A new version of Mill City Café opening on Central

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May 24, 2013
By: Mike Munzenrider
Kristin Lebben
Mandy Zechmeister and her partner John Holmgren are opening a new restaurant in the former Porky's building on Central.
Mike Munzenrider

WINDOM PARK — The owner of the former Mill City Café is opening a new iteration of the Northeast favorite in the former Porky’s building.

Mandy Zechmeister, owner of the café that closed a year ago in the California building, is planning to open The Mill NE later this summer with her partner John Holmgren.

The building at 1851 Central was most recently home to a Falafel King and before that a Porky’s.

Zechmeister worked at 112 Eatery and The Anchor Fish & Chips while searching for a new location.

“From the get-go it was a major priority to stay in Northeast,” she said. “Finding a space that would have as much charm as our old space, parking, an area for a patio … this place was definitely worth the wait.”

Renovation work is underway at the restaurant’s new home. Minneapolis-based Smart Associates is designing the new café, though Zechmeister said she doesn’t expect many drastic changes to the building.

“[We will take] away the fast food aspect of this and make it more into a full-service restaurant,” she said. “We’re hoping to have the same bohemian atmosphere that we’ve always had. Nothing about that is something we really want to change at all. It suits our concept, it suits our personalities, it suits the neighborhood.”

Matt Kempf, lately of Café Maude and Il Gatto, will be the chef at The Mill NE; Holmgren described him as “top-line.”

As for the food, Zechmeister said that many mainstays will be back, including the popular biscones and gravy.

“[The menu will be] very similar to what we had before, with the addition of dinner, of course,” She said. “[It will be] eclectic, we don’t want to lock ourselves into any specific style of food other than just delicious.”

As of now, Zechmeister said she hasn’t set the hours of operation, and she noted, “We don’t want to be late night or a bar.”

The Mill NE will be yet another addition to the dynamic eat-scene on Central Avenue, a detail that’s not lost on Zechmeister.

“There’s a lot of great stuff happening here, so we’re really excited to be a part of it,” she said. “We’re going to be one of the most American restaurants, aside from Subway. I think the awesome thing about being on Central for a lot of people is that it’s either a long walk or a short bike ride…it’s literally central for people.”

Dating back to 2006, when the plan to open a then-second-location of Porky’s in Northeast on Central Avenue was presented, it was met with resistance.

Groups like Neighbors Against Porky’s and Windom Park Citizens in Action opposed the business because of the St. Paul location’s reputation, arguing it would bring traffic, noise and crime to the neighborhood.

Still, the Porky’s on Central Avenue opened late in 2007, only to be shut down by the city days later; the restaurant hobbled through the subsequent years, finally closing up for good in early 2010.

As of November 2010, Falafel King had leased and opened up in the building, a move which was less controversial than Porky’s, though still met with reticence my many of the restaurant’s neighbors.

The Falafel King closed, without ceremony or much notice, last year.

It appears Zechmeister, Holmgren and The Mill NE will be welcomed to the neighborhood.

Gayle Bonneville, who runs Windom Park Citizens in Action, said Zechmeister presented her restaurant plan before a May 21 meeting of the group.

“There wasn’t anything negative and not a whole lot of comments,” Bonneville said.

Some in attendance, according to Bonneville, asked if the biscones and gravy would be back, while one neighbor, who was a particularly vocal opponent of Porky’s, said that The Mill NE would be a good morning meet up spot for neighborhood mothers.