Former Sofitel lands new restaurant

A new restaurant is going into the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel — it’s the 1970s landmark formerly known as the Hotel Sofitel, anchoring the northwest corner of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 100 — but let’s get one thing straight right from the start: It’s not a hotel restaurant.

Yes, there’s an overlap in ownership. Sort of. WB Hotel Partners — the WB is Warren Beck, developer of the Galleria mall in Edina — purchased the property in October 2013.

But the restaurant, Lela, (5601 W. 78th St., Bloomington) is a separate business entity, a partnership between Beck and longtime collaborator Paul Wischermann.

Also, while Lela occupies roughly two-thirds of the footprint of the hotel’s previous dining-and-drinking establishments, Lela is keeping its distance from the hotel by maintaining its own entrance, one that opens to the parking lot and not the hotel’s lobby.

“It’s a stand-alone concept with stand-alone management,” said Wischermann.

Designed by ESG of Minneapolis, the L-shaped, 200-seat restaurant and bar will include a showy wine display, a lively front-row-seat kitchen counter, private dining facilities and a yup-to-the-minute brown/tan/bronze/cream color palette. A south-facing patio is on its way, too.

“We want to bring an urban-style concept to the suburbs,” said Beck.

The menu is on trend, too, with a three-part emphasis: steak (available in a variety of sizes and cuts), crudo and pasta (fresh and dry, prepared on the premises), tailored to suit small appetites as well as shared plates, along with gluten-free, low-carb, pescetarian and other diverse dietary habits. The bar will concentrate on craft cocktails and maintain an ambitious wine list.

“I wouldn’t describe it at all as a steakhouse,” said Wischermann. “We want to create something authentic, but this isn’t going to be a destination restaurant. We’re creating a neighborhood restaurant for a very large neighborhood.”

No chef yet. But there is a general manager on board. He’s Haykel Arfaoui, an Atlanta recruit.

Beck and Wischermann have been business partners for more than a decade, starting when Beck developed the Westin Edina Galleria Hotel and Wischermann Partners signed on to operate it.

When Texas-based Hines Global REIT purchased the Galleria in 2012 for $127 million, Beck retained ownership of the adjoining Westin hotel. As for Wischermann Partners, the Minnetonka-based firm currently manages more than 14 hotels, restaurants and other properties in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Hartford Conn., and the Twin Cities.

Lela will serve lunch and dinner (no breakfast; the Sheraton’s separate food-and-beverage operations will handle the morning meal for hotel guests), with a second-half-of-June opening date. As for the name, it’s a mash-up.

“In romance languages, words begin with ‘le’ and ‘la,’ ” said Wischermann. “Every story has a beginning, and this is how the story of this restaurant begins.”

 

Yum! expanding west

Hello, chicken soup with matzo balls: A second location of Yum! Kitchen and Bakery (4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, www.yumkitchen.com) is on its way, in the former home of Pairings Food & Wine Market (6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka).

“It’s going to be very Yum!-like,” said owner Patti Soskin. “The menu is going to be the same. We’ll be baking everything on site.”

Soskin has been hoping to expand her nine-year-old operation for years, and landed on the former Pairings site after a lengthy search.

“I couldn’t tell you how many we looked at,” she said. “It’s a great location, and it was previously a successful restaurant. We’re going to take it to the next level.”

Yum! and the former Pairings (which closed on Feb. 1 after a six-year run) share a similar counter-service layout, so the transition won’t be a difficult one.

The changeover will be made easier by another connection: Both were designed by Shea, and the Minneapolis design firm will handle the remake.

A big reason why Soskin is expanding is to open up opportunities for longtime staffers.

“I have so many long-term employees who are ready for the next challenge,” she said. “We’ll keep a lot of familiar faces here [in the original Yum!], but many will go to the new place and get promotions, and I’m really thrilled by that. It’s really because of them that I’m able to do this. It’s their contributions that are making this happen.”

Soskin said she’s aiming for a late-summer opening.

 

Goodbye, doughnut muffins

Sad to report that Bars Bakery (612 Selby Av., St. Paul, and 55 E. 5th St., St. Paul, www.barsbakery.com) is calling it quits, after five butter-soaked years. The Cathedral Hill location is closing May 1, and the downtown skyway location will go dark at the end of May.

Co-owner Sandi Younkin is retiring, and co-owner Kara Younkin Viswanathan noted that her first new endeavor will be “making her children dinner most nights, a feat that feels impossible when you spend all day in a kitchen,” she said in a statement.

 

Lending a hand

Namaste Cafe (2512 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.namastechai.com) is leading an effort to raise $30,000 for earthquake-ravaged Nepal. Donate at tinyurl.com/q9a285z.

Here are two more ways to provide support: From May 1 to May 8, co-owners Rashmi Bhattachan and Sarala Kattel of Gorkha Palace (23 4th St. NE., Mpls., www.gorkhapalace.com) are donating 20 percent of their gross sales to earthquake victims, through the nonprofit Association of Nepalis in Minnesota. And from May 5 to May 7, Himalayan Restaurant (2910 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.himalayanmomo.com) co-owners Naveen Shrestha and Pravin Shrestha will donate 100 percent of the restaurant’s proceeds to earthquake relief efforts.

Thursday is the annual Dining Out for Life event, which supports the work of the Aliveness Project, a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides meals, a food shelf and other services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Here’s how it works: Roughly 225 participating Minnesota restaurants (find the list at www.diningoutforlife.com/minneapolis/restaurants) will generously donate a portion of their April 30 breakfast, lunch and/or dinner sales to the event.

Rick Nelson