The bar area was packed, two deep in some spots, as the staff scrambled to keep up with drink orders.
It was 7:30 on a Thursday night and Wayzata’s Bellecour was bursting at the seams. Patrons filled the entrance, spilling into the dining room.
A year ago, such a scene in the once sleepy suburb on the shores of Lake Minnetonka would have been laughable. But things have changed — in a hurry.
Enticed by a high-income clientele and a tony location that’s close enough to Minneapolis — but far enough from its parking issues and traffic congestion — hotshot chefs have flocked to Wayzata. In the past year, five eateries and a boutique hotel have opened, transforming a restaurant desert into a culinary destination that has changed dining habits.
The headliner, Bellecour, has brought a deluge of local coverage and unprecedented national attention — including a story in the New York Times’ travel section last weekend — with its elegant French fare and picture-perfect bakery. As the growing collection of restaurants, bars and cafes has reached a critical mass, foodies have flocked to Wayzata, filling their Instagram accounts with photos from a town on the rise.
“Wayzata has changed,” local restaurateur Ryan Burnet said. “It’s not the quiet town it used to be. The bar has been raised.”
In the not so distant past, the idea of making a trip to Wayzata for dinner was “preposterous,” said WCCO’s Jason DeRusha, who has covered the Twin Cities area dining scene for more than a decade.
For many years, the city of 3,500, which is known for deep pockets and expensive houses, has maintained a small assemblage of restaurants, including a few notable ones. In the 1970s, French bistro Chouette drew diners from all over the metro area. In the ’80s, Blue Point made a name for itself with its oysters and seafood. (It closed in August 2015 and Bellecour opened in March in its spot.)
A block down, the black and red awning at Gianni’s has hung over Lake Street E. for more than 20 years. Sushi Fix, a Japanese restaurant tucked into the main street’s mini strip mall, has maintained a reputation for some of the best sushi in the metro area since it opened in 2013. CoV and 6Smith claim their fair shares of loyal diners eager for lobster rolls and lakeside views.
But this latest wave of openings is different. For starters, it’s happening all at once.
“Even until last year, Wayzata was a place that if you cared about food, you didn’t even think about it,” DeRusha said. “It wasn’t on the radar. The prettiest thing in town was the lake, because there certainly was not much to look at on the plate.”
That changed the moment acclaimed chef Gavin Kaysen announced he was opening a restaurant in town.
Two years after Kaysen — a Minnesota native who made his name cooking in Europe, California and New York — established the popular Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis’ North Loop, he announced a sequel. In Wayzata.
“People thought I was crazy,” he said. “But I’ve always been the type to do the opposite thing of what people expect me to do. If we can find a really great space wherever, we should be able to capitalize and thrive.”
In some ways, Wayzata had been preparing for its moment.
Mayor Ken Willcox said that easing the area’s zoning restrictions — allowing for sidewalk patios, in particular — played a role in the growth. As did the town’s commitment to extending the boardwalk from the Broadway community docks to the historic Depot, which made Lake Street more pedestrian-friendly.
“We said, ‘Let’s breathe a little life into this thing,’ ” Wilcox said. “And everybody sort of caught the buzz.”
At the same time, Minneapolis and St. Paul experienced their own boost in new restaurants, with more than 60 debuting in 2016 alone. As the core cities became crowded with food and drink options, restaurateurs searched for more space, lower real estate prices and a different clientele hungry for something new.
“To be honest, here is the deal: That was the only area where I could afford to open” Sushi Fix, founder Billy Tserenbat said. “But I thought it had big potential. It’s really only 12 minutes from Minneapolis. It’s just so easy.”
Baja Haus — a Baja California Mexican eatery owned by Tserenbat — debuted to fanfare in March. When Bellecour opened later that month, it booked 1,000 reservations within the first 24 hours.
This summer, Hotel Landing earned the distinction of being the first hotel on Lake Minnetonka in more than 50 years, and its restaurant NineTwentyFive added another layer to the scene. Then Benedict’s, a breakfast restaurant and bar from Mercy chef Mike Rakun, welcomed customers in October.
Suddenly, street traffic picked up. The buzz was palpable. Was it any coincidence that the surge began with restaurants? Kaysen doesn’t think so.
“It’s become a good pocket of dining, and I think that’s the new normal,” Kaysen said. “Owners are always looking for the next boom, the next North Loop. But I think the restaurants are the things that create that.”
On most weekends, that vision is apparent throughout Wayzata. In the mornings, Bellecour’s bakery hums with breakfastgoers in yoga pants, seeking croissants and espressos. At lunch, lines form at Crisp & Green. Window seats at CoV and 6Smith are snatched up like dollars on the sidewalk. And in the evenings? The sidewalks are bustling along Lake Street.
“Downtown Wayzata has become one of the most vibrant, exciting places to be,” said Taylor Foster, 30, who works at a wealth management firm in the area.
A few years ago, he would travel to the West End, Ridgedale or Minneapolis to dine and take clients. “But now, I don’t ever leave this area. It’s got everything. We’ve got restaurants now that could go up against anything in the Twin Cities.”
The city has established itself as a destination in warm weather. Now, the question is whether Wayzata can maintain its pace with the beach closed and the lake crested with ice.
“I think [restaurateurs] have done a good job bringing diverse offerings and different types of food — quality products that can hopefully stand the test of time and [draw more than] just people from Wayzata,” Burnet said. “But a lot of new restaurants have opened up. What will happen in the dead of winter, when a fair amount of [the people who live in the area] are snowbirds?
“I like where we’re at, but it will be interesting to see what happens.”
9 Wayzata restaurants to try
6Smith: Boasting Wayzata’s only unobstructed view of Lake Minnetonka and a double-decker patio, this sprawling restaurant and bar — offering the likes of California burgers and pan-seared salmon — stays busy with view seekers, particularly in the warm months. Find it: 294 E. Grove Lane, 952-698-7900, 6smith.com
Baja Haus: Step through the strip mall doors and you’ll be whisked away to a beachside Mexican paradise, complete with fish tacos, mezcal cocktails and day cruiser bicycles and surfboards mounted on the walls. Find it: 830 Lake St. E., 952-476-0816, bajahaus.com
Bellecour: With a homegrown legacy and international experience, chef Gavin Kaysen has brought his latest beauty — a French bistro featuring a skillful bakery — to the suburbs. Find it: 739 Lake St. E., 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com
Benedict’s Morning Heroes: This sunny breakfast emporium, touting loaded tot hashes, mini-doughnuts and “day drinking” cocktails, filled a niche in the brunch-starved area. Find it: 845 Lake St. E., 952-923-1903, benedictswayzata.com
CoV: Lobster rolls, oysters on the half-shell and a New England-esque palette of navy and white are the name of the game at CoV, where the tag line is “Where Minnesota Nice meets East Coast spice.” Find it: 700 Lake St. E., 952-473-5253, covwayzata.com
Crisp & Green: At lunch, lines form quickly at this fast-casual, made-to-order eatery from mega restaurateur Ryan Burnet, featuring grain bowls and salads with names such as Yacht Club, plus kombucha on tap. Find it: 755 Lake St. E., Suite 120, 952-476-2591, crispandgreen.com
Gianni’s: One of the area’s mainstays, this old-school steakhouse with 11 cuts along with lobster tail, king crab and more has manned Lake Street for more than 20 years. Find it: 635 Lake St. E., 952-404-1100, giannis-steakhouse.com
Nine Twenty-Five: The new Hotel Landing’s restaurant snagged a longtime Minneapolis chef, former Lucia’s kitchen master Ryan Lund, to create dishes such as the steamed mussels with grapefruit, jalapeño and chimichurri broth. Find it: 925 Lake St. E., 952-473-2089, ninetwentyfive.com
Sushi Fix: One of the first restaurants in the new wave of them, Sushi Fix has earned respect as a serious sushi restaurant, highlighting ultra-fresh fish and a notable collection of sake and Japanese whiskey. Find it: 862 Lake St. E., 612-217-0330, sushifix.net