Como Dockside, the fancy Louisiana-themed restaurant the city put into Como Park Lakeside Pavilion, is closing.
The restaurant’s last day will be Nov. 22, although the restaurant will continue to offer limited service through the end of the year. It’s an abrupt end — Dockside just completed its third summer — to what the city of St. Paul had hoped would be years of drawing customers to the historic lakeside pavilion year-round.
Instead, city officials are looking for a new tenant to fill the space while the city still is paying down an $800,000 settlement to the pavilion’s former vendor.
Jon Oulman, who ran the restaurant with his partners and has several other successful ventures in St. Paul and Minneapolis, said that despite strong early numbers and numerous improvements, Dockside just couldn’t overcome the challenge of attracting lakeside diners during dark and cold Minnesota winters.
“Our contract requires that we’re open 12 months a year,” Oulman said. “And nobody is there in the winter.”
In a statement released Friday afternoon, city officials said that after three successful years, St. Paul will “explore new models to improve service.” The city is seeking a new vendor for the space, beginning in spring 2018.
Dockside was chosen to occupy the Pavilion space starting in January 2015. It had been occupied for years by Black Bear Crossings. City officials were looking to take advantage of the lakeside setting in much the same way that Minneapolis parks facilities are home to popular private restaurants and find a vendor that would make significantly more revenue.
The city had ousted longtime tenant David Glass after officials said his Black Bear Crossings cafe was underachieving and not meeting city-set revenue goals. Glass later sued the city for breach of contract, and won an $800,000 settlement. The city owes Glass a final payment of $137,500 payable in July 2018, a city spokesman said.
From Dockside’s beginning, city officials and neighborhood residents seemed delighted with the change. Oulman and his partners invested almost $300,000 into the facility, replacing a dock, putting in a summer concession stand and booking performers to play on the Pavilion’s outdoor performance space overlooking the lake.
“Como Dockside brought new life to the Como Lakeside Pavilion, and has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this publicly owned facility,” St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said in a statement Friday. “The Como Dockside staff and owners certainly demonstrated their passion to making this a successful endeavor, and although we’ve been pleased with how they fully activated the site, we all agreed it’s time for a change and are now all excited for next steps.”
Oulman said a moneymaking first year was reason for optimism. But it soon became clear that winter was too much to overcome. The restaurant couldn’t make enough cash when the weather was good to pay for months when the restaurant was nearly empty. “We just couldn’t catch up,” he said.
Amy Brendmoen, the City Council member who represents Como and who along with Hahm challenged the city’s contract with Glass and prompted the lawsuit, said in a statement Friday that she is disappointed in Dockside’s closing “but I also appreciated the thoughtfulness and consideration that went into their decision.”
On the Como Neighbors Facebook page, Brendmoen praised the work of Oulman and his partners that “has literally transformed the Pavilion into a gorgeous community hub over these past three years. ... I’m grateful for the vision, creativity, execution and hard work of the Dockside team and their staff.”