Biz buzz // Fitgers scraps plans for North Loop brewpub

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November 5, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Ben Johnson and Jeremy Zoss
Ben Johnson and Jeremy Zoss

Minneapolis residents will have to wait at least a few more years for a taste of Duluth’s Brewhouse beer.

Rod Raymond and Tim Nelson, co-owners of Fitger’s Brewhouse and several other restaurants in Duluth, have shelved plans to open a brewpub in the former location of Trocaderos restaurant in the North Loop neighborhood at 107 3rd Ave. N. 

The partners signed a purchase agreement to buy the historic North Loop building in June. They had  hoped to open a brewpub in the late fall or early winter this year featuring their popular Brewhouse beers alongside a few Twin Cities-brewed favorites. They never closed on the deal, however, choosing instead to pursue other opportunities in Duluth.

“We are first and foremost a Duluth company,” said Brad Nelson, a spokesman for Just Take Action, the parent company of Raymond and Nelson’s restaurants. “After looking at the scope of the Minneapolis project along with our new opportunities in Duluth, we decided to circle back and keep the focus local.”

It’s been a busy year for Raymond and Nelson. On New Year’s Eve last year they opened Tycoon’s Alehouse and Eatery in the newly renovated Old City Hall building in downtown Duluth. Tycoon’s was their fourth restaurant in Duluth featuring Brewhouse beer, pushing their small brewery close to maximum capacity.

Raymond and Nelson are now constructing a much larger brewery in an 18,000-square-foot, three-story building just down the street from Tycoon’s. In addition, on Oct. 5 they spent $300,000 to purchase Endion Station, a historic train depot in Canal Park. Plans for developing Endion Station are still in the early stages, but it is certain more of their famous craft beer will be sold there.

Originally all of the Brewhouse beer on tap at the planned Minneapolis brewpub was going to be imported from Duluth until an on-site brewery was built. With their small brewery straining to keep up and more projects on tap in Duluth, the much-anticipated entry into the burgeoning Minneapolis microbrewery scene became unfeasible.

“Everything seemed like a great fit at first,” said Brad Nelson. “But ultimately we decided that going to Minneapolis would take a lot of time and energy, and put a lot of strain on our managers.”

In the mean time Minneapolis residents will have plenty of other places to grab a pint of local brew. Since the passing of the “Surly Law” in late May last year — which allowed Minnesota breweries producing less than 250,000 barrels a year to serve their beer on site — taprooms have been sprouting up everywhere.

Recently Northbound Smokehouse, Indeed, and Fulton breweries have all opened taprooms or brewpubs in Minneapolis, with 612 Brew, Dangerous Man, and Northgate set to open soon.

Although it didn’t work out this time, the owners of Fitger’s Brewhouse are optimistic about bringing their craft beer to Minneapolis in the future.

“Minneapolis is such a cool town with a great beer culture…eventually we would like to circle back and be a part of it,” said Nelson.

Mother Earth Gardens coming to Northeast

WINDOM PARK — South Minneapolis-based garden center Mother Earth Gardens is preparing to open its second location in Northeast. The garden center, which focuses on sustainable and organic plant materials and gifts from local artists, plans to open its new location on two parcels at the corner of Lowry Avenue and Stinson Parkway. 

The parcels, 2358 Stinson Parkway and 2314-2318 Lowry Avenue, house two buildings, a two-story building with main floor retail space and second floor residential space and a single-story building with multiple retail spaces. According to Mother Earth Gardens co-owner Paige Pelini, the garden store will occupy the single-story building, which is best known as the original home of the popular craft store Crafty Planet. The yard space behind the store will become a garden, and the two-story building will be rented out.

Pelini said the main focus right now is to find tenants for the two-story building to start generating income during the slow winter months. She hopes to find both a residential renter for the top floor and a commercial tenant for the bottom floor.

Work on the garden store is now underway, but it will be some time before it officially opens. Pelini said she hopes to have a soft opening for the new location in spring of 2013, with an official opening in spring of 2014. That may seem like a long way out, but with a garden store, it’s necessary. 

“This is a business where we have to pre-book plant materials sometimes a year in advance,” said Pelini. “It has to be grown, we can’t just buy it. That process has already begun.”

Pelini said she the new location will be very similar to the original store at 3738 42nd Ave. S in that it will be a year-round garden center with organic and sustainable plant materials, pottery, décor, gifts and more. But, she said, she hopes its neighbors will help shape the story into what they want it to be.

“We want to spend some time getting to know what the neighborhood really wants from a garden store,” said Pelini. “We plan to have some open houses to meet people and hear their thoughts. It will be custom to the neighborhood.”

Troubles for restaurateur Thom Pham 

On Oct. 16, Thom Pham’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen suddenly closed after two years at 533 Hennepin Ave. 

In the days that followed, more information about the state of chef and owner Thom Pham’s business affairs trickled out. The Star Tribune reported that Pham is facing felony charges for $30,000 of bad checks written to a restaurant supply company. Pham failed to appear for a court appearance and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Earlier in the year, Pham announced plans for Azian Market Bar & Restaurant at 26th and Nicollet, the site of one of his best-known former establishments, Azia. Pham also told the Star Tribune that he sold that business to his former business partner Mike Stebnitz. 

Pham did not return requests for comment for this story. 

Tricky times lead to new ideas at Torby’s Pizza

In the Baker Building at 7th and Marquette, Torby’s Pizza owner Rick Lawless is conducting an experiment on his customers. It’s nothing sinister; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Lawless is giving away free food, samples of new breakfast pizzas he’s considering adding to the menu.

“We’re doing it more like a skillet,” Lawless said. “The sauce is something we’re working on now. It’s gotta be peppery, it’s gotta have a bite.”

By giving away free samples to customers who come in for lunch, Lawless is gauging customer response to his various recipes for breakfast pizza. If there is enough interest, he plans to start opening at 6 a.m. for breakfast service. For a small independent skyway business like Torby’s, coming up with new ideas is a crucial.

Lawless said the explosion in popularity of food trucks has been hard on his business and others in the skyway. 

“We saw a few of the familiar trucks, and then we saw the deluge,” said Lawless. “I kind of figured we were in for a low skyway traffic summer.”

Lawless stressed that he doesn’t resent the food trucks. He had talks with one food truck operator about sharing Torby’s kitchen, but city regulators wouldn’t allow it. He doesn’t expect that breakfast service will replace the business lost in the skyway slowdown, but he thinks it will be a fun experiment. And fun, said Lawless, is a key part of any restaurant. 

“It’s an entertainment business,” he said. “If it’s not fun for us it’s not fun for customers.”


The former home of Brothers Bar and Grill, 430 1st Ave. N, is now open as Johnny Tequila’s Drinking Taco. 

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