After 37 years in New Hope, the popular and ever-packed Sunshine Factory will move to a brand-new building 3 ½ miles west down 42nd Avenue N. by year’s end.
It’s not a move of many miles for the restaurant, now at 7600 42nd Av. N., but it will have a major impact on longtime patrons who live in the neighborhood.
When Sunshine Factory owner Randy Rosengren failed to come to an agreement to extend the lease, which expires at the end of July 2014, with landlord Paul Svensson, he decided to move his business to Rockford Road Plaza at the corner of 42nd Avenue N. and Interstate 494.
“My only options became to close or to relocate,” said Rosengren. “For some [customers], it’s distressing because it’s change, and some people don’t like change ... but most people realize that 3 ½ miles is not very far.”
The Sunshine Factory has been a neighborhood fixture since it opened in 1976, especially among the communities supporting nearby Armstrong and Cooper high schools. It’s developed a reputation as a place where neighbors can go for a nice walleye or baby-back-rib dinner, as well as a place for friends to sit at the bar drinking cheap beer, eating popcorn and playing pulltabs. It often fills up with players, coaches, their families and fans after a big game at Armstrong or Cooper, and the Armstrong Cooper Hockey Booster Club runs pulltabs and bingo there to support its teams.
“I really am disappointed that they couldn’t make a deal, because this is a neighborhood place, and I don’t want to see it turned into another Applebee’s or another Buffalo Wild Wings,” said Laura Adams, a regular for more than 20 years. “I’ll go wherever [the staff] goes. If the waiters, waitresses, bartenders go [to the new location], we’ll follow; that’s pretty much a given.”
General Manager April Hanson said she expects most of the Sunshine Factory’s 110 employees to make the move down the road to the new location.
“We were very fortunate to find a spot so close by, especially when you consider that our options were to shut down completely or move,” said Hanson, who has worked at the Sunshine Factory since 1985. “We’re really excited about the new building; we see it as a positive change.”
Peony’s China Bistro currently occupies the space at 4100 Vinewood Lane where the Sunshine Factory will move. Rosengren plans to demolish the current building in late May or early June and spend 5 ½ months constructing his new restaurant. A manager at Peony’s said she hadn’t heard anything about it moving or closing, and the owner was unavailable for comment because she was on vacation in Taiwan. Representatives from Jacksonville, Fla.-based Regency Centers, which owns Rockford Road Plaza, declined to comment.
Rockford Road Plaza also will see one of its anchor tenants change. Rainbow Foods recently announced that it will close its store there on May 8, and Kohl’s will move into the 65,608-square-foot space. The plaza also is home to Target, T.J. Maxx, PetSmart and other retail shops.
The new Sunshine Factory will be 7,400 square feet — slightly smaller than its current location — and will feature a plethora of outdoor amenities, a major reason why Rosengren is excited about the move, he said.
Early designs include an outdoor bar with TVs, a large patio and fire pits for patrons to stand around. Hanson said that the new building won’t have a separate dining room and bar like its current location, but will try to offer both the quiet dining and neighborhood bar aspects that have worked so well over the years.
The plans for those outdoor amenities are somewhat similar to those at Cowboy Jack’s, which became the first bar in the neighborhood when it opened in 2009 across 494, just west of Rockford Road Plaza. The Sunshine Factory is aiming for a more upscale establishment, similar to a Redstone or Granite City eatery, Hanson said.
‘I hate to see it leave’
The Sunshine Factory’s departure will leave a significant stretch of high-traffic real estate empty on 42nd Avenue N. in New Hope. Nearby, properties that used to be occupied by Universal Color and Gas N’ Splash sit vacant.
Neighborhood residents are eager to see what, if anything, fills the soon-to-be vacant Sunshine Factory location.
“It really is a neighborhood landmark, and I hate to see it leave,” said Billy Griffin, another longtime patron. “I just hope it stays local.”
“Three miles is a long walk, so I’m going to wait to see what they open up here,” said Mark Piche, who lives nearby and has been a regular since turning 18 in 1979. “I will still go out [to the new location], but probably just on weekends.”