Most of Azia’s staff will transfer to the new restaurant, where Pham will continue to helm the kitchen.
Pham cited disrepair at the building housing Azia as a primary reason why he was “forced to move.” The building at 2550 Nicollet Ave. is “in rough shape,” he said. “We tried to work with it for eight years, and we got nowhere.”
Pham acknowledged a considerable amount of time remaining on his lease. But he hinted that a new buyer was interested in the block, and that he could possibly negotiate new terms.
“It’s very complicated,” he said.
The news of Azia’s closing proved a show-stealer at a press event designed to tout the opening of the new restaurant. Pham described Wanderers as an Asian fusion restaurant, but with “a classic 1914-era Chinese American theme.” Inspired by the famed Nankin — one of the first Chinese restaurants in Minneapolis, operating out of City Center — the menu will offer classic chow mein, chop suey and egg foo young, in addition to more contemporary Asian fusion, including dishes currently on the menu at Azia and Pham’s St. Louis Park restaurant, Thanh Do.
Wanderers, however, will have a price point “more accessible” than that of Azia’s, Pham said. Take-out will also be an option.
Vintage Chinese American décor, including intricately carved wooden dragons, will fill the dining area. A 60-year-old pagoda-shaped sign, lifted from Kowloon, another historic Chinese restaurant in the area, will welcome guests. During the daytime, the place will have “a 1940s, Rosemary Clooney-kind of vibe,” with nostalgic music, said Elizabeth Grzechowiak, executive director of the Phamous Group, Pham’s management company.
But the nighttime bar, with windows opening directly onto the sidewalk of Hennepin Ave. S., will feel more modern.
“We want to welcome the energy, the life blood of the city,” into the space, she said.
A rear lounge will host DJs and low-key dance nights.
When asked about the poor track record plaguing the location — 533 Hennepin Ave. S., boasting almost 10,000 square feet of space, has churned through two restaurants in two years — Pham said, “I like challenges.”
He pointed out that seven different restaurants had cycled through 2550 Nicollet Ave. before he opened Azia. “And we’ve been there for eight years.”
Pham said he is committed to the 268-seat space for “about 15 years” with “options after that.”