Biz buzz :: Forum

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May 10, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Brothers in the kitchen, ‘rotating destinations’ on the menu

// Jim Ringo’s City Center experiment gears up for its first month of business //

Forum has only been open in City Center for a couple of weeks, but already the restaurant that resurrects the art deco glam of the old Goodfellow’s space has built up a considerable amount of lore.

There’s the story of its owner, the corporate executive turned first-time restaurateur Jim Ringo, who retired from a 20-year tenure at Cargill to open two huge restaurants in the same month (Ringo’s, an upscale restaurant with a “globally roving menu” opened in the Shops at West End on April 13; Forum opened April 23). There’s Ringo’s unusual decision to make Christian Ticarro both executive chef and general manager, a dual role unheard of in the restaurant business. And then there’s Ticarro’s even more unusual decision to hire his brother as the head chef. Detractors have cited all three of these facts as reasons why Forum will fail.

But the most interesting bit of lore is that Ringo initially had no plan to open two restaurants — and that Goodfellow’s gorgeous space forced him into it. While hunting for a building to house Ringo’s, he checked out the former Goodfellow’s location, at 40 S. 7th St., which had sat vacant for almost five years. And though he realized the space wasn’t right for his project, he couldn’t get the art deco dining hall out of his mind. He had to use it for something. So he built Forum’s cuisine and concept exclusively for the space, instead of the other way around — another unconventional move.

“Jim always says ‘if my heart is at Ringo’s, my soul is at Forum,’” said Ticarro during a recent Monday lunch. Ticarro described a “chef-driven menu” that “celebrates Americana,” conceived of by Ringo to honor the space’s history as both a white-tablecloth restaurant, during the Goodfellow years, and a legendary cafeteria, during the four-decade run of the original tenant, the old Forum Cafeteria.

A third of the menu, Ticarro said, will be classic comfort food: “chicken pot pie, Salisbury steak, country fried steak.” Another third will be classic chophouse fare:  “seafood, steak, pasta.” The final — and in Ticarro’s opinion, most exciting — third is a “rotating destination” menu that visits the cuisine of a different American region each month.

May’s menu focuses on New Orleans; June’s will turn toward Santa Fe; and then Boston in July (“for Independence Day”) and Alaska in August. The late summer menu might prove especially impressive, as Ticarro’s head chef spent 14 years cooking in Alaska before stepping into Forum’s kitchen.

“[The changing menu] really keeps the kitchen creative,” said Ticarro, who has had to research dishes like Cincinatti’s iconic chili mac and a South Carolina specialty called Country Captain, which involves combining raisins and almonds with chicken curry. “It also gives guests something to look forward to.”

The destination dishes proved especially popular during a VIP preview dinner, he said, on April 22, that accommodated some 300 guests.

As for his combined duties, Ticarro, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 25 years, shrugs it off. “It’s stressful, but it’s just the normal kind of stress.” He finds the role “liberating.” A lot of times, “the chef’s got a great idea, but maybe the GM doesn’t really want to do it. It’s just a lot easier to hold one person accountable.”

Forum opens for lunch Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. The dinner menu begins at 4 p.m., with no disruption in between, and food service continues until 10 p.m. Forum offers a happy hour menu every day of the week, from 4–6 p.m.

A weekend breakfast and lunch menu is served from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.


New owner, big improvements for St. Anthony Main’s Aster Café

The owner of a successful coffee house in Excelsior, Minn., has bought Aster Café, at 125 SE Main St., and plans to reopen the coffee and wine bar on May 17.

Matty O’Reilly, whose 318 Café in Excelsior has won praise for its carefully selected hot beverage options and its live music programming, signed a purchase agreement for the Aster Café in the first week of April. O’Reilly plans to keep the café’s name but says that he envisions “substantial, whole-sale changes” in terms of service and offerings. He noted that Jim Rimarcik, who owns the building that houses the café has been “extremely helpful” with the transition.

The first step is an upgrade of Aster’s coffee equipment. O’Reilly sees a tremendous opportunity to revamp the coffee and tea program, he said, and he also plans to build the beer list around local breweries, American craft beers and Belgian beers. Wine will be offered, and the small kitchen will turn out a “new level of contemporary café food.” O’Reilly also promised a regular schedule of live music. The 318 Café, now in its sixth year, has drawn notable musicians in the past, including members of the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum.


Sandwich shop to introduce efficient, self-serve kiosks

A mom-and-pop sandwich shop will use a new technology to help Downtown workers maximize their lunch breaks.

Simple Sandwich, slated to open in the Fifth Street Towers skyway in June, has announced plans to use self-serve kiosks in the shop, allowing customers to skip the cash register and go directly to the pick-up line.

Owner Melinda Thiesen, who has developed the business with her sister and brother-in-law, says the process is similar to self-service check-in at the airport. “You go in, you build your sandwich on-screen, you swipe your credit card, and then you just grab your sandwich and go.” Simple Sandwich will also take orders on-line, Thiesen said, to further reduce wait time.

“We’re really trying to get people in and out so that they can enjoy more of their lunch hour,” she said. Thiesen believes Simple Sandwich will be the first lunch spot Downtown to use such technology.

The sandwich shop will also have a traditional cash register, staffed by an employee, Thiesen said, for customers who wish to pay in cash or who would prefer to interact with a live person.


The Local continues to top world in Jameson sales

For the fourth year in a row, the pub that has sold the most Jameson Irish Whiskey in the world is not located in Ireland, but right here on Nicollet Mall.

The Local Irish Pub set a new record for Jameson sales in 2009, selling 775 cases of the whiskey, or about 25 bottles per day.

The Local’s signature drink, the Big Ginger, has been the key to the bar’s Jameson dominance. Estimates suggest that 72 percent of 2009’s Jameson sales were for Big Gingers.

“For an unprecedented four years, this bar in Minneapolis has consistently surpassed pubs in cities known for their large Irish and Irish American populations,” said Simon Fay, a regional director for Irish Distillers, Ltd.

On May 20, a daylong celebration at the Local will feature $4 Big Gingers and the pub’s Chicken Shots, a popular menu item prepared with a Jameson glaze. In a ceremony planned for 4:30 p.m., top executives from the Irish Distillers Limited group in Dublin, Ireland, will present a plaque to owner Kieran Folliard, in honor of his pub’s accomplishment.


St. Anthony Main loses a ‘spicy one’

After only three years in operation, Picosa, the Latin fusion restaurant and weekend dance club, has closed. The space at 65 Main St. SE has been dark since April 1, but official confirmation of the closure didn’t emerge until the end of last month.

Picosa, which translates literally to “spicy one,” boasted a Latin cuisine menu that looked way south of Mexico, finding inspiration in the diverse customs of South America. The bar, which hosted a popular salsa night early in its lifespan, also offered many specialty, high-end cocktails.

The Riverplace location was previously occupied by Sophia’s Jazz Club.


American Craft Magazine to move into Grain Belt Brewery

Five months after announcing its relocation from New York City to Minneapolis, the American Craft Council has settled on an office space. In August 2010, the national nonprofit plans to move into the Grain Belt Brewery building, at 79 13th Ave. NE.  The American Craft Council is the publisher of American Craft Magazine.

The announcement of the new space coincides with the hiring of new executive director Christopher Amundsen, who had previously served as chief operating officer of the Greater Twin Cities United Way since 2004.

“Minneapolis, one of the country’s most vibrant centers for art and craft, provides tremendous opportunities for the Council to enhance its contributions to art and craft communities at a national and local level,” said Leilani Duke, chair of the American Craft Council board. “As part of its relocation, The Council plans to house its library — the nation’s largest library collection of print and visual materials on American craft — in its new space. Containing more than 6,400 books, 7,000 exhibition catalogs, 700 bound volumes of leading periodicals, a substantial collection of artist files and an accompanying database, the Council’s library will be available to the public.


Depot Tavern opening delayed

A First Avenue spokesperson has confirmed that the music venue has pushed back the opening of its new burger-and-hot-dogs joint. Originally slated for May, the Depot is now planned to open sometime in June.


Penco spring clearance sale

Looking to clear out some of its inventory, the North Loop artist supply store continues its spring clearance sale. Sale items have been discounted as much 40 to 90 percent.

Penco’s products include presentation and portfolio cases, foamboard and mounting materials, as well as fine art, drafting, graphic design and hobby artist tools.