City officials are hoping that the third time will be the charm for the Savage Depot, where a new restaurant operator recently opened for business.
Two previous attempts failed as businesses attempted to open a limited-service restaurant and a coffeehouse in the historic city-owned building in the center of downtown.
Mayor Janet Williams said she believes the city’s success in finding an operator with food service experience, coupled with its decision to install equipment so the business can offer a broader menu, could increase the new restaurant’s chances of success.
“It was a good move,” she said of the city’s decision to allocate $35,000 from its community investment fund for an exhaust hood and fan needed for an establishment doing more extensive cooking.
Cindy Hurley and her sister, Carol Madson, reached an agreement with the city last May to lease the depot, which had been vacant since the summer of 2012. Madson later dropped out of the venture, but Hurley proceeded with plans for the restaurant offering breakfast and lunch service. Hurley’s husband, Paul, oversees the financial side of the business, while their two sons, Patrick and Aaron, who both have restaurant experience, handle cooking and coffee bar duties.
Hurley has experience in catering and several years ago ran Mrs. Feldman’s Fineries, a gourmet dessert business that had stores in Apple Valley and Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood.
Hurley said she used some recipes from those operations to develop her menu for the new restaurant, which features soups, salads, burgers and more elaborate items like a crab tower. Breakfast choices include pancakes and specialty egg dishes. The restaurant also has a limited list of wines and craft beers.
“We’re still getting our systems down, but it’s going pretty well,” Hurley said. “There’s been a nice steady flow of customers coming in.”
Hurley said she sets her alarm clock to go off at 3:30 a.m. at her home in Credit River Township so she can arrive at the depot by about 4:30 a.m. to begin baking muffins, scones, croissants, cookies and other treats. She brought in much of the kitchen equipment, including an oven, for baking and cooking. She also added a display case for baked goods and grab-and-go box lunches prepared by her and the rest of her staff.
Right now, her workdays don’t end until 7 p.m. “We’re working on ending that sooner,” she said.
Even so, she said she’s having fun and has been encouraged by the support she’s gotten from the city. Williams, City Administrator Barry Stock and police Chief Rodney Seurer all have stopped by for coffee or meals.
Under the terms of a five-year lease, Hurley will pay $1 a month for the first six months and $500 a month for the following six months. The monthly rent increases to $750 the second year and continues rising until it reaches $1,500 in the fifth year. There’s an option to renew the lease after five years.
City documents say the rent averages out to $950 a month over the full term of the lease, higher than the $804 a month approved last year for the previous tenant.
Stock said that he doesn’t expect the new restaurant to stimulate other development but that he believes it can add to the overall vitality of Savage’s downtown.
“It’s a central point, so filling it is important,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city continues efforts to bring new life to other vacant downtown properties. Stock said the city has a possible new tenant for two of the three spaces in the Hamilton Building formerly occupied by Savage Art Studios & Gallery, which closed at the end of last year.
He also said the city will look for developers for the site of its old fire station, which was demolished after the new station was built. He expects the city will begin marketing the site — and possibly an adjacent parcel — next summer.
Stock said the city continues to acquire properties with a goal of redeveloping them, as it did with the Hamilton and depot buildings.
In May, it acquired a vacant warehouse near 123rd Street and Palmer Avenue with plans to demolish it. The property eventually could be paired with an adjacent parcel and marketed as larger redevelopment site, he said.