Biz buzz: The Cuningham Group rebounds during tough times

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May 23, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss
On April 2, the Northeast library reopened on Central after a lengthy remodel that transformed the building from an institutional, dated 1970s structure to a modern, welcoming community space.

The project is a local example of work by The Cuningham Group, an architecture firm headquartered in St. Anthony Main.

The recession has been hard for architects — as with any career linked to construction, unemployment rates among architects have been sky-high in recent years. At the height of the recession, The Cuningham Group had reduced its staff by dozens. But that’s all changed. The majority of the furloughed staffers have returned to work and the company has even started adding positions, having just announced the hiring of 10 new employees.  

At around 170 employees, the company is nearly back to its pre-recession numbers. In other words, the future looks bright.

“I’ve been through seven recessions,” says John Cuningham, who founded the firm in 1988. “I like to say that we ‘chose to participate in three of them.’ This was the worst and the longest. We weren’t affected by some of them, but we definitely were by this one.”

The ill effects of the recession gave way to new projects around the first of the year. Old clients began to reach out, often with tasks more focused on improving existing structures rather than building new ones.

The projects kept coming in, such as a hotel project in Wisconsin and several headquarters for tech companies around the country. Additional manpower was needed to meet the demand.

So what caused the demand?

The Cuningham Group President Tim Dufault credits both the firm’s good relations with its clients and its diversified portfolio. The Cuningham Group is made up of different studios, each specializing on a different type of project.

“The studio structure allows us to develop lots of different expertise,” says Dufault. “So when our clients contact us, we’re able to demonstrate that we’ll help them grow their business and be able to respond quickly to their needs.”

While many of The Cuningham group’s current projects are spread around the country and the world, several are taking place in the metro area. One such project has recently garnered a lot of attention. The Cuningham is one of the many firms involved with the proposal to redevelop Block E into Minnesota Live.

The Barber Sharp finds new home

SHERIDAN — The last six months have been a time of big change for the barbershop at 1308 2nd St. NE.

In operation since the 1920s, the shop saw its longtime proprietor Art Boike retire in December, who had been running Boike Barber since 1974. Boike’s former apprentice Kelly Sharp purchased the business and rechristened it The Barber Sharp, only to discover that the building was for sale.

Sharp considered teaming up with the neighboring Matchbox coffee co-op to buy the building. Ultimately, she decided against it. A pair of cosmetologists purchased the building and offered her a one-year lease. Sharp declined the offer and opted to find a new location for her business.

However, The Barber Sharp isn’t moving far. On June 1, the business will reopen at 349 13th Ave NE, a mere two blocks away. While Sharp has taken over the whole space, The Barber Sharp will only take up part of the building. “I want to be really thoughtful about what goes into that space,” says Sharp. “I’d like it to be something that the neighborhood could really use.” She’s considering several different concepts for the space.

As a way of introducing the community to the new location, Sharp opened the building to the public during Art-A-Whirl, turning the space into a temporary gallery to showcase the work of local artist Chris “Xris” Frank.

Natedogs hits the streets

4th & HENNPIN — Last summer, the food truck revolution brought dozens of new food options to the streets of Minneapolis. Now the vendors have returned for a second season, and the number of options is growing. Meet your first new street food vendor of 2011: Natedog’s, a hot dog and brat cart.

“As far as I know, I’m the first new food cart of the year,” laughs owner Nate Beck. “I can’t be sure, but I think I am.”

Regardless, Beck is happy to be out on the street at what will be his regular spot, the corner of 4th Street and Hennepin Avenue. His cart isn’t the only place to buy hot dogs on the street, but he’s confident that his simple, focused approach will find an audience. The menu consists of all-natural, locally sourced all-pork hot dogs and brats with the options of caramelized onions, sauerkraut and various mustards. Beck makes all the toppings by hand and plans to experiment with different beer mustards from local breweries. The first batch is based on a porter from Barley John’s brewpub in New Brighton.

The simple approach seems to be working. Beck says business has been strong since the first day.

Vacant stores on Johnson Street find new tenants

AUDOBON PARK — Residents of the Northeast were crestfallen when two of the shops in the small Johnson Street retail strip closed early this year. Gift shop Dabble shut down after its owners launched The Coffee Shop Northeast, and the adjacent coin-operated laundry shut down shortly thereafter. Fortunately, both spaces have already found new tenants.

The former Dabble space will house two acupuncturists, Julie Colby and Leslie Prarie. Colby’s Ladys Slipper Wellness Center will focus on acupuncture and wellness for women, while her partner’s Prairie Acupuncture will focus on general practice. The acupuncture center will also offer herbal medicines and other treatments, and Colby says the business will be a great complement to the massage business on the same block.

The former laundry will become home to A Bag Lady, a jewelry and handbag store with another location in Medford, Minn.

Kraft tells Fried Bologna vintage to change its logo

SHERIDAN — Since it opened in July of last year, Northeast’s Fried Bologna Vintage has earned a lot of fans. Kraft Foods, however, is not one of them. At issue is the store’s logo, a design admittedly inspired by the Oscar Mayer branding.  According to a letter sent to Fried Bologna from Kraft, the store’s logo “dilutes the value and strength of our Oscar Mayer trademarks.”

Fried Bolonga owners Sara and Ricky Kazee plan to change the logo, which they worried about when starting the business. “When we told them we were opening a store, that was immediately the logo our friend suggested,” says Ricky Kazee. “People said it would be fine if we changed the logo by 10 percent or more. We were like, ‘are you sure this is OK?’”

Ultimately, the couple is more amused by the cease and desist order than troubled. “We’ve gotten a lot of attention thanks to Kraft,” says Ricky Kazee. “It’s actually pretty great that they noticed our little store in Minneapolis.”

Delmonico’s owners looking for buyer

BELTRAMI —Delmonico’s Italian Foods has been on the market for two years at 1112 Summer St. NE, but the owners are hoping a change in real estate agents will build some new momentum for a sale.

Bob Delmonico said plenty of interested parties have come through the store, but all of the potential buyers have run into trouble with money and financing.

Delmonico said that customers have become a little numb to the for-sale sign.

“Everybody kind of forgot about it,” he said.

Delmonico said he’s anxious to sell, now that only two family members are left running the business. “It’s too much for two people,” he said.

Delmonico said he would consider handing off to the buyer a few of Delmonico’s products or even the entire grocery business, which has become known for its homemade sauce and pasta.

The store has been a landmark in the Beltrami neighborhood since 1929.

Arlene Zamora, chair of the Beltrami Neighborhood Council, said the neighborhood has met with the new agent and it would like to be involved in future changes.

“We’ll see what happens,” she said.

Top honors for Minneapolis chef

Minneapolis chef Isaac Becker was named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation on May 9 in New York City.

Becker was honored at the annual James Beard Awards for his work at Bar La Grassa, 800 Washington Ave. N., and 112 Eatery, 112 N. 3rd St. He is a co-owner of both restaurants.

The awards are sometimes thought to be the equivalent of the Oscars of the food world. To win, chefs must “have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions,” according to the James Beard Foundation.

— Andre Eggert and Michelle Bruch contributed to this report.