We recently ran a story in this newspaper about how residents of southwest Minneapolis are “up in arms” over street parking.
The culprit: too many “hip” restaurants bringing too many eager diners into their neighborhoods.
Only in Minneapolis would a story about an economic and culinary boom turn into concern over where you are going to park your car. I wonder what Detroit would think of our city’s dilemma.
Or perhaps a little closer to home, north Minneapolis? Turns out, the hipster-eateries issue had some traction on the North Side.
When the story ran, Erin Heelan started getting e-mails in her small office above a dentist’s office on Broadway in north Minneapolis, all expressing the same reaction.
“Everybody was saying we’d love to have this ‘problem,’ ” said Heelan, executive director of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition. “I got a few e-mails.”
Heelan’s workplace sits smack dab in the middle of a bustling street that has plenty of parking, but lots of empty buildings just sitting there waiting for hipsters.
There are a half-dozen requisite fast-food restaurants, a Burger King and a Popeye’s, for example, but there are also empty lots. Some used to be independent restaurants that were wiped out by the 2011 tornado. Others sit abandoned through simple neglect.
Things are changing, though. A few new restaurants would sure help.
A new building housing the headquarters of Minneapolis public schools has brought hundreds of more workers into the neighborhood. Common Bond Communities is also building a housing complex down the street, and developers Dean Rose and Steve Minn are planning a mixed housing and retail building called Broadway Flats. The historic North Branch Library is being revitalized and turned into a training center by local nonprofit Emerge Community Development.
The chefs behind one of our hippest and best restaurants, Travail, thought a good restaurant could work on the North Side, and ran an Asian “pop-up” place called Umami until December. They had planned to keep it open another year, but changed their minds, but not because the location was a failure.
“We are not leaving because the business was unsuccessful, but rather because its success came at time when the organization was already overextended,” the owners said in a release at the time. The restaurant “was busy and buzzworthy and it demanded too much of the team’s resources” as they launched a new Travail and The Rookery.
So, it can be done.
Just ask Sammy McDowell, owner of Avenue Eatery. One day this week, the place was packed for lunch and a line stretched to the door for his huge, inexpensive sandwiches and sweet potato pie.
“We do well,” McDowell said. “We don’t advertise, so it’s word-of-mouth.”
Asked if he’d like more restaurants nearby, he said “absolutely.”
“More people, more traffic would be fine,” McDowell said. “I just want people knowing what Broadway has to offer.”
Heelan said one of the biggest challenges to luring restaurants to the North Side is that they have historically been short of them.
“There are just not a lot of spaces that are move-in ready,” she said. “Most restaurant owners want to move into a space that was previously a restaurant because the costs of building new are huge.”
Rose plans to incorporate a restaurant into his development.
“The North Side is ripe for great restaurants that understand the neighborhood,” he said.
Umami’s success “just goes to show people will travel for a good restaurant,” Rose said.
“There’s a huge healthy-food movement building in north Minneapolis, with people wanting fresh produce,” Heelan said. “I think there’s a huge opportunity up here.”
They don’t even care if you bring your car.