FAREWELL TO FRUENE AS WE KNOW IT: New Year’s Eve is the final day for the familiar cafe before it undergoes a complete month-long upgrade

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Fruene, the landmark 16-year-old cafe that is the last “untouched” space in the renovated Lompensenteret shopping center, will close its familiar space for the last time at 4 p.m. on New Year’s Eve in preparation for a complete redesign expected to take about a month to complete.

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One employee at Fruene makes an espresso drink while another removes shelving in the kitchen on Tuesday, the last day the cafe is open before it closes for a month-long renovation. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The three-million-kroner project will relocate the counter, install a podium in the center of the cafe space, remove the bathrooms next to the outside entrance, and change the ceiling and floor, among other modifications. Work is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 27, in time for the annual Polarjazz festival.

Tove Beate Eide, owner of the cafe she opened in 2003, told Svalbardposten that while the look will be different – and she’s heard from some residents who aren’t eager to see drastic changes – she hopes the character of the business will remain.

“The space is characterized by a lot of wear now,” she said. “My dad always talked about having to find out if some was ‘nice or need,’ and this is definitely ‘need.’ We would not have made this big investment if it had not been absolutely necessary.”

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Trym Aunevik, right, is filmed by a television crew as he meets with U.S. Ambassador to Norway Kenneth J. Braithwaite at Fruene in early April, a few weeks after the teen who works at his mother’s cafe competed in the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

For those eager to get a familiar taste and/or look at the cafe in its final hours, parts of the interior are already being removed. Some favorite foods such as the chicken curry salad are already sold out until the reopening, although on the plus side the homemade chocolates that have become a major part of the cafe’s business are 30 percent off – although the selection of them is vanishing as well.

The cafe is a popular meeting spot for numerous regular customers, including a group of longtime/retired residents who meet at the same table each morning, as well as a warming spot for the colorful array of visitors/adventurers both humble and famous. Among the cafe’s employees is Eide’s son, Trym Aunevik, Longyearbyen’s lone lifetime disabled resident after being born with Down Syndrome, who just turned 18 and gained international fame after competing as a swimmer at the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi in March.

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Some of the longtime Longyearbyen residents who meet most mornings at the same table at Fruene gather for a final time Tuesday before the cafe undergoes a complete overhaul. The work will include removing the wall of storage cubicles that divides the dining area in half. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The cafe underwent an upgrade in early 2014, greatly expanding its kitchen space, that proved to be both a huge blessing to its business and an infamous curse to local fire officials. The cafe, seeking to expand its new chocolate business, expanded into a space occupied by Classic Pizza, which at the time was the only food establishment with delivery and that was open after pubs closed in the wee hours of the morning. The chocolate business has become an enormous draw both locally and online, but the loss of Classic Pizza resulted in a string of “dry cooking” fires set by intoxicated people trying to cook in the week hours with no other food option available.

Fruene also has significantly expanded its space for clothing (some made by Eide), yarn and other non-food items. While it has hosted some events such as concerts, bingo and trivia nights (and has a knitting club that meets on Thursday evenings much of the year), the current design lacks a dedicated performance space and a large floor-to-ceiling set of cubbyholes divides the main cafe space in two.