Before the nearby North Loop was the North Loop and before the Metrodome was just a sepia-toned bit of Twin Cities sports lore, one giant dining room welcomed families to the edge of downtown Minneapolis for a budget-friendly meal: the Old Spaghetti Factory.
Now, after 25 years in business, the Portland-based Italian chain is closing the doors on its only Minnesota location. Later this month, the restaurant will vacate its home at 233 Park Avenue to make room for the Twin Cities' second location of Pinstripes, a Chicago-based restaurant and entertainment venue known for bocce and bowling.
Michael Jackman, general manager at Old Spaghetti Factory, confirmed that the restaurant will serve its last plate of pasta Aug. 24. If nostalgia has you hankering for a last hurrah, there’s still time to grab a plate of their bestselling lasagna or fettuccine Alfredo. But be warned that the restaurant is no longer accepting reservations, and some diners have had to wait as long as two hours.
“We’ve gotten an overwhelming response,” said Jackman. “We had an older couple come in and celebrate where they had their first date — and where the husband later proposed. I don’t know too many restaurants that can boast that they’ve fed generations of people.”
When it opened in 1994, the Old Spaghetti Factory joined Thai restaurant Sawatdee as one of the only dining spots on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis. Sawatdee's owner Supenn Harrison told the Star Tribune she welcomed the new business: "I've been here so long, I'm really happy to have a neighbor."
Though the rest of the neighborhood had yet to develop, the nearby Metrodome provided a steady stream of customers. Old Spaghetti Factory's classic red-sauce Italian menu was an unfussy and affordable option for families and large groups. In 1994, a basic dinner of spaghetti, bread, salad, dessert and a drink cost less than $5. The most expensive dinner on the menu was less than $9.
A restaurant review in the Star Tribune from August 1994 was somewhat kind to the chain restaurant -- though less so to the Twin Cities dining scene at large:
"To my own surprise, I liked the Old Spaghetti Factory," wrote critic Jeremy Iggers. "Friends had warned me that the food was mediocre and they were right. Nearly everything tasted pretty generic -- like something out of a supermarket freezer case. But this isn't a restaurant that strives for culinary greatness. (If I really got bothered by mediocre food, I couldn't stand to live in the Twin Cities. It's mediocre, overpriced food I can't stand. And the Old Spaghetti Factory is not overpriced.)"
Affordability was always one of the biggest draws of the Old Spaghetti Factory, and McCrea said it’s hard for the community to lose a place where a family of four can eat cheaply downtown. Still, she said, “it’s lived its life.”
“The community is very excited about Pinstripes,” she added. “I think especially because of the bowling.”
In the seven years since she moved to downtown Minneapolis from Plymouth, McCrea has watched the blocks around the Old Spaghetti Factory develop rapidly. The neighborhood has seen an influx of new businesses and residential units. Several towering condo and apartment buildings have cropped up seemingly overnight.
“There were so few children when I moved here,” she said. “Now there are a lot of families committed to raising their children downtown.”
After the restaurant closes its doors, building owners Sherman Associates will begin extensive renovations to prepare for Pinstripes, an Italian-American bistro. The restaurant will occupy the first two floors of the J.I. Case Building, which means that Sherman, whose real estate development and management offices take up the second floor, will relocate to the third floor.
According to Shane LaFave, director of multifamily development for Sherman, the redesign could take a year or more to complete. It includes moving stairwells, installing an elevator shaft, building out a rooftop deck and making structural changes to support bowling alleys.
“It’s not technically a historic building,” says LaFave, “but it’s old. We have some architectural work to do to get it ready for Pinstripes.”
If the project is approved by the Minneapolis City Planning Commission, and construction stays on schedule, LaFave estimates the downtown Pinstripes will open in the fall of 2020.
Aside from bowling and bocce, what will it serve? Flatbreads, salads, soups, sandwiches and, of course, pasta.