopened under new ownership as Karen and Nepali Foods Saturday.

The former Lamplighter Lounge, once located in the strip mall off of Larpenteur Avenue, “was kind of a beacon of trouble,” said Rice and Larpenteur Alliance board member Greg Simbeck, culminating in the shooting death of Nia Black, 23, in the parking lot in 2020, and her family’s subsequent calls to shut the Lamplighter Lounge down.

“A lot of trouble, a lot of police calls, very hard to get it closed down,” Simbeck shared.

It did close in 2022, and Saturday as the ribbon was cut and the space opened anew, Black’s mother, LaTanya Black, was there for the symbolic moment.

“As I stood feet away from where Nia was shot and murdered, behind me was this restoration of a new beginning, that store,” Black shared. “My whole journey, since this happened with Nia, has been an oxymoron, good and bad happening at the same time.”

It was a moment 8 months in the making for Karen and Nepali Foods co-owner Kxen Rai. Rai is 23 years old, the same age Nia Black was when she was killed right outside his doors.

Asked if he had any reservations about opening his first store in a place with this history, Rai said, at times, it “was very scary.”

“I had to deal with some people outside actually in the parking lot before, like before it opened,” he said.

Rai described a couple of run-ins before concluding, “But the thing is, I feel good because this place is very good and we changed something dark to something different.”

It would be hard to recognize the former space after the remodel, including the addition of windows and an array of shelves stocked with various South Asian foods, including from Karen, Nepal and more.

Karen and Nepali Foods could be called an ‘intersection of culture,’ and it’s right at the intersection of three cities: St. Paul, Maplewood and Roseville.

“So in the past, it had been kind of left aside, neglected and that showed,” Rice and Larpenteur Alliance Executive Director Kim O’Brien said.

As she put the finishing touches on the Alliance’s third annual ‘Community in Bloom’ event at Lake McCarron’s County Park, O’Brien saw the symbolism in the budding of spring, the store’s opening and a few years of the three cities’ sharing resources through the Alliance.

“We knew that there could be, if we highlighted the positive of this neighborhood, that we could change the narrative and that we could bring attention and investment in the community,” O’Brien said.

After touring Karen and Nepali Foods, LaTanya Black visited her daughter’s resting place.

“I talked to her and I just told her all the great things; that we are so sorry that this happened to you, but you don’t even know, I know you’re looking from heaven down, but the wonderful things and changes that have taken place since they took you from here,” Black said. “And that’s my promise to her.”