A group of leading south Minneapolis restaurateurs, all currently cooking on Nicollet Avenue, will soon be crossing the Mississippi River.
They’ll be the lead tenants in the Keg & Case Market, an ambitious, food-centered project at St. Paul’s Schmidt Brewery complex.
Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone of Corner Table and Revival are leasing the front-and-center spot in a nearly $9 million remake of the historic brewery’s keg warehouse.
Their still-unnamed venture will center on a mammoth wood-burning hearth, 20 feet wide and 18 feet high, where Boemer and his crew will do all of the restaurant’s cooking and baking.
“It’s going to be very vegetable-forward, rustic and primal,” said Rancone. “Everything will be touched by fire, and smoke.”
The menu will be built on sharing, at what Rancone calls an “accessible” price point. “It’s a concept shaped by our travels in Europe, and reflective of how we like to eat,” he said.
The restaurant will have indoor seating for 120 on two levels, amphitheater-style, around that dramatic hearth. A patio, dominated by a restored Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co. mural, will add another 80 seats.
Also coming on board are Hola Arepa co-owners and spouses Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem. They’ll be opening a branch of their popular two-year-old restaurant, which grew out of their equally popular food truck of the same name. The St. Paul iteration of Hola will offer the same Latin food-and-cocktail offerings as its sibling to the west. A patio, too.
“We’ve been looking for spaces in St. Paul for a long time,” said Nguyen. “The moment we stepped inside the building — and it’s in this very raw and gritty state — we immediately fell in love with it. We’re really excited to be a part of such a cool project. It’s been hard to keep quiet about it.”
Five Watt Coffee is also slated to open a 50-seat coffeehouse, one that will mirror its Minneapolis counterpart, but will also serve beer and wine.
The project’s developer, Craig Cohen, said that he made the effort to sign local, one-of-a-kind operators to leases.
“I’ve already been to Starbucks,” he said. “Those kinds of chains might be more financially lucrative for someone like me, but they don’t have the character that will define this space. I hope this becomes a real landmark for the region.”
The restaurant tenants will occupy the 32,000-square-foot building’s outer perimeter. Its center will be devoted to a food-focused market that will consist of 40 stalls, geared toward chocolatiers, bakers, butchers, cheesemakers, growers and other small-scale operators.
“It’s going to be all mom-and-pop vendors,” said Cohen. “It could be a spice guy, or a pickle guy, or an herb farmer. I’m not going to have someone doing silver smithing. We want to focus on this one niche, and that’s food. We’re actively pursuing applicants.”
The market will also include a communal seating area, and a second-floor commercial kitchen will be available for market tenants.
Outside, Cohen will be adding a band shell and space for a farmers market and other warm-weather activities; a skating rink will serve as a winter gathering spot.
“It’s going to be alive with unpredictable activity,” said Cohen.
Another draw: “Free parking, and plenty of it,” said Rancone.
With a wide-open interior and 40-foot-high ceilings, the building was originally designed to store kegs (and later, cases) of beer. It’s adjacent to the landmark brewhouse, a castle-like nine-story pile that was recently converted to artists’ lofts.
The earliest portions of the 15-acre brewery complex date to 1901. Beer was last brewed at the site in 2002, and it mostly sat dormant for more than a decade as redevelopment proposals came and went.
“This is a testament to what happens when people come together and persevere,” said Rebecca Noecker, St. Paul Second Ward City Council member. “That’s one of the virtues of St. Paul. We care about historic treasures, and we place a premium on preservation and redevelopment. It’s a very exciting time to live on or near West 7th Street.”
A full plate
Cohen has rehabilitated several commercial buildings in the neighborhood, but the Keg & Case Market is his largest project, by far.
He purchased the site last fall for $550,000, and has been awarded cleanup grants totaling about $135,000 from the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The project is being designed by Studio M Architects of Minneapolis and built by Kalcon of Minnetonka.
Cohen said that construction is set to begin in a few weeks, and that a midsummer 2017 opening is planned.
Rancone and Boemer might qualify as the metro area’s busiest restaurateurs. The duo took over Corner Table four years ago, and launched Revival in March 2015.
A second Revival — on St. Paul’s Selby Avenue, in the former home of Cheeky Monkey Deli — is opening this fall. The original Nicollet Avenue Revival is slated to get some much-needed elbow room, after a planned expansion into the adjacent storefront. In addition, the duo just debuted a Revival stand at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But the Keg & Case project was one they couldn’t pass up — especially after Cohen showed them the property. (Rancone used to visit the site as a kid, filling water jugs with his grandmother from the brewery’s 1,100-foot-deep well.)
“We had to jump,” said Rancone. “Because it’s so ambitious, this whole project — the restaurants, the market — seems like it’s very pie-in-the-sky. But it’s legitimate. It’s going to change the local dining landscape.”