The third attempt to get a coffee shop or restaurant to work in the historic train depot got off to a rocky start last fall.
Since opening again in 2007, the doors of Savage’s historic depot have closed twice, first on a coffee shop and later a restaurant. Now that a third business is struggling, the City Council has decided to extend its $1 rent payment for another six months.
Before owners of Flavor at the Depot asked for the break last month, rent was set to increase to $500 on April 1. But the City Council agreed that the upscale cafe-diner, which opened in October, deserves a break. The city’s installation of a fume hood delayed its opening by two months, which meant the restaurant missed the chance to build word-of-mouth — especially with patrons of the city farmers market, which is held in the depot’s parking lot.
And then, said Paul Hurley, who runs the restaurant’s finances, there was the weather. “The winter was a killer,” he said.
But Hurley says he expects the restaurant’s fortunes will change. Eventually he believes Flavor will become a destination, with residents coming from other suburbs to try the from-scratch baking and cooking of his wife, Cindy, who runs the restaurant.
“I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging, but it’s probably the finest food south of the river,” he said. “It’s that good.”
“I like the idea of having a restaurant or coffee shop [there],” said Council Member Jane Victorey. Voting with the 4-1 majority, she said the depot — one of Savage’s last historic buildings — should be the kind of place “that brings in … the public.”
Al McColl, who voted against the proposal, thinks it’s time the city looked at a retail, office or other type of business. “I don’t think six months is going to change anything,” he said. While “I sincerely hope I’m wrong,” he said, “maybe a restaurant isn’t the appropriate business” for the depot.
Victorey was less concerned about revenue. She said when the city partnered with the Dan Patch Historical Society to move the building, it wasn’t because the city wanted to make money. It was “to bring a piece of history downtown.”
Even without rent money, the city has an incentive to keep the building occupied. Flavor at the Depot pays $290 a month in property taxes on the building, and if it closes, the city is locked in to paying the taxes through the end of 2015.
The city also can afford to be relaxed about the pace of the depot’s development. A grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community paid for the $35,000 exhaust system. Funds to restore and move the depot downtown, totaling $123,500, came out of a city fund for community projects. The city’s expenses for maintenance, such as irrigation and clearing snow from the parking lot, would happen either way.
“We’re still ahead,” said City Administrator Barry Stock. “Even with the … leases that were subsequently terminated,” he said, “we’ve collected more money in rent over the years than what we’ve absorbed in costs to operate the building once we got there.”
The DP Coffee Depot was open for a half-year in 2007 before handing off the location to the Savage Depot, which added a food menu, before closing in the summer of 2012.
Unlike the owners of those two businesses, Stock said, Cindy Hurley has experience running a restaurant. In the 1990s Hurley — an experienced cook and baker who runs the kitchen — owned a dessert and boxed-lunch catering restaurant with locations in Apple Valley and Minneapolis.
That gives the Hurleys confidence that all their restaurant needs is time, warm weather and the opening of the farmers market in June to build word-of-mouth.
“What we have is working,” Paul Hurley said. “It just takes time.”
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.