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Continued: Southwest Minneapolis restaurant boom serves up taste of tension

  • Article by: ALEJANDRA MATOS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 20, 2014 - 9:54 AM

Few of the new restaurants opening in seemingly every corner of the city are first-time ventures. In most cases, investors or developers are helping bankroll second, third or fourth concepts of established restaurateurs or chefs, said Ed Hanlon, a commercial real estate agent with Edina Realty.

“They see that as a big opportunity,” he said.

Retailers that were once a shoo-in for street-level space are feeling the squeeze. Agra will soon open its doors in a mixed-use development in Uptown where the majority of the commercial space is occupied by restaurants.

Its owner, Aaron Switz, founder of the fast-growing Yogurt Lab, said the developers of the Walkway apartments persuaded him to open Agra on the street level after working out a deal to bring Yogurt Lab into the development.

Switz said Agra is a healthy alternative to Chipotle or other fast food, a concept driven by young adults’ desire to know exactly what goes into their meals. “The younger generation wants healthy, fresh food,” Switz said.

“They are becoming a lot more educated on food and go through every detail to understand what goes into their food.”

Larry D’Amico, who owns 14 restaurants in Minnesota with his brother, Richard, agreed that young adults are putting their money into food.

“That is their form of entertainment,” Larry D’Amico said. “They talk about it. They live it. It’s so much more than food now.”

The brothers say that generally, new restaurants are welcomed in any market, but that some neighborhoods may be a bit resistant.

“On 50th and France, they love it. In Linden Hills, it’s really small and you’re right on top of residential areas. They’re a little more cautious,” said Richard D’Amico.

Drawn from St. Paul

Restaurants are seen as crucial anchor tenants in new residential developments, so much so that developers are aggressively wooing well-known names.

The developers of Village Green, the downtown luxury apartments in the Soo Line Building, enticed St. Paul’s Meritage restaurant to open Brasserie Zentral, an upscale European-style restaurant at street level, even though owner Russell Klein wasn’t actively looking to expand.

“They really wanted us, and even said they were going to make us an offer that would make it impossible for us to turn down,” he said.

With its state-of-the-art kitchen, easy access to the light-rail Blue Line and a 150-seat decadent dining room, Klein said Zentral is more than he could have ever imagined.

“We’ve seen this explosion of apartments and condos, and with that comes restaurants,” Klein said. “Landlords see vibrant restaurants as an amenity for their residents.”

Meanwhile, some retail owners say they do not want to see their entire neighborhoods filled with new restaurants.

“Over half of businesses are coffee shops and restaurants now,” said McHale. “We are the retail store in a sea of food.”

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