Counter Intelligence: Union making a downtown splash

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2012 - 4:38 PM

The force behind Crave will turn the old Shinders building in downtown Minneapolis into a dining destination.

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An exterior rendering of Union, which will occupy the former Shinders building in downtown Minneapolis.

Hennepin Avenue's lights are about to get a whole lot brighter. That's because Union, the latest venture from Kaskaid Hospitality, is transforming the former Shinders building at 8th Street into an ambitious restaurant, bar, lounge and rooftop complex.

"I believe in downtown Minneapolis," said Kaskaid CEO Kam Talebi. "This project is a powerful statement of that belief. We want to create something that's unique to the marketplace. Hopefully it will become an iconic destination."

The rooftop alone will probably guarantee that. Talebi set a new standard for the genre last summer when he opened Crave's multimillion-dollar rooftop on the next block. Still, the 200-seat rooftop at Union is going to make its neighbor look like a studio apartment. Football fans, take note: The predominant feature is a retractable, 28-foot-high glass roof, which, when closed, will become a four-season, climate-controlled space. Talebi said that the structure -- which will fold and unfold like a telescope, in 15 minutes -- will be the largest of its kind in North America.

"We'll be able to cater to group events that want to have an outdoor experience and don't want to worry about rain," said Talebi. "We'll have trees all year long. You'll be able to dine under the stars in the open air, or during a snowstorm."

The rooftop will be served by its own full-service kitchen and bar. The street level will house a showy exhibition kitchen and 150-seat restaurant -- the battered terrazzo floor is staying, along with the exposed concrete ceiling -- plus a small bar. The basement will be home to the Marquee Lounge, a high-tech venue with a separate alley entrance.

A pair of high-profile names are attached to the project. "Eclectic American food" is how chef Jim Christiansen (formerly of Il Gatto, La Belle Vie and Sea Change) describes his plans. "That broad definition will give us the freedom to create a fun menu for downtown," he said. The street-level dining room and rooftop will offer separate menus; Christiansen said that the former's will remain relatively static, while the latter's will change with the seasons.

"When it's summer, we'll give the rooftop menu a summer feel, and when it's winter, we'll give it a winter feel," he said. As for prices, "This will not be perceived as an expensive restaurant," said Talebi. "Value will definitely be part of the equation."

The ambitious bar program -- separate menus for the Marquee Lounge, the first-floor bar and the rooftop bar -- will be created by Johnny Michaels, the La Belle Vie mixmaster who has also fashioned distinctive cocktail menus for the openings of Cafe Maude, Barrio, Masu Sushi and Robata and, most recently, Icehouse. "This is such a unique opportunity," he said. "I couldn't pass on joining this team."

Shea Inc. of Minneapolis is designing the project. The firm will also occupy the building's second floor. "I can't think of better neighbors," said founding principal David Shea. "We're going to have a bar above us, and a bar below us."

The 1947 structure -- which sits atop an 1890s foundation -- was originally a Snyder Bros. drugstore (the name is still embedded in the terrazzo floor) but has been vacant for several years, and something of a dilapidated eyesore ("It took a month and a half just to haul all of the crap out it," said Shea with a laugh). After being gutted down to its skeletal structure, a tall, light-filled ground floor space has emerged, which will happily surprise anyone who ever set foot inside the cramped, gloomy Shinders, or the Burger King that preceded it.

As for Talebi, he's clearly on a roll, one that is perhaps unprecedented in the annals of local restaurateurs. He recently cranked out his eighth Crave outlet in Cincinnati -- a remarkable growth curve for a company that launched its first restaurant just five years ago, in the Galleria in Edina -- and last week announced plans to revive the storied Figlio in what is now Kaskaid's Sopranos Italian Kitchen in St. Louis Park's Shops at West End.

Talebi said the project is on schedule for an early November opening.

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  • Jim Christiansen is planning "eclectic American food" for his kitchen.

  • Mixologist Johnny Michaels will develop the ambitious bar program.

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