A Minneapolis nonprofit with a focus on food is poised to take over the restaurant in the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul at the request of the restaurant's operator, which has reported slow sales.
Kaskaid Hospitality, best known for its Crave restaurants, has operated the Union Depot Bar and Grill in the historic building for 16 months. Now it's asking Ramsey County, which owns the Depot, to allow it to subcontract restaurant and catering operations to Appetite for Change.
"Overall, restaurant and catering revenues have not achieved original projections," according to county documents.
Kaskaid's contract calls for it to pay Ramsey County 3% of restaurant sales, 7% of off-site catering and 10% of on-site catering. To this point, Kaskaid has paid the county $8,700 for restaurant sales and $114,000 for on-site catering; it has reported no off-site catering, according to the county.
If the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority approves the subcontract arrangement Tuesday, Appetite for Change will rebrand the restaurant as Station 81 and the catering service as Breaking Bread Catering, bringing its locally sourced, made-from-scratch cuisine to the depot starting in early December.
Kaskaid Hospitality could not be reached for comment.
"It's a beautiful space," said Michelle Horovitz, executive director of Appetite for Change. "We get a lot of catering requests. They want our food, but they also want a space for their events. This is an opportunity for us to do more weddings and galas."
The nonprofit runs nine programs including urban gardening on vacant lots in north Minneapolis, farmers markets, youth employment and adult job training through its catering business. In January, Appetite For Change plans to reopen its Breaking Bread Cafe in north Minneapolis, which temporarily closed last summer for restructuring.
All revenue from its business ventures is poured back into the nonprofit's mission to promote local food, urban agriculture and food justice in the Twin Cities.
About $500,000 in financing, including grants and low-interest loans from the Otto Bremer Trust, is helping Appetite for Change with both its north Minneapolis and St. Paul ventures. Horovitz said professional staffs will operate both eateries, while the nonprofit's job training will focus on its catering operations.
"Their model and their mission is so important to us," said Brian Lipschultz, co-CEO of Otto Bremer Trust. "It is extraordinary to see the kind of work and vision Michelle and her team have put in — where they've come from and how they see the future."
The Depot's restaurant space likely will be dark for a few weeks as Appetite for Change takes over. Horovitz said it will get a refresh and a new menu is being drafted, with several vegan and vegetarian options.
Some of the nonprofit's most popular dishes at its Minneapolis eatery include jerk shrimp and grits, a kale salad with orange vinaigrette, and buttermilk herb biscuits with turkey chorizo gravy.
County officials said they expect the new restaurant to open concurrently with the Depot's "Hub for the Holidays" events.
"Through both menu and mission, Appetite for Change is a great fit for Union Depot and Lowertown," said Lindsay Boyd, Union Depot's marketing manager, in an e-mail. "This exciting new dining approach in our historic space will provide a unique destination experience, as well as a great everyday option for our local community."
Ramsey County, with the help of state and federal dollars, purchased and restored the Union Depot for $243 million. Since it reopened in 2012, it has served as a transit hub and events space. The 290,000-square-foot building, on the National Register of Historic Places, remains highly subsidized by the county.
About $6 million of the Depot's $8.2 million annual operating budget comes from rail authority property taxes. Utilities, security and maintenance account for the Depot's largest expenses.
More than 1 million people visited the Depot last year, including Amtrak passengers and light-rail commuters as well as visitors who shopped the holiday markets, perused art crawls and took free weekly yoga classes.
But on many days there's only a smattering of people there. Crystal Scott, owner of Java Express, a coffee shop at the Depot, said special events are keeping her in business — but just barely.
Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who represents downtown and championed the depot's restoration, had said at a workshop he'd like to see more energy and marketing around the restaurant.
"It's like when you cook a spaghetti sauce and you say it's missing a little something," Ortega said.