Biz buzz :: Azian migration

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July 19, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

Azian migration: Pham to leave Eat Street for Downtown

During a tour of his new Downtown restaurant space, Thom Pham announced this afternoon that he will be closing Azia, his popular Eat Street restaurant, at the end of July. A25, the next-door anemonie sushi and saki bar, will also shutter. His new Downtown venture, called Wanderers Wondrous Azian Kitchen, will open two days later at 533 Hennepin Ave. S.

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.

Huey Fung, Pham’s landlord at Azia, confirmed that Pham has three years remaining on his lease. Fung, whom Pham has clashed with in the past, said he was completely surprised by the move, claiming that the restaurateur had not informed him of any plans to vacate.

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 Pham’s management company Phamous Group.

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.”


Bedlam gets the boot

The BOMP!s and the ROMP!s, the Fireside Lounge and the exquisite roof top patio, those delightfully ambiguous non-gendered bathrooms — better enjoy them while you can. Come Sept. 7, the Bedlam Theater needs to vacate its current West Bank building at 1501 S. 6th St.

The popular theater has occupied the space, which formerly housed Baja Riverside Café, since early 2007, operating under a month-to-month lease with landlord Fine Associates.

According to a press release, on June 30 the theater was notified that its lease would be terminated in order to accommodate another community organization, the Darul Quba mosque, displaced by the ongoing Riverside Plaza renovation project. The mosque’s current home will be demolished to ease parking at Riverside Plaza, which is owned by another West Bank developer, Sherman Associates.

“This is Minneapolis’ most dense neighborhood, so space is limited,” said Bedlam’s Executive Artistic Director John Bueche. “And they [Darul Quba] are in such direct proximity to the population in the Plaza. Their entire constituency is right there. And we certainly interact with the neighborhood quite a bit, but we draw from all over the city. So I think that’s really the basic calculus. When it came down to who might go six to eight blocks away, it makes more sense that it’s us.”

Still, the timing is bad for the Bedlam, which is gearing up to once again serve as Fringe Central, “the official hangout” for the annual, 10-day experimental theater event. The Bedlam plays host to an opening night party on Aug. 5 and will stay busy through Aug. 14, when they’ll host the announcement of the Fringe Encore.

The theater also has just finished restoring a collapsed floor, with renovations paid for by Fine Associates, which will reopen this weekend.

Bueche said that Bedlam will be moving their offices during Fringe, but the festival programming “is gonna be totally intact.” Scouting missions for a new location have begun, and Bueche cited both Redesign — a Seward-based, nonprofit community development corporation — and the city’s department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) as close allies in the housing hunt.

“Hopefully by the end of July we’ll be having a more precise answer of where we’re going,” said Bueche.

He added that Bedlam wants to stay near the West Bank/Riverside neighborhood, which has been a huge part of the theater’s identity. He mentioned a wish list that includes a permanent outdoor stage and a second indoor stage for longer running shows.

He also wants a green roof.

“Our recent board member, he’s a founding member of the Minnesota Green Roofs Council,” Bueche said. “He said when we moved into this space that we couldn’t have a green roof until we owned a building. That will definitely be the plan.”


Changes coming to Harry’s Food and Cocktails

Another restaurant swap may be in the works for 500 Washington Ave. S.

Three years after Dwight Bonewell converted his upscale Nochee into the more accessible Harry’s Food and Cocktails, the dining spot will be retooled once again, with a new name and possibly new ownership.

On July 13, a lawyer from CSM Corporation, a real estate developer that owns and headquarters in the building at 500 Washington Ave. S., requested approval for a liquor license from the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA).

In an e-mail sent to the group, Joel Rietz wrote, “We have a tenant in one of our ground floor spaces of the Depot Office Building called Harry’s Food and Cocktails. They will soon be shutting their business down, and we would like to start a new bar/restaurant that will be called VICEROYS american bar [sic]. It will be an upscale establishment that will be an amenity to our building and neighborhood.”

The e-mail also mentions that, for this project, CMS will operate under the name Dancing Couple, LLC., a Delaware limited liability company.

Deputy Director of Licenses for the City of Minneapolis Ricardo Cervantes has confirmed that a representative from CSM Corporation has met with a district inspector for a “first interview,” a preliminary discussion about liquor license applications.

But “nothing has been submitted yet to our office,” he said, cautioning that “first interviews” do not always translate into new restaurants.

It is not known yet whether Bonewell will remain involved in the new restaurant, nor is it known if the staff will undergo changes.

A Harry’s manager did confirm that CSM is in negotiations with restaurant management but could not comment on any details.


Alatus completes Block E acquisition

Three months after announcing a signed purchase agreement for Block E, local developer Bob Lux has sealed the deal. In a July 12 release, Lux’s Alatus LLC confirmed that it had completed the acquisition.

The first step for the new ownership is improving Block E’s parking ramp, increasing lighting and signage and renovating lobbies.

Alatus Principal Phillip Jaffe also said the group would spend the remainder of the year studying successful urban retail properties in other cities.

“While we’ve already had significant tenant inquiries,” he said, “we want to be measured in our approach to Block E. We are not simply interested in filling space.”

Alatus will not seek any public subsidies for the project.


New art business in Loring Park

Greg Hennes, founder of Art Holdings and the Art Outlet, began a new endeavor on June 4 when he opened Hennes Art Company, at 1607 Hennepin Ave. The new company provides professional art consulting services, custom framing and art installation services for corporate and residential clients.

“A lot of the artwork we used to have, we had it for along time, sold it, and didn’t bring with us,” Hennes said of moving into the new shop. “We’re starting fresh. We’ll find unique things out there. We’ll offer more variety.”

The Hennes Art Company will have original works of art as well as less expensive poster-prints. Hennes said the new gallery will offer artwork with a lower overhead and better value to the customer.

“We’ve been able to value engineer some nice price points,” Hennes added.

The Gallery is open from 10 to 6 Monday through Friday and 10 to 5 on Saturday. Hennes’s customers can park for free at the back of the building. For more information, visit


Exotic items debut on Subo’s menu

Two months into his tenure as head chef, Subo’s Geoff King is ready to unveil a few tricks he’s kept up his sleeve.

“People, they want to see weirder things,” said King, who took the kitchen over in May from Neil Guillen, the Manhattan chef who originally opened the Filipino restaurant, at 89 S. 10th St., last December. “They just want to see some different items, so that’s been pretty cool.”

In the last few weeks, King has introduced ukoy, a Filipino shrimp fritter, and embutido, “a Filipino style meat loaf” that he serves cold with banana ketchup.