Saying “hola” to a bricks-and-mortar store

The happy trend of food truck operators matriculating into full-fledged restaurateurs continues.

This time it’s Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem of Hola Arepa ( The couple are converting the former El Paraiso (3501 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.) into a restaurant and bar.

“The goal all along was to open a restaurant,” Grudem said. “There’s something really special about being a part of a restaurant, getting to know your customers, creating an atmosphere, building relationships with people and showing them a good time.”

The initial plan is to start with dinner, preceded by a late-afternoon happy hour. Sunday brunch, too, with the possibility of adding lunch as the restaurant gets on its feet.

“Maybe a kind of a middle-ground brunch, something Thursday through Sunday,” said Grudem. “We just don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin. We’re kind of control freaks, and it’s hard to let go of the reins.”

Naturally, the menu will be anchored by a dozen or so arepas, those marvelous hand-rolled, fresh-baked cornmeal buns that are split, grilled and filled with a host of treats, from slow-roasted pork with black beans to chicken with poblano peppers and a mole sauce.

The rest of the menu will transition from bar snacks to shared plates.

“We’re trying to not have a burrito or a taco,” said Grudem. “We’ll be geared more towards Central and South American dishes that aren’t being served here in Minneapolis.”

Grudem also said that he’s excited to put his tenure as a Bradstreet Craftshouse bartender to use.

“We’re going to have an overall Latin influence on the drinks program,” he said. “I wouldn’t say ‘tiki drinks’ by any means, but we’ll have many different sours, various takes on daiquiris and a fair amount of whiskey.”

And Pisco, naturally. “We’ll probably have a variation on a classic Pisco sour,” he said. “But we’ll probably be using Pisco more as a cordial rather than as the main spirit. We’ll do the same thing with rum. So many of them have amazing flavor and depth, but they can be overpowering when they’re used as the sole spirit.”

The distinctive turquoise truck (and yes, the dining room will include turquoise touches, most notably in the chairs and in some dinnerware) isn’t going anywhere.

Once the weather cooperates, the truck will keep the same schedule it has maintained since starting in 2011: weekdays in downtown Minneapolis, and Saturday mornings at the Midtown Farmers Market.

Why open at 35th and Nicollet? “We live a block and a half away,” said Grudem. “We love the neighborhood, and it’s only continuing to grow better and better.”

A late April/early May opening is in the works.

“Pop” goes the hot dog

Prairie Dogs (, the pop-up prelude to what co-owners Tobie Nidetz and Craig Johnson plan to parlay into an Uptown bar and sausage-making facility, is making its next appearance on April 6 — the night before the Twins’ home opener — at Ike’s Food & Cocktails (50 S. 6th St., Mpls., from 4 to 9 p.m.