Biz buzz :: New sushi spot on Hennepin

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October 25, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott and John Grimley
Gregory J. Scott and John Grimley

Tim McKee involved in new E. Hennepin sushi restaurant

EAST HENNEPIN — Tim McKee — the James Beard Award winning, superstar chef behind La Belle Vie, Solera, Barrio and Sea Change — will be putting his golden culinary touch on a new restaurant in the former Let’s Cook space, at 330 E. Hennepin Ave.

And it’s going to be a sushi joint.

Stephan Hesse, newly hired corporate executive chef for Sushi Avenue — an Eagan-based sushi producer that supplies chefs, recipes, fish and sauces to high-end grocery stores and co-ops throughout the country — confirmed Oct. 13 that his company would be working with McKee to concept the new venture, which will be called Masu Sushi & Robata.

Robata is a Japanese-style charcoal grill.

“This will be our first restaurant,” Hesse said. “First of many, we hope.”

McKee, Sushi Avenue and marketing and design firm Shea Inc. have been working for the past three months to hammer out the details. A lease on the space was signed on Oct. 12.

Hesse — who you may remember as the guy who opened Uptown’s Tonic, and later Stella’s Fish Café — said that the new restaurant could open by March 2011.

“Tim is going to be helping us just like he does with his other restaurants,” said Hesse. “He’ll probably have a chef in mind that will want to take over the spot with us. So it’s going to work the same way that he’s done with his other restaurants.”

McKee, however, has downplayed his role in Masu, saying that he’s helping out merely as a consultant.

“It’s actually Sushi Avenue’s restaurant. They’ve never opened a restaurant before, so I’m advising them on how to do it,” he said.

“Basically, how it went was Sushi Avenue had approached David Shea on this project. And they have all the expertise needed to design and get a restaurant started up, but they didn’t have the experience of how to go about the process of opening a restaurant. So David called me to consult with them.”

McKee said that he was not previously familiar with Sushi Avenue.

“I developed the menu,” McKee said. “And I’ve got some people that I’ll put in place to run it, people with the proper experience.”

He added, “I’m involved.”

Preliminary plans for the restaurant show a blueprint calling for an 80-seat dining room and a 36-seat patio along E. Hennepin Ave.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting addition to the culinary scene here,” McKee said. He described robata as “something that you don’t see too often, especially in this market.”

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Strip Club owners almost done flipping Subo, eye old Picosa space

DOWNTOWN CORE — Tim Niver’s got quite the appetite when it comes to opening restaurants.

Though he has his hands full with the popular St. Paul steak and fish joint The Strip Club and has already created Town Talk Diner, a new Downtown restaurant is on the way. Along with his partner Aaron Johnson, Niver’s set to open a beer-and-comfort-food place called The Inn, which will take over the shuttered Subo at 89 South 10th Street.

And though the two just got the building in late September, Niver says they could be feeding guests by mid-November, if not sooner.

The original timeline for the project called for only 40 days. But, said Niver in early October, “If the stars aligned, everything could feasibly be done in two weeks.”

Niver sounded excited about coming Downtown, explaining that he hasn’t worked in that part of Minneapolis since “the turn of the century.”

He sees the new location as an opportunity for innovation. “There’s a lot left undone in this town,” Niver said. “No offense to anybody, but I think the overall quality can be raised. The awareness of the amount and quality of local foods can be increased.”

And The Inn may be just the beginning. Earlier this year, Picosa on St. Anthony Main closed its doors for the last time. Now Niver has his eye on that space, saying that he has “a very specific idea” in mind.

“It’s a beautiful space with a lot of texture and history,” he said. “I am very definitely looking into that space.”

Unfortunately, he won’t divulge the nature of his idea just yet.

“Until things really come together and you really know for sure, I’ve found it’s best to keep your mouth shut.”

But keep your eyes open. Niver says he won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

“It’s romantic,” he said. “There’s this charm about it. If I had a million dollars, I’d just keep opening restaurants.”

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‘Beauty lounge’ moving in across from Surdyk’s

EAST HENNEPIN — What began as an on-site styling service for brides-to-be has now evolved into a full-service beauty boutique, slated to open at 20 University Ave. NE in late November.

Minneapolis-based Smart and Chic Brides built its reputation by allowing brides and bridesmaids to stay put, bringing hair and makeup teams directly to their homes. The idea was to ease one of the hassles of the big day — bringing all of the bridesmaids together for a coordinated styling session. The concept was a hit, and since its founding, Smart and Chic has expanded nationally, offering traveling salon services in New York City, L.A. and Nashville.

“What we’re realizing is, a lot of our brides want to keep coming back to us as their beauty experts, as their hair experts,” said manager Anita Mac. The company had operated an appointment-only studio in the Warehouse District, Mac said, but demand has grown enough to warrant regular hours and a destination-worthy space.  

Hence, the new boutique — or “beauty lounge,” as Mac describes it.

Licensed as a salon, the lounge will focus not on hair maintenance but rather on special event styling, offering blowouts and makeup sessions. Mac says they’ll even offer a “lash bar” for women interested in false lashes.

Retail areas will stock new lines of Smart and Chic skin and makeup products — “specialty things that help prime the skin and really get the right finish and last for a wedding day,” Mac said.

The lounge will also be one of the only places in the Midwest to find blowny, the house product line used at the trendy New York City “blow dry bar,” blow. Smart and Chic is sending stylists out to blow this month for training.

Enamored of the boutique-y East Hennepin neighborhood, Mac sees Smart and Chic and its neighbors filling in the void left by Mel’s Beauty Bar, the famed martini-and-pedicure lounge formerly on Washington Ave. N.

Clients can grab a drink next door, when the long-awaited Blue Skies Wine Bar finally opens at 24 University Ave. NE, which Mac expects to happen late this year.

“We figure we’ll be able to partner with them for a lot of fun events,” she said.

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Target done sponsoring Walker parties

LOWRY HILL — Stylish revelers at Walker Art Center’s Oct. 22 After Hours preview party for the Yves Klein retrospective might have noticed something a tad off. There were no bull’s-eyes on the drink tickets, no roving bull’s-eye spotlight and hardly a hint of red.

According to a Walker spokesperson, Target officially ended its sponsorship of the swanky museum galas last June. The event held for the Guillermo Kuitca exhibition was the last one to be bathed in Target branding.

Target is continuing its sponsorship of other Walker programs, including Target Free Thursday Nights, and most recently, the summer long Open Field initiative.

The Oct. 22 After Hours had no official sponsor, though the Walker will seek a sponsor for future events. Companies other than Target have sponsored the program in the past, including, in the early days of After Hours, U.S. Bank.

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Country bar’s opening date pushed back

Owner Gene Suh couldn’t be reached for comment, but we didn’t need him to tell us that his Downtown country bar, Whisky Park, wouldn’t be ready in time for its projected Oct. 15 opening.

On that morning, the vast interior at 15 S. 5th St. — formerly the clubby Lodge Bar — was still looking a little raw. Buzz saws chewed through wooden boards, and a team of carpenters bustled about the largely empty space. The bar — which Suh has promise will have the largest selection of whiskey in the area — had yet to be surfaced.

One worker said that the opening date had been unofficially pushed back to Nov. 15, given how much work remained.

Suh, who also owns Uptown’s Lyndale Tap House, has described the future bar as having a much more casual vibe than its dance club predecessor. The menu will include comfort bar food, mainly pizza and sandwiches, and the space will accommodate about 100 seats.

A dance floor will remain, though the DJs will focus on more country-pop-rock.

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Northeast company takes over U.S. Pond Hockey Championships

LOGAN PARK — TST Media, a software company based at 1400 Van Buren St. NE, will take over this winter’s U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, acquiring ownership from Downtown marketing firm Haberman Inc.

Haberman Inc. has run the annual tournament — held every January on one of the frozen lakes in Southwest Minneapolis — since 2006, when president Fred Haberman founded the event.

“As a company, hockey runs in our blood,” said TST co-founder Carson Kipfer. “We got our start in hockey and have become entrenched in the local and national hockey community, so this event aligns perfectly with our passion as well as our core competencies. To say we’re pumped is a vast understatement.”

Kipfer founded TST Media with his college friend and fellow hockey enthusiast Justin Kaufenberg in 2005. Both grew up playing the sport on frozen lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively, and Kaufenberg played on the varsity squad at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. The two are known to organize office pick-up games during their lunch breaks at nearby Logan Park.