Get ready for four of the saddest words in the English language: Peter’s Grill is closing.
Owner Peter Atsidakos is calling it quits after Saturday’s lunch service, and when he does, a part of Minneapolis will disappear.
“It’s not going to be easy for me to see that door closing,” he said. “My whole family has been serving the Twin Cities for 99 years.”
That’s right, a year shy of a century. Except for a brief period about a decade ago, the restaurant (114 S. 8th St., Mpls., www.petersgrill.com) has been in the same family since 1914, when brothers and Greek immigrants John Atsidakos and Peter Atcas started a fruit stand that grew into a restaurant.
After decades on 9th Street between Nicollet and Marquette avenues — it was located next door to Young-Quinlan, the upscale department store — the restaurant relocated to the Foshay Tower for a brief run before moving to its present address, where it has remained for the past 22 years.
John Atsidakos returned to Greece in 1924 — and never returned to the United States — but his son Peter came to Minneapolis in the early 1970s, first working at the family’s Best Steak House properties.
Peter Atcas died in 1976, and his son Ed ran the business until he sold it in 1983 to his cousins: Andy Atsidakos, and the second Peter of Peter’s Grill, Peter Atsidakos. They sold it in 2003, but Peter Atsidakos bought it back a few years later, preserving the noble tradition of the downtown lunch counter, the city’s last.
It’s easy to take for granted that a landmark like Peter’s will be around forever. Unless you’re the one paying the bills and keeping 20 people employed, and business — especially the key noon-hour traffic — has taken a nose-dive during the past few summers. In June 2011, 500 to 600 customers a day were routinely walking through the doors. One day last week, that number was down to 85.
Atsidakos points the finger at the downtown Minneapolis food truck phenomenon, much of which is taking place around the corner from his restaurant.
“It’s the worst thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “There are trucks up and down on Marquette, a whole line of them right on our block. I don’t know why they all have to be right there, on Marquette. Why not spread them out, on Nicollet, or Hennepin?”
The kitchen worked to adapt to its new competition. “We’ve tried everything,” he said. “We made the food better than before. We served bigger portions than before. And still, no business.”
Changing tastes may also be playing a part, with demands for Peter’s straight-up comfort food on the wane. It’s an unfortunate development for those — present company definitely included — who enjoy a classic clubhouse sandwich, a turkey fricassee with dumplings and a yeasty dinner roll, a cling peach with cottage cheese or two eggs done any style with bacon and toast. Or anyone who appreciates being addressed as “dear” by their uniform-clad waitress, as I was when I had lunch there on Monday.
Quick-service Peter’s embodied fast food before fast food was invented. Less than 4 minutes elapsed between the time I ordered an open-faced hot turkey sandwich and it materialized at my seat.
What a lunch: a generous dollop of sturdy mashed potatoes and a towering stack of juicy, freshly roasted and thickly carved white and dark meat on slices of soft white bread, the plate brimming with a savory gravy. It was the epitome of old-fashioned, homestyle cooking. I devoured it.
Atsidakos is in negotiations to sell the restaurant — the equipment and fixtures, anyway, although not the name, nor the recipes — to “three ladies, I won’t say their names,” he said. “I should donate the sign to the museum. I don’t know that I’m going to need it.”
The 73-year-old restaurateur said he’s unsure of his future.
“Retire? I don’t know how to do that,” he said with a laugh. “My hobby is work. I enjoy working in restaurants. I enjoy coming here. I can’t go and be an office guy.” One definite plan is to spend more time at his home in Greece.
As for the restaurant’s justifiably fabled apple pie recipe, it’s remaining with Atsidakos, although he did reveal two secrets: each mountainous pie — divided into six slices (“six big slices,” he said) — requires three pounds of apples, and they’re not Granny Smiths, despite the “green apple pie” title.
Fans of great pie — and Minneapolis history — should try and get in for a slice during the next few days. The doors close forever at 2:45 p.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, in Dinkytown …
Plans for a major Dinkytown development have some people shouting “Save Al’s Breakfast.”
But here’s the thing: The 14-stool a.m. treasure (413 14th Av. SE., Mpls.) isn’t going anywhere. Just ask landlord Paul Dzubnar.
“I told those guys [Al’s owners Doug Grina and Jim Brandes] that they can be there for as long as they want to be there,” said Dzubnar. “They are unbelievable tenants. Al’s is an institution, and I feel so blessed to have them there. I have no plans to move them, ever.”
While the controversial Opus Development Co. project is coming close to Al’s, it’s not replacing it. Ditto neighboring Kafe 421 and Wally’s Falafel & Hummus. Still, the Opus proposal does spread out over a significant portion of the block’s footprint.
It will require the demolition of a restaurant: Duffy’s Dinkytown Pizza. Also on the chopping block is a large (and, it must be said, ugly) surface parking lot.
The biggest change will be the demolition of the one-story brick building that houses the House of Hanson convenience store, the Podium guitar and sheet music retailer and the Book House bookstore. All three Dinkytown landmarks are just a few doors down 14th Av. SE. from Al’s, a proximity that might be causing confusion among the don’t-mess-with-our-blueberry/walnut-pancakes crowd.
Opus plans to construct a six-story building that will contain 140 apartments, indoor parking for 138 cars (76 of which will be set aside for hourly, general-public use) and rental space for up to five commercial tenants. The project continues to travel through the city’s approval process.
If Dzubnar’s name is familiar, it’s because he’s also the owner and CEO of the Green Mill family of restaurants. Along with the pizza chain, the company’s properties include the Twisted Fork Grille in St. Paul and the rapidly growing Crooked Pint Ale House in Minneapolis, which is expanding into Apple Valley’s Cobblestone Lake retail complex and at 40th Street and Lyndale Avenue S. in Minneapolis.
Dzubnar bought the Al’s real estate last July from longtime owner and former electronics retailer Dick Schaak. A narrow, one-story structure on the building’s north side — filling what had been a 10-foot-wide alley — has been the home of beloved Al’s since Al Bergstrom opened the place in 1950.
As for Duffy’s Dinkytown Pizza, owner Susan Duffy plans to close her shop at the end of July, and is in discussions with Opus to relocate her 10-year-old business to the new development, which is located across SE. 5th Street from yet another neighborhood-altering project, a 317-unit apartment complex now under construction.
“We didn’t like being on 5th Street, but now we’re going to love being on 5th Street,” Duffy said. “For us, it’s a no-brainer. We’ll be surrounded by 500 new full-time residents. We’re super-eager to stick around.”
If all goes as scheduled, Sandcastle (4955 W. Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., www.sandcastlempls.com) should be open for business on the shore of Lake Nokomis.
Marin Restaurant & Bar (901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.marinrestauant.com) is now serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails daily at the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel.
Lowertown’s latest is the Buttered Tin (237 E. 7th St., St. Paul, www.thebutteredtin.com), serving breakfast and lunch — and plenty of baked goodies — daily.
New at Southdale is Rojo Mexican Grill (10 Southdale Center, Edina, www.rojomexicangrill.com), a sibling to the three-year-old restaurant of the same name in the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park.
Coming to Uptown
Growth-minded Kaskaid Hospitality is at it again. In November, the company behind Crave, Union, Figlio and Urban Eatery is taking over the current Uptown Minneapolis home of Old Chicago (2841 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.), with plans to reopen the space with a new concept in March 2014.
“There’s a hole in the marketplace that we’re going to fill,” said Kaskaid CEO Kam Talebi. “It’s going to be a casual neighborhood restaurant, with comfort-style American fare, 40 to 50 beers on tap and a new outdoor patio.” More details will be released in a month or two.
No name yet. “Names are always a struggle, and we certainly failed once with Sopranos,” Talebi said with a laugh. “We got it right with Figlio, so we learn from our mistakes.”