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St. Paul entrepreneur dies at 79: Arnellia Allen: A loving heart

By Harry Colbert, Jr.
Managing Editor
@HarryColbertJr –

Arnellia Allen opened the doors to famed Arnellia’s in 1992. The club remained open until this past April. Arnellia’s Facebook page

The Twin Cities entertainment community continues to mourn the loss of business and entertainment pioneer, Arnellia Allen.

Allen, 79, passed away Dec. 21 following her battle with cancer. She was memorized this past Wednesday (Feb. 3).

Allen made history in 1992 becoming the first African-American woman to obtain a liquor license in the state when she opened the now famed Arnellia’s on University Avenue in St. Paul. For years Arnellia’s was the “go to” spot for live entertainment, hosting countless national acts and serving as the resident home for numerous singers and bands. For many years Allen was the only African-American in the state to hold a liquor license.

Kathleen Johnson, a longtime performer at Arnellia’s, and friend of Allen, said Allen had a heart of gold.

“Her spirit was so beautiful,” said Johnson. “She was the mother to all the musicians. She really cared about the musicians and singers. She gave so many people an opportunity when no one else would. She believed in people. Arnellia’s was the place to go to get some peace in this town.”

When Allen’s long-time cook left, Johnson, who now has a successful food truck and catering business, stepped in to run the kitchen.

“It was like an internship. She taught me so much about business,” said Johnson. “She went above and beyond the call, both as a person and as a business owner.”

Tyrone Terrill, president of the African American Leadership Council, echoed Johnson’s sentiment that Allen had a heart of gold.

“She had the biggest heart; she did so much for her employees beyond just a paycheck,” said Terrill, who was a regular patron of the club. “She had the heart of a giant. She loved our people. We lost a great one. If there was a Hall of Fame for bar owners, she’d be in it.”

January 8, 2018
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