Biz buzz :: Chambers

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February 15, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

Chambers named ‘spokesbuilding’ of Parisian brand

It seems every few months something happens to remind us that the Chambers, the great luxury art palace of Hennepin Avenue, has a reputation that reaches far beyond the confines of the Midwest. Since it opened in 2006, praise for the hotel has been rampant — but it’s also been watered down by small-pond provincialism, the suspicion that our local gems may not make much of a blip on overseas radar. Sure, the Chambers may have been featured in a Bahrain-based luxury magazine this past fall and will be profiled by a Netherlands-based design mag next month, but is it really that big of a deal internationally?

Turns out it is.

Chambers announced last week that it will serve as the flagship North American property for Le Méridien, a Paris-based portfolio of luxury hotels worldwide. Le Méridien lends its brand to 106 properties in more than 50 countries, each a vanguard of style, art, architecture, design and cuisine. The brand employs the French art celebrity Jérôme Sans as a “cultural curator,” who directs a team of artists, designers, chefs, architects and musicians to create unique sensory concepts for guests of each hotel. Chambers will be the 10th hotel in North America to carry Le Méridien’s art-driven designation, and as the continent’s flagship property, it will benefit from all of the promotional heft that comes with being the brand’s “spokesbuilding.”

The honor entails a slight name change — the hotel is now officially known as Le Méridien Chambers — as well as a shift in management. Susan Mabry, general manager of W Minneapolis, will extend her role to take the helm of both hotels. Mabry is one of very few female GMs in the national luxury hotel scene, and operating both W and the Chambers has been considered something of a coup for her. The two hotels are both owned by Ralph Burnet, and both Le Méridien and W Hotels are brands operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Chambers guests can now use Starwood’s loyalty program to earn points toward exclusive benefits.

Guests can also expect a new scent to greet them in the lobby, designed by Le Labo Fragrances, as well as a soundtrack specially created by Sans’ team of innovators. Other cosmetic changes include new elevator music written by French composer Henri Scars Struck, Italian coffee brand illycaffé served in the bar and artist-designed keycards that allow guests to access a selected local arts organization in addition to their bedrooms.

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New name, new look for massage gallery

Kinesthesia Massage, 210 N. 2nd St., has a new name, Utopia Massage, as well as a new smattering of offerings on its service menu and a revamped interior. The changes are only slight tweaks, said owner Kate Helmrich, meant to acknowledge the departure of her business partner Jamie Ross. Ross has left the massage field to pursue other opportunities, Helmrich said, and the split was amicable.

 “So I decided I kinda wanted to give the store fresh light, pare down our service menu, do new pricing, give the store a new look, and with that do a new name, one that people can actually pronounce,” Helmrich said “And more importantly, spell.”

Prices have dropped a tad, and the new menu of services includes Thai fusion massage which blends the stretching and percussion of traditional Thai massage with the soothing strokes of Swedish massage, and somatic polarity, a holistic session that may incorporate massage, energy work, ancient Chinese medicine, yoga, even astrology. Helmrich says a special practitioner, Samantha Shatek, has been brought in from New Mexico to offer the service.

But the most noticeable change has been the gallery’s physical facelift, which comes courtesy of Kate’s fiancé Scott Sears, who has stepped up as a business partner.

Utopia Massage is hosting an art exhibition to show off its new look. Photographs by Jason Colvin will adorn the walls through March 31. More art and music programming is also in the works.

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Cocoa & Fig comes to Gaviidae Commons

Cocoa & Fig, the Shakopee-based catering and special events company famous for its high-design cupcakes, cookies and French macarons, opened a retail location last weekend in Gaviidae Commons. The quaint little patisserie — only 230 square feet — squeezes in next to Juut on the second-story skyway level of the Saks Wing of the Commons. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

The retail space — Cocoa & Fig’s first ever — will operate as a specialty bakery, with emphasis on high-end baked goods and coffee in the morning, said owner Laurie Pyle. Pyle hinted at a partnership with Bull Run Coffee Roasting Company, the connoisseur brewers known for taking an exquisitely refined approach to the cup of Joe.

In the afternoons, the store will operate mostly as a dessert boutique, Pyle said, although she would like to introduce a line of specialty, locally sourced sandwiches and soups. Such lunch items may be available in a month, she said.

A grand opening is tentatively planned for March.

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Black Sheep now open for lunch

In a move that might give Be’wiched Deli a run for its noon-hour money, the popular North Loop pizzeria has expanded its hours to accommodate the lunchtime crowd.  Beginning in late January, Black Sheep has opened daily at 11:30 a.m.

The menu hasn’t changed a bit —its devoted fans probably wouldn’t want it to — which means that diners can now get an afternoon taste of Black Sheep’s signature sausage, salami, onion and green olive pizza, which City Pages recently named as a top 100 favorite local dish.

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Haute Dish replaces Café Havana

Haute Dish, the proposed North Loop restaurant that has had foodie gossip simmering since summer 2009, is set to open any day now, lending new life to the sold Café Havana space at 119 Washington Ave. N. At press time the kitchen hadn’t yet started cooking, but already the talk of gussied-up versions of nostalgic, Midwestern comfort foods has caused a stir.

The menu promises childhood favorites (Chef Landon Schoenfeld recently spoke to Metro Magazine about a classy grown-up version of pork and beans) at moderate prices. Appetizers range from $6 to $14, and entrees come in around $15 to $30. Schoenfeld has said that he wants to keep the full menu available until 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

There’s also a lot of buzz surrounding the guys in the kitchen. Schoenfeld — a.k.a. Colonel Mustard, a colorful gadfly in the local food scene — provides the brains and taste buds behind the operation, and his collaborators come from a number of premier Minneapolis restaurants: Erik Anderson of Sea Change, Adam Vickerman of Tosca and Remle Colestock of Levain.

A light renovation will leave most of Café Havana’s interior aesthetics unchanged, including the vintage bar.

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Businesses on 9th join forces in new association

Over 20 businesses located on 9th St. between Hennepin Ave. and Marquette Ave. have partnered together in a new business association, calling themselves the “9th Street Experience.” The group includes restaurants and retailers, chain stores and boutiques, world class hotels and a YMCA. Member businesses hope to pool together their promotional might, drawing more attention and customers back to a corridor left hamstrung last summer by messy road construction.

“It was really a collaboration between Dennis Monroe [president and CEO of Parasole Restaurant Holdings] and myself,” said Jeannie Joas, president of JB Hudson Jewelers. “We got together over lunch one day — really just voicing our frustration over the road construction — and we said, we have such iconic, legendary businesses here on 9th St. We should partner together and really promote. And it really mushroomed.”

Downtown giants like W Minneapolis, Le Méridien Chambers and Target have signed on, as have smaller spots like the Eye-Nook eye wear boutique and local chains like Key’s Café and Bakery and Haskell’s Wine and Spirits.

“Anytime you attach yourself with other great retail establishments, it really helps all of our growth,” added Joas.

The association’s first step is to spruce up 9th St. in a way that might attract more foot traffic from Nicollet Mall. A logo has been developed — a crown of skyscrapers topping an orange number nine — that will be used in extensive exterior branding that includes banners, planter pots and holiday lights.

“No matter what the season, 9th Street will be dressed to the nines,” joked Amanda Lange, director of business development for Parasole Restaurants.

A kick-off event is loosely planned for this spring.