Owner Tiffany Hauser and general manager Justine Morris opened a second Green + The Grain in the Baker Center's skyway. Photo by Eric Best.

A feast of fresh skyway concepts

Updated: April 21, 2017 - 10:25 am

Local restaurants are bringing their own flair to skyway dining.

When Tiffany Hauser wanted to expand her food truck concept she looked up.

The Green + The Grain owner and partner Dustin Naugle brought their food truck to the skyway last summer with a brick-and-mortar restaurant in LaSalle Plaza. Around noon on weekdays the chopped salad and wrap concept boasts a line out the door and often into the neighboring building. 

Now, capitalizing on the success, Hauser has expanded once more. 

A second Green + The Grain opened quietly in early May right across from Vellee Deli and Turkey to Go, both food trucks-turned-skyway spots, in the Baker Center. Despite the growth of national salad and health food chains into downtown, the independent local restaurant has garnered a dedicated workforce following in the skyway.

Justine Morris, a general manager and chef who’s been with the concept since it was a food truck, said the skyway presence has allowed them get creative and expand their menu. Green + The Grain offers customizable salads and wraps with an emphasis on flavorful dressings and healthy, organic and local ingredients. 

“We try to individualize ourselves by being really fresh. Everything is super herbaceous,” she said. 

The restaurant’s most popular items are the Cowboy, a romaine salad bowl with blackened grilled chicken shaved radish, Chihuahua cheese and jalapeno ranch dressing, and Apple + Pear, an organic spinach mixture with wheat berry, pear, craisins and bleu cheese. Another favorite, the Grain Bowl with organic spinach, roasted beet and quinoa, is topped with a pesto vinaigrette that’s made daily to keep the basil fresh, Morris said.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

Customers are able to skip the lines — and they can be quite long — through ordering online. Green + The Grain also offers catering services.

The concept’s popularity comes at a time when both growing fast casual startups and national chains are vying for space. 

“My chef and I have this saying, ‘If it’s good, they will come.’ We just really believe in the freshness and quality of what we’re doing,” Hauser said in an email. “I think that our customers not only really love our salads, but they also love the story behind us and who we are as a company.”

Green + The Grain is now open in the Roanoke Building at 109 S. 7th St.

Towle building taps new kind of café

Matt McGinn’s Blackeye Roasting Company has never gone the traditional route in selling its nitro cold-brewed coffee. The coffee company first looked to bottles, cans and even tap lines at restaurants and breweries before opening up its first Blackeye-branded café. 

McGinn, the company’s founder, is looking to join the downtown Minneapolis skyway in June, but not exactly with a traditional coffee shop. 

“We took the opposite approach of entry into this market,” McGinn said. “It’s definitely going to be us. It’s unapologetic.”

McGinn is planning a non-alcoholic cocktail café with 10 tap lines to serve the company’s nitro cold brew, tea from Verdant Tea, kombucha from Prohibition Kombucha and non-alcoholic cocktails inspired by Bittercube. For more traditional coffee drinkers, the shop will also serve Blackeye’s hot coffee and espresso drinks. 

The shop will have a direct connection to cocktails. McGinn is planning to serve a nitro tonic drink inspired by a cold brew and tonic cocktail at Red Cow that features Blackeye’s coffee. McGinn’s non-alcoholic version contains the coffee, Bittercube’s bolivar bitters and tonic water.

“We kind of want to mimic the bar scene, the beer scene and the alcohol scene. We’re merging it with the coffee scene, which not many people do,” he said.  “The cafes are our taprooms.”

File photo
File photo

For McGinn, who has managed cafes for years, the transition to cafes isn’t a new challenge, but it will be new territory for Blackeye. And the company doesn’t show any sign of slowing down with McGinn also planning another Blackeye café for the former Blue Ox Coffee Company location at 3740 Chicago Ave. S. in Powderhorn. The company is also transitioning to a new manufacturing facility that won’t be open to the public. 

The 18-seat shop is slated for a skyway space in the Towle building at 2nd Avenue South & 4th Street South. It’s expected to open in mid-June. 

Blackeye’s nitro cold brew is available in cans at Whole Foods, Lunds & Byerly’s and Super America locations, as well as on tap at restaurants like Red Cow and Pizza Luce. 

Future lunch options

Even more food options are slated for the city’s skyway system.

Naf Naf Grill already has huge lines outside its new skyway-accessible restaurant in US Bank Plaza. The fast-growing Chicago-based chain, which specializes in Middle Eastern staples like falafel, is planning to open new locations in City Center and an addition to Mall of America. A spokeswoman with CBRE, which represented Naf Naf Grill to secure the locations, said the City Center restaurant is expected to open in mid-August. 

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

In a similar boat is established chain Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The national burger chain is opening a 2,200-square-foot restaurant on the first floor of RBC Plaza on Nicollet Mall sometime this season. 

The people behind St. Paul’s On’s Kitchen recently opened Pad-Ga Pow in the Highland Bank Court building at 811 LaSalle Ave. It promises “fresh, fast and authentic Thai cuisine.”

The skyway system is also growing itself with more connections into the new Downtown East development, creating room for even more skyway-accessible options. 

Eric Sheaffer, an associate with CBRE, said there are open spaces in the project’s Radisson Red hotel and even a 7,000-square-foot restaurant location in the eastern Wells Fargo tower. Dermot Cowley, the restaurateur behind O’Donovan’s Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis, is planning his own restaurant in the other tower.