Randy Stanley was apprehensive at first about opening a restaurant in the town of Wayzata. But three years later, he said it looks like he was on the cutting edge.
The small suburb is in the midst of a restaurant boom that has no signs of slowing down. So far this year, an estimated 700 new restaurant seats are coming in a dizzying slew of openings.
“Wayzata is becoming a culinary destination,” said Stanley, owner of 6Smith. “We’re pulling away from … traditional suburban dining experiences for an urban-esque experience.”
The wealthy west metro suburb, considered the gateway to Lake Minnetonka, is tapping into its proximity to the massive lake and Interstate 394/Hwy. 12, becoming a magnet for buzzworthy new restaurants and top chefs.
Baja Haus is opening Wednesday. Earlier this month it was the highly anticipated opening of Bellecour. Crisp & Green opened in the fall. Rustica Bakery & Cafe and a yet-unnamed breakfast and lunch cafe are expecting to open this summer. And ninetwentyfive is going into the Hotel Landing — the first hotel on the lake in half a century.
That’s a lot of restaurants for a town that’s only 3 square miles with 4,200 residents.
“It just seemed like the right fit with the action that’s going on,” said Ryan Burnet, who owns Minneapolis’ Burch Steak, Bar La Grassa and Barrio, and chose his hometown for his fast-casual Crisp & Green. “It’s become a feeding frenzy.”
A parking crunch
Burnet said he took note of the city’s changes over the past few years to make it more accessible, expanding temporary docks, adding new sidewalks and starting a city-operated free valet. In June, the city is opening its first public parking ramp, more than doubling the number of parking spaces.
“I think it’s going to be the next food hot spot where everyone wants to come,” said Terri Huml, who’s amazed at the influx of restaurants as the owner of 21-year-old Gianni’s Steakhouse. “Can this city handle the influx of all these people coming into town? That’s my only concern.”
For years, Wayzata — and its lake counterpart, Excelsior — have tried to balance being a destination with managing the crowds and maintaining their small-town character for residents, not all of whom are keen on droves of visitors. As a result, Wayzata leaders often cite a common phrase that seemingly guides city planning: “Lively, not rowdy.”
“The lake is our best asset,” said Mayor Ken Willcox, adding that he sees fine dining as its complement. “It will allow people to enjoy it more.”
It’s not the first time Wayzata has had a flurry of restaurant openings. In 2014, the city had a record 1,000 new restaurant seats, leading a Star Tribune food critic to dub Wayzata the “Land of New Restaurants.” But Huml said it “upended this entire community.”
While there’s one privately owned parking ramp downtown and free street parking, spaces fill up fast, especially in the summer. That’s when the city started testing solutions like the free valet and encouraging workers to park farther away. Now, new restaurants are feeding off one another and helping other businesses grow, City Manager Jeff Dahl said.
“The rising tide has really lifted all boats,” Dahl said. “It’s creating a more vibrant, thriving, lively but not rowdy downtown.”
Across the lake, Excelsior has also sought to balance new restaurants and boutiques with the need for parking, but the restaurant boom there has slowed, confined to the city’s 1 square mile.
So what’s drawing restaurant owners to Wayzata? For some, it’s the proximity to the lake and Minneapolis. For others, it’s about years of construction finally wrapping up on Bushaway Road (County Road 101) and the Promenade of Wayzata, a five-block project that includes condos, retail and the hotel.
For Enkhbileg “Billy” Tserenbat, who is opening his second restaurant, Baja Haus, near his first, Sushi Fix, it’s about the residents. They include many international travelers with a taste for top-notch international cuisine, Tserenbat said.
The 14 cities on Lake Minnetonka have more than 100,000 residents, and nearly half of them have a median household income of $100,000 or more. That buys a lot of steaks.
Becky Pierson, president of the Greater Wayzata Area Chamber of Commerce, said the variety of restaurants draws visitors who might never have visited Wayzata before, which helps shift the city from a seasonal destination to a year-round one — one of the goals of a lakefront improvement project.
Huml said Wayzata can’t stay small after the Promenade, the city’s largest redevelopment project in its history.
“The ship sailed for Wayzata to keep a small-town charm,” she said. “It’s built. It’s here, and you have to get used to the new look and feel.”