Minneapolis officials often tout the economic development that would follow the construction of a streetcar line along Nicollet Avenue, but businesses there don’t seem to be waiting around for a new transit mode.
The area known as “Eat Street” is awash in new investment, with new restaurants and refreshed facades appearing regularly between Franklin Avenue and the Kmart at the southern end of the thriving corridor. The concentration of inviting storefronts and sidewalk patios makes it one of the best places in the city to walk, never mind its diverse food choices.
So what’s new on Eat Street?
The most recent splash is Zeus Jones, the marketing firm that moved into and rehabbed the former Little Saigon Plaza building near 24th Street — a property that had previous lives as a grocery, hair salon and the Fifth Precinct police station. A new Kombucha brewery is in a building across the street. Other recent openings include Kung Fu Noodle, a ramen spot, and Pimento, serving Jamaican food.
Several businesses near 26th Street have been so successful that three of them are opening new locations this year in Northeast: Glam Doll Donuts, Bad Waitress and Lu’s Sandwiches. And a Whittier Alliance representative says Marissa’s, a grocery and bakery on 28th Street, is expanding its food production operation.
Just east of Nicollet on 26th Street, a five-story, 70-unit apartment building with ground-level retail space is wrapping up construction. Beside that, a vacant 1887 building was recently overhauled and the Southwest Journal reports a “coffee and tea bar” will soon open on the ground floor.
Looking further into the recent past, bands began belting out tunes from the stage at Icehouse in 2012, bartenders started mixing specialty cocktails at Eat Street Social in 2012, and vegetables started getting pickled at Gyst Fermentation Bar in 2014. And don’t forget Wedge Table, Cheapo Records and Black Sheep Pizza on the list of newcomers — all opened in 2015.
Some parts of the streetscape have had total makeovers, like the 2013 conversion of 2515 Nicollet — built in 1938 — from a beige brick commercial building to the ornate, black-clad “Edison” building that now houses the Copper Hen restaurant, an apothecary and Great Goods gift shop.
Still, as much as Eat Street has been changing, many of its institutions are also going strong. Black Forest Inn and Little Tijuana recently celebrated 50-year anniversaries, while Quang, Christos and Rainbow Chinese have been serving up delicious fare for 27, 28 and 29 years, respectively.
But as higher-end businesses become more prevalent, the looming question is how to protect the more modest shops, groceries and restaurants that helped make the place great to begin with. A stroll through the past on Google Street View reveals a number Asian markets that have already disappeared, for example.
In addition to the streetcar plans, the city is hoping to open up Nicollet Avenue at Kmart’s Lake Street site — attracting more development to the area. The city has an option to purchase the land beneath Kmart, but is negotiating with the retail giant over the future of the store and its 37-year lease.
Ricardo McCurley with the Whittier Alliance said his organization and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota are now studying the “cultural history” of the neighborhood to protect its character as buildings change and businesses come and go.
“What is it that makes Eat Street special?” McCurley asked. “We can’t quite put our finger on it. We all know it’s there, but we’re hoping to quantify it and protect that.”