Counter intelligence: Expansion at Restaurant Alma; Corner Table relocating

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 5, 2014 - 5:00 PM
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Restaurant Alma

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Restaurant Alma going into expansion mode

It’s months away, but a major expansion at four-star Restaurant Alma (528 University Av. SE., Mpls., www.restaurantalma.com) is in the works.

Chef/owner Alex Roberts has purchased the 109-year-old building — originally a fire station — that has housed the restaurant since it opened in 1999.

The plan is to convert much of the space currently devoted to Dunn Bros. into a casual and affordable cafe. The working name: Cafe Alma.

“It’ll be in the spirit of a coffee shop,” said Roberts, that will serve an all-day brunch menu from the counter, then switch to table service at night. “Dinner will be accessible, a little more like half the price of Alma. I like the idea of having a place where we can sell a $6 glass of wine.”

One element that’s certain is that the cafe will feature house-roasted coffee.

“Just as we have a point of view with food, we have a point of view with coffee, and I think it’s going to be fun and interesting to roast and brew coffee that reflects our sensibilities,” said Roberts. “Besides, Dunn Bros. has been roasting coffee for many years, and we don’t want the neighborhood to miss that.”

A new production kitchen will support the restaurant, the cafe, “private parties, retail, a food truck, who knows?” said Roberts. “Right now we’re in the visioning process. We’re mapping out the whole building and figuring out what’s going to be possible.”

Roberts noted that changes to Restaurant Alma will probably be minor. Moving restrooms to another part of the building will allow for additional seating, and the dining room’s furniture will be upgraded.

“Nothing radical,” he said. “Although the kitchen deserves some flashy new stoves.”

The project’s timing depends upon when the building’s tenants — a pair of offices, and Dunn Bros. — will vacate, sometime later this year.

A move, then fried chicken

Corner Table (4257 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., www.corner­tablerestaurant.com) is moving a few blocks south, into the former La Chaya Bistro (4537 Nicollet Av. S.).

Once the relocation is complete, the restaurant’s three owners — spouses Nick and Chenny Rancone and chef Thomas Boemer — will convert the former Corner Table into a casual cafe specializing in fried chicken.

First, the move. La Chaya closed in December, and despite its roots as a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet (an irony, given the soon-to-come specialty of the house up the street), it’s roomier than cramped Corner Table. The additional elbow room will allow Boemer to add weekend brunch service to his Monday-Saturday dinner schedule.

Conservatively, the move will happen in mid-March, following a slight rehab of the La Chaya building. It helps that Boemer’s previous career was in cabinetmaking.

“Not only can Thomas do the work — which can enable us to do things that we might not otherwise afford — but he also has a good aesthetic,” said Nick Rancone.

The hope is that the restaurant will be closed less than a week during the transition.

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