Biz buzz :: Pham to try 'cursed' location

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July 5, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott and Brent Renneke
Gregory J. Scott and Brent Renneke
Thom Pham to take a crack at ‘cursed’ restaurant location

It seems that when Thom Pham falls off a horse, the beloved local restaurateur behind Eat Street’s Azia and St. Louis Park’s Thanh Do, gets right back on.

Just two years after the shuttering of his last Downtown venture — Temple, the high-end Asian fusion lounge that briefly introduced Minneapolis to the “naked sushi” trend —he’s ready to roll the dice again, this time in a building that has proven lethal to restaurants in recent years.

On June 23, Pham sent a letter petitioning the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association for a liquor license for a new restaurant. In the letter, he stated that he plans to open Wanderer’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen at 533 Hennepin Ave. S., in the Plymouth Building. According to the letter, the new restaurant will “serve a full menu of Asian Fusion in addition to selling alcoholic beverages.”

Downtown design firm Smart Associates is in talks with Pham about doing the restaurant’s interior design.

The space at 533 Hennepin Ave. S. has been almost allergic to new restaurants lately, rejecting one per year since January 2008, when sushi joint Musashi opened there. A year later, another sushi place took its place. Zaki, as the restaurant was called, closed last March. The 533 address has even spelled the demise of an Olive Garden, which vacated the spot in 2005, leaving many observers to joke about a restaurant curse.


Simple Sandwich debuts self-serve kiosks

Customers snaked out the door during the first lunch hour at Simple Sandwich, which opened for business June 28. The mom-and-pop sandwich shop located in the Fifth Street Towers skyway has slowly built buzz for its novel attempt to integrate technology into the ordering process.

Using a self-serve kiosk, customers have the option to order their meals and pay on a touch screen, skipping the cashier all together. The technology is meant to speed diners more quickly through the process and to reduce order errors. For those that would rather deal with a real person, though, a live cashier is always on hand.

At the grand opening, co-owner Jennifer Theisen-Axelrod arranged free samples on a table in the Towers atrium. Dozens of passersby stopped to snack and to register for prize drawings. Theisen-Axelrod said that the free samples would continue for the rest of the week.

Inside, Jay Axelrod,  Jennifer’s husband and a co-owner, pointed out the coffee selection, which is provided by City Kid Java. City Kid Java, located in the Phillips neighborhood, donates 100 percent of its profits to fund mentorship and education programs for inner city youth in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  

The store’s hours will be Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. For more information, visit


Psycho Suzi’s wins approval for a deck expansion at Gabby’s

On June 17, the Minneapolis Zoning Board of Adjustment approved Leslie Bock’s vision of a deck addition and refuse storage enclosure at Gabby’s.

Bock announced in late May that she had a signed purchase agreement for Gabby’s and that she plans to move her tiki bar to that location, at 1900 Marshall St. NE. Gabby’s management has been reluctant to talk about the deal.  

Bock is currently trying to sell the land that Psycho Suzi’s currently sits on, but says that she has a concept in mind should the right buyer not present himself.

It is unclear whether Gabby’s will reopen elsewhere.


Foxtone Music comes Downtown

A music shop previously based in Eagan that specializes in guitars, amps, drums and repairs has opened a new location Downtown.

On July 1, Foxtone Music welcomed its first customers at 115 Washington Ave. N., next door to the One on One bike shop and café.  

The Eagan location will remain open for music lessons and accessories, but the store’s larger gear will only be sold at the Downtown location. The Downtown location will offer lessons and full-service repairs, as well.

Eric Fox founded Foxtone five years ago in Hudson, Wis. Asked why he wanted to move Downtown, he said the store was moving toward a higher-end, more professional clientele. “I saw a need,” he said, referencing the concentration of musicians and technicians working at the various clubs in the area. “Why is there not a music store down here?”

In addition to lessons and equipment sales, Fox envisions the store’s maintenance and repair services being convenient to bands playing the nearby venues. If a guitarist breaks his strings, Fox pointed out, he won’t have to scramble to find a store that can replace them.

Foxtone Music will be open Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m.–8 p.m. The store will also have Saturday hours, but those have not yet been fixed. For more information, call 333-7799 or visit foxtone


Food Network Magazine: Best breakfast in the state is Downtown

Downtown residents and workers looking to experience the best breakfast in Minnesota do not have to travel very far, according to Food Network Magazine, which named the pastrami and egg sandwich at Be’Wiched Deli the tastiest way to start the day.

The sandwich is a creation of Be’Wiched owners Matthew Bickford and Mike Ryan, two chefs who decided to open the gourmet sandwich shop after spending years in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants.

On the menu, it is titled “pastrami and egg sandwich.” However, the name does not give the sandwich justice with high quality ingredients like havarti cheese, roasted peppers and the cornerstone ingredient — all-natural red angus brisket pastrami — all served on rosemary focaccia bread.

“It really is a symphony of a sandwich with the pastrami being the star,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the sandwich’s sudden rise to popularity began when Bickford and Ryan made it for a man helping them prepare to open Be’Wiched who also happened to be involved in the local music scene.  

“Next thing we know, we have all these musicians coming in and asking for this sandwich,” Ryan said.

Soon after, the demand for the breakfast sandwich spread to others in Be’Wiched’s building on the 800 block of Washington Avenue North.  


501 Club adding wall and cover

The 501 Club will be undergoing a couple significant changes this summer. A wall is going up inside that will partition the music room from the upstairs bar. In addition, the notoriously no-charge venue will no longer offer free weekend concerts.

Jarret Oulman, co-owner of the 501 Club, said the wall accomplishes two things­ — confining the sound from musical performances to the music room and now being able to charge a cover for people entering that music room during weekend shows.

Visitors will be able to access the upstairs bar free of charge during concerts, but people planning on attending the concert will pay a cover.

“This way you have a place to hang out and actually have a conversation when you’re not at the show,” Oulman said.

The cost of the cover charge is not expected to exceed $10. But it will vary, and performers will have an input on the amount. Oulman said that weekday shows will remain free to attend.

Construction on the wall begins in early July with weekend concert cover charges going into effect in August.

Oulman said a patio will also be added to the back of the club this summer with a capacity of around 50 people.


Downtown street food vendors hit the ground rolling

After winning a license in late June, Downtown’s first mobile food vendor opened its, um, window for business the morning of June 28. At 6 a.m. that day, chefs Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer pulled their Chef Shack, a 22-foot long taco truck, into the parking lot at 509 Hennepin Ave. S. and started cooking.

By the time we made it there at noon, a healthy line trailed away from the truck’s service window.

Carlson said that business had been “steady” all day.  The menu featured pulled pork tacos with a garnish of slaw (2 for $6) and green curry and vegetables heaped over brown rice ($7). Bags of their famed mini-donuts were also available.

Carlson says the Shack will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The duo is paying rent for their parking lot spot and will stay there throughout the summer. The menu will stay fairly fixed Carlson added, concentrating on “fast, hot and lunchy items.”

Another shack, the Smack Shack, has also been awarded a license and will open at N. 4th St. and 1st Ave. N. in early July. Thirteen other licenses have been applied for, and city spokesman Matt Laible says that four total have been given approval. The Original Turkey, at 8th Street and Nicollet Mall, and Dandelion Kitchen, on Nicollet Mall at the IDS Center and at Nieman Marcus, are also ready to hit the streets.

In other street food news, Brothers Deli owner Jeff Burstein will bring his trademark pastrami, roasted turkey and corned beef sandwiches to a push cart at 8th Street and Nicollet Mall. In addition to sandwiches and chips, Burnstein also plans to serve knishes. His cart should be in operation by July 6.   


New topless bar coming to the North Loop

A proposal for an “adult entertainment restaurant,” planned for 418 3rd Ave. N., is working its way through the city approval process.

Business partners Mark Dzuik and Derek Spearman first presented their proposal for the 10th Inning, a sports-themed club featuring topless dancers, to the North Loop Neighborhood Association (NLNA) in May. Dzuik and Spearman hope to offer full liquor service at the 21-and-up establishment, and a class A liquor license is under review.

An updated security planned for the club was developed in June and signed off on by the City of Minneapolis Police.

Dzuik and Spearman have promised that the club will not distribute promotional flyers.


Baja Sol closes in U.S. Bank building

The Baja Sol restaurant in the U.S. Bank building, at 200 6th St. South, failed to open for business on June 30.

A call to a neighboring franchise, in the City Center, confirmed that the location had permanently closed.