The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board concluded Friday that it must tear down the pavilion at Bde Maka Ska after a fire earlier in the week damaged the historic lakeside structure.
Park officials said demolition could begin in a matter of days, a decision that came after a structural engineer determined the building is not salvageable.
“We are devastated by the loss of such an iconic feature along the lake,” Superintendent Al Bangoura said Friday. “As difficult a decision as it is, removing the structure is the right thing to do and will allow us to rise out of this and begin moving forward.”
Louis King, owner of Lola on the Lake, had been preparing for what he hoped to be a successful season operating his restaurant out of the pavilion. He said he’s most concerned about the employees who are now facing an uncertain future.
“You can build buildings, and you’ll rebuild the business, but people’s lives are real,” he said.
King said he plans to reopen by selling his menu out of food trucks at the site. Food truck owners have already been in touch about helping out.
After the devastating fire, King said, “Lola’s theme this summer is going to be unity.”
The fire started around 4 a.m. Thursday and took firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish. But the fire badly damaged the shelter, restroom and restaurant area, which dates back to 1930.
Minneapolis Fire Department spokesman Bryan Tyner said Friday the cause of the blaze is still not known and the investigation continues.
Bangoura said park workers secured the site with fencing and installed silt barriers to prevent building char from getting into the lake. The new fishing docks south of the building remain accessible, and the boat launch will reopen at 6 a.m. Sunday. The Wheel Fun boat and bike rental building will remain closed through the weekend, reopening Monday, he said.
A rocky first year
Before the fire, King was rolling out a slew of changes for Lola’s second season after a rough first year that generated negative online reviews and less than half its targeted revenue.
The restaurant had made history two years ago when it became the first black-owned business to partner with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board at the lake, where it took over the former Tin Fish location.
“The first year, we got off to a rocky start,” King said in an interview before the fire. “It was a very eye-opening experience.”
Lola’s had hoped to bring in $1.5 million in 2018, according to its original business plan. Instead, it brought in about $607,000 in total revenue, 12% of which goes to the Park Board.
Park Board commissioners viewed its weak performance as part of the growing pains that came with replacing the previous, longtime concession. Earlier this month, commissioners said they were confident its second season would be better.
The day before the fire had been the restaurant’s best day of the season so far.
“Everybody is just in shock right now,” King said.
The Park Board has contracts with a handful of restaurants to operate seasonal concessions in its most popular attractions. They include Sea Salt Eatery at Minnehaha Park, Bread & Pickle at Lake Harriet and Sandcastle at Lake Nokomis.
In late 2017, the Park Board approved a five-year contract with Lola to replace Tin Fish, which had operated in that spot for 14 years.
King referred to that first year at Bde Maka Ska as a “learning year.”
“You want to be consistent with your product, you want to have good customer service and you have to have management in place to get that done,” he said this week. “I’m a better owner than I was last year.”
New chef, changing menu
Lola opened its second season on May 1. King brought in a new executive chef, Eric Austin of the former Big E’s Soul Food restaurant on Nicollet Avenue. They changed up their menu, adding poke bowls, calamari, fries and Dippin’ Dots ice cream.
Lola was expected to bring in about $1.6 million in its second year, according to its business plan. But in addition to revenue, the Park Board also has equity goals to support black-owned businesses and make sure they succeed, Commissioner Jono Cowgill said.
Park Board President Brad Bourn said that before the fire, Lola had already made its mark attracting more diverse clientele.
“It just seems like there is a little bit more cultural relevancy to some of the items on their menu,” he said earlier this month.
Bourn and Cowgill said other vendors have had slow starts in their first season.
Residents of the surrounding neighborhood were also encouraging the business in its second season. Judy Shields, president of the East Calhoun Community Organization, said she was grateful for the restaurant and what it brings to the lake.
Cowgill said the Park Board would work with Lola on the Lake to see how they can keep concessions going in the meantime and to “help the business that has many employees down there not skip a beat.”