Biz buzz :: Falafel King moving in to Central Ave. Porkys space

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November 5, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

The stormy saga surrounding the Central Ave. Porky’s may finally get put to rest this month.

Nora Truelson, an owner of the short-lived, long beleaguered drive-thru restaurant at 1851 Central Ave. NE, which finally closed earlier this year, has confirmed that a Falafel King is taking over the space. Truelson said her company, Truco Inc., has re-leased the property to Fouad Masroujeh. Masroujeh operates two other Falafel King locations, one in Uptown and one in Downtown. At the Central Avenue Northeast location, he will be leasing with an option to buy.

Masroujeh has been busy remodeling the space, adding all new furniture and installing fresh windows. He says he hopes to open around Nov. 11.

He also plans to request a conditional use permit that will allow him to operate a drive-thru 24-hours-a-day.

The news offers some closure to Windom Park residents who bitterly fought the Porky’s opening. A satellite of Porky’s on University Ave. in St. Paul, the nostalgia-themed drive-thru triggered worries that the high levels of crime and nuisance complaints at the original location would migrate to Northeast. Other concerns involved the proximity to homes in the area — the property’s drive-thru exited a mere 40 feet from the nearest residence.

Yellow signs declaring “No Porky’s!” turned up in neighborhood lawns in late 2006.

After a thorny city approval process, Porky’s got off the ground in December 2007 and then was shut down by the city a few days later.  A separate controversy surrounded what finally caused the restaurant to close for good — whether or not the city forced the shuttering for code violations — in early 2010.

According to Gayle Bonneville, who works for both the Holland and Windom Park neighborhood associations, when neighborhood boards heard the news that a Falafel King was coming, “It was like, ‘Oh, great.’ But then when they hear about the 24-hour drive-thru, they say, ‘Well, I don’t know about that.’”

She added, “It’s a mixed bag. It’s up to the neighbors to hammer it all out.”

Another issue in question involves a wooden fence surrounding the restaurant. Bonneville said that the City Council had mandated that it be a masonry fence, for sound-reduction purposes. But Porky’s management never complied, and the current fence could still stand as a violation.

“Our operation will not have any noise,” Masroujeh said. ”We won’t disturb the neighborhood.”

If residents would like to weigh in on the new Falafel King, Bonneville suggested they attend the Windom Park Citizens in Action meeting on Nov. 16 at Pillsbury School Windom Park addition, 2251 Hayes St. NE, from 7–9 p.m.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Palomino to close, Crave moving in

HENNEPIN AVENUE — After 19 years occupying one of the most prime restaurant spaces Downtown, Palomino, at 825 Hennepin Ave. S., will be gone by Christmas.

The restaurant — a Steady Eddie in the Downtown dining scene, its menu consistently drawing modest approval from critics and its décor consistently refusing to evolve — must vacate the skyway level of LaSalle Plaza by mid-December. Its landlord exercised a 60-day termination clause in mid-October, said Mike Majestic, a spokesman for Palomino’s parent company, Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, which also operates Kincaid’s in Bloomington and St. Paul.

Moving in is Crave, the slick, three-year-old suburban chain that’s grown enormously over the last three years, opening locations in the Mall of America, Edina’s Galleria and the Shops at West End. The Downtown Crave will be the company’s first restaurant in the city, though it’s already reached across the nation, expanding into Omaha and Orlando just this year. Another Crave will open in Coral Gables, Fla.,
next summer.

And though initial reports of Palomino’s closure focused on the 60-day termination, the restaurant’s demise began last spring, according to Zeller Realty’s Jim Gearen, the LaSalle Plaza landlord.

Gearen says that in April, Palomino representatives informed him that they were preparing to file for bankruptcy and that their lease would be rejected in the Chapter 11 proceedings, unless Zeller could significantly reduce the rent. Palomino, which operates eight restaurants in the United States, shuttered two other locations this year, one in Pittsburgh and one in Portland.

Zeller agreed to reduce the rent. But since the lease extended all the way through 2011, Gearen insisted to be allowed to start marketing the space and to terminate the lease on 60 days notice. Palomino then failed to file for Chapter 11.

“It was a ruse,” he said, referring to the bankruptcy threat. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and they’re not the first retail tenant to try that one.”

Gearen called Dick Grones of Cambridge Realty, who suggested Crave as a tenant. A deal began to emerge in July.

Gearen says that since then, Palomino was made aware of the impending change.

“Everyone downstairs here in the building has seen us come through here with the architects and the engineers,” he said. “They knew exactly what was going on for six months.”

Grones added that Crave was not proactively seeking a Downtown location, but the opportunity proved tempting.

“I think they understood that there was a lot of corporate business Downtown that they weren’t getting at their other locations,” Grones said. And Zeller was pleased to find a restaurant tenant willing to lease the entirety of Palomino’s vast, 13,000-square-foot space.

Crave CEO Kam Talebi has promised “a menu offering not seen in the Downtown market at a great value.” Its across-the-board cuisine features sushi, but also casual American fare like prime beef and flatbread pizzas. The restaurant will also expand its catering and corporate dining business.

And perhaps most remarkably, the Downtown Crave will open a giant rooftop patio, estimated to be about 5,300 square feet. They have also taken the Kramer Gallery space to convert into a banquet hall. David Shea is the architect for the project.

An opening date is loosely slated for April 2011.

As for Palomino, Majestic said that the old restaurant was “going to try to do as much as we can to say thank you to our guests.” A run-down of closing specials and events will be posted soon on their website.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Audubon owner to open wine bar on 13th Avenue

SHERIDAN — Northeast will wait a couple of months longer for the much-anticipated Maeve’s Café.

Owner Mary Colón said a financing glitch is now fixed, and she hopes to open on the corner of 3rd Street and 13th Avenue by the end of the holiday season.

Colón is already a local celebrity for running Audubon Coffee for 14 years on Johnson Street. She turned over the space to new owners in order to create Maeve’s Café. She’s planning a simple menu of small plates, salads and sandwiches that pay homage to the ethnic groups that have settled Northeast Minneapolis.

“We have some really good recipes from the late 1800s and early 1900s with fresh ingredients and herbs,” she said.  

There will be traditional Italian frittatas and stratas, Lebanese dips and Polish sausages provided by Kramarczuk’s Deli. The café will brew coffee; serve breakfast, lunch and dinner; and apply to serve beer and wine as well.

Colón said she’s spent the last five months scouring every salvage yard and auction she could find to decorate the 100-year-old space. She’s keeping the original ceiling and moldings, which “scream 1900,” and she’s using the old checkerboard tile floor as well. The cast iron vases she found for the tables are “like pieces of art,” Colón said.

“It will be a warm, comfy space,” she said.

Colón said she can’t wait to reunite with her old Audubon customers. Three-quarters of her old staff are already lined up to take shifts at Maeve’s.

“I worked for years in education and social services, and that’s part of the shop — without the red tape,” she said. “If somebody is going through a crisis, they come in and talk to us.”

She described Audubon Coffee as “your favorite eccentric aunt’s living room,” and she said Maeve’s will be an extension of that vibe.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I can’t imagine living and working anywhere else,” she said.

— Michelle Bruch

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iDream.tv named Northeast’s Small Business of the Year

NORTHEAST PARK — A scrappy video production company born out of a Northeast basement has won a top neighborhood business award.

On Oct. 28, iDream.tv was honored by the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce as the neighborhood’s “Small Business of the Year.” The annual award goes to a financially successful organization demonstrating leadership and community involvement in Northeast.

Initially launched more than 25 years ago as Location Images, iDream.tv began as an on-site documentary and educational films company in the home basement of Edie French and her husband Paul Auguston. Their first project was for the University of Minnesota. French and Auguston followed a scientific expedition to North Dakota to film a total eclipse of the sun.

Then, with the advent of Web 2.0, the two evolved Location into a full-service multimedia production firm called iDream.tv.

Today, the company operates out of an industrial park northeast of the Quarry shopping center, just off of the Diagonal Trail bike path.

The biggest part of the market base these days, says French, is web clips. Through iDream’s Project Green Screen, the company produces two- to three-minute Internet videos that businesses can use as introductions on their websites.

French’s involvement with the local arts and nonprofit communities made her company a strong candidate for the award. French, a former chair of the Minneapolis Arts Commission, serves on the Community Advisory Board of Frank Theater, and iDream has contributed to groups like Black Storytellers Alliance, Wallin Education Partners, Minneapolis Rotary and AchieveMpls.

Through this last group, iDream participates in the Summer Step-Up program, which pairs a high school student with a local business for a summer internship.

“I think Northeast is changing a lot,” said French. “It’s the kind of place where we want to live and work. It’s become so much more representative of the world at large. I think Northeast is welcoming many more cultures and ways of thinking. It’s always been a melting pot.”

— Gregory J. Scott

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Whisky Park opens in old Lodge space

DOWNTOWN CORE — It took some scrambling, but Gene Suh managed to get his Downtown country bar open before Halloween.

Whisky Park — Suh has dropped the “e” to reference the more authentic Scottish and Canadian spelling — hosted its first cowboy-hatted revelers on Oct. 23. The country singer portraits were on the wall, the mechanical bull was bucking and the bar was stocked with the allegedly largest selection of whiskey in the city.

After failing to hit its original opening date of Oct. 15, remodeling crews estimated the bar would not be ready until mid-November.

Suh says the bar — which takes over the old Lodge dance club, at 15 S. 5th St. — will be open Wednesday through Saturday, with a regular line dancing night on Thursdays and an industry night on Wednesdays. Wednesday and Thursday, Whisky Park will open at 4 p.m. for happy hour. The other nights, the club will not open until 7 p.m.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Hazel’s Northeast taking over former Pop! space

JOHNSON STREET NE — As reported in our Oct. 11 issue, the shuttered Pop! space, at 2859 Johnson St. NE, will be stirring to life soon. An old-fashioned, family-style restaurant is expected to open later this fall.

Now, the new venture has a name — and the foundations for the menu.

Brothers Adam and Andrew Sieve are calling the place Hazel’s Northeast. The name references the nickname of Sieves’ grandmother Helen, who parlayed her skill as a pie farm town baker into a small business, and ultimately a café.

The café evolved into the Travelers Inn, the oldest family-owned restaurant in Alexandria, Minn., where Adam and Andrew bussed tables as kids. The Sieve family’s other restaurant credits include Alexandria’s Brass Lantern and Michael’s Café in Long Prairie.

Adam Sieve, a former high school teacher and principal, will helm the kitchen. In discussing the “comfort menu,” Adam mentions mac ‘n’ cheese, braised short ribs and wild rice ravioli for dinner; and pancakes, biscuits and gravy and corn beef hash for the breakfast offerings. An impressive craft beer selection also appears to be in the works.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served six days a week, and a brunch menu will be offered on Sundays.  

— Gregory J. Scott


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North Washington Café to replace Java J’s

Java J’s has closed, but the North Loop isn’t about to lose one of its few neighborhood coffee joints. A new café is filling in the spot on the ground floor of the Tower Lofts building, at 700 Washington Ave. N., offering up coffee, Espresso drinks, wine, beer, light breakfast fare and grab-and-go lunches for local condo dwellers and office workers.

And if all goes well, it could be open in the next few weeks.

Joe Grunnet, owner/broker at the Downtown Resource Group, a real estate office located right next door to the old Java J’s, closed on the space on Oct. 29. His new North Washington Café should be open no later than Dec. 1, he said.

“I’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t know anything about coffee,” Grunnet said. “I’m leaning on the experts that I’m employing to manage it and run it.”

Grunnet, leery of having an empty space beside his office, bought the property in order to have some control over the surrounding real estate. But he also said he wanted to secure a lynchpin of a still maturing neighborhood.

“Taking away a café in today’s market would hurt the North Loop,” he said. “Because there’s still not enough density there.”

— Gregory J. Scott


Send buzz tips to Journal editor Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com.