Schussler plus Hwy. 7 drive-in equals love

When it comes to his affection for Wagner's (3712 Quebec Av. S., St. Louis Park), Steve Schussler doesn't sugarcoat it. "I would have given my last dollar for this place," he said. It's a love story that goes way back.

"I've been driving down Hwy. 7 past the place for years and thinking, 'Boy, I wish I could own that,'" said the brainiac behind the Rainforest Cafe, Kansas City's mammoth T-Rex and a long list of restaurant concepts nationwide. Last year he bought the building across the street and his obsession grew. "Then I started looking out the window and thinking, 'Boy, what I would do with that.'"

We'll find out soon enough. If all goes as planned, Schussler will own the fabled drive-in by the end of the month, when the modest 58-year-old landmark will get a once-over from his team of creatives. Zoning regulations forbid Schussler from encroaching on the restaurant's original footprint, so a physical expansion is out. But he's promising an upgraded parking lot, a freshly mowed lawn, new kid play areas, bike and skateboard racks, a rebuilt kitchen and a major exterior spiff-up.

"We're going to class it up," Schussler said. "A retro-futuristic look, kind of like George Jetson. It's still going to be cute and neighborly. And we're going to keep the same great food. We're serious about keeping this staple in the community. I want this to be the place that's known for hiring the neighborhood kids for their first job, the place that's a part of the local Cub Scout [packs]."

Other changes in the works include beefing up the burgers-and-fries menu with chicken, staying open year-round, adding the option to pay by credit card -- a first for the cash-only establishment -- and possibly putting carhops on new-edition Segways. "You've got to give the people what they want," Schussler said. "With the economy, the simplicity of the drive-in is coming back. This could be the beginnings of a national chain."

One with a new name: Galaxy Drive Inn. If all goes as planned, Schussler's new baby will be up and running by early May.

Saunders moves on

Now that his Fugaise is history, chef Don Saunders isn't letting any moss grow under his feet. First up: He's remaking the menu at Stout's Island Lodge in Birchwood, Wis. Saunders is also working with lodge owner John Rupp (who owns W.A. Frost & Co. in St. Paul) on a new bar/restaurant called the Commodore, which will be located at the Commodore Bar (79 N. Western Av., St. Paul), the Jazz Age beauty that has been closed to the public for far too long. Saunders says the latter project will come to fruition later in the year.

Around town

That's the Grand Cafe (3804 Grand Av. S., Minneapolis, grandcafempls.com) getting a shout-out in the May edition of Bon Appetit as one of 10 notable brunch spots nationwide.

Keystroke the following openings into your iPhone: Trattoria Tosca (3421 W. 44th St., Minneapolis, turtlebread.com), which is to the Linden Hills outpost of the Turtle Bread Co. as Cafe Levain is to the 48th-and-Chicago branch of Turtle Bread, opens April 22; chef Adam Vickerman is running the show at both locations. Crave launches its Mall of America (third floor, near Macy's) location on April 21 in the former home of the California Cafe. Finally, the Twin Cities' first Smashburger (3900 Silver Lake Rd., St. Anthony, smashburger.com) will be serving its half-pounders starting on May 9.

RICK NELSON