As dinner service wrapped up Wednesday night at Town Talk Diner and Gastropub (2707 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-353-5398, towntalkmpls.com), chefs/co-owners (and married couple) Charles Stotts and Kacey White thought about who had dined with them that evening. The roster was surprising.
“One gentleman was on business in town from Iowa. Another group found us on Yelp and was visiting from out of town. Another table just came off the plane from San Francisco,” White said. “Ninety percent of our business was from out-of-towners.”
That left them with a question: Where was the neighborhood?
So White and Stotts took to social media, specifically to Nextdoor, a community forum for neighborhoods. They asked for honest answers from south Minneapolis residents who live near their 2.5-star farm-to-table restaurant — housed in the location of a well-known former diner that retains its unmissable historic blue sign.
Despite our most sincere efforts to be the dining beacon of the south side, the resistance of so many south Minneapolis locals to enter our doors and try OUR concept has been incredibly great. A resistance that we could neither imagine, much less wrap our hands around.
Thus, our plea … our search for answers.
Please tell us, south siders, what is the deterrent? What is it about 2707 E. Lake St. and the old “Town Talk Diner” sign that mentally forbids you from entering through the old double doors?
They go on to hypothesize about what else could be keeping Minneapolitans away.
“Do you think it’s still closed?”
“Do you think it’s still just a diner, and you hope for more than diner food?”
“Do you think it is a kitschy French spot?”
“Do you think we are too expensive?”
They also explain in the post that, three years into their tenure on E. Lake Street, they will need to decide in the next six months whether to renew their lease.
“What we are trying to do, is figure out exactly what we are up against; to learn all there is to learn — so we can make the best decision possible as we look to the future,” they wrote.
They knew the post was risky, especially on an app with a reputation for devolving, occasionally, into passionate arguments among neighbors over sidewalk shoveling.
“The Nextdoor app has its plusses and minuses, but we thought, ‘Let’s just throw out the buoy and see what happens,’ ” White said.
Stotts added, “I was terrified of writing it, to come off like, ‘Come help us.’ It’s not that at all. It’s just amazing that on a Thursday night, our reservation book will have area codes from five different states and one from south Minneapolis. How is that?”
They wanted answers, and they got them. By Thursday, more than 100 people had weighed in.
A sample of comments:
“Didn’t Town Talk close? Maybe the big problem is that you kept the name of a failed restaurant.”
“Had no clue what you were up to.”
“I thought it was still a diner.”
“I’ve noticed your sign when driving home from Seward and it caught my interest, but it also made me picture a rundown diner and that wasn’t appealing.”
The sign, in fact, seemed to be the restaurant’s biggest handicap, according to commenters.
“We think it’s really cool, but it definitely comes with a monkey on our back,” said Stotts, who has cooked in high-end restaurants in Chicago, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Because it is landmarked, it can’t be altered or removed.
“We understood that handcuff when we took over and bought the place,” he said. “But I didn’t think it’d be this hard. It’s almost like there’s a predisposition about that sign, that says anything under that sign is not worth the time and money.”
The more constructive responses were to add more signage, like a neon “Open” display. “Then we just look like a cheesy joint,” Stotts said.
Other options: To advertise (“Not my skill set,” Stotts said), or to open more than four nights per week for dinner (not possible for the staff of five, he said).
Still, the owners are listening.
“I am truly, absolutely awe-struck at the volume of response we’ve gotten,” Stotts said. “And I hope it doesn’t come off as anything more than it is — which is if there’s a way to make this ship sail, let’s put up the sail and sail it.”
Now, the owners are hoping the Nextdoor activity won’t backfire on them. Lots of people responded to the post saying they’d be in soon for dinner.
“We hope they don’t all show up at 7:30 on Friday,” said White.