Big changes are coming to Christos (15600 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka).

Craft & Crew, the company behind five popular Twin Cities restaurants, is buying the property and converting it to Duke's on 7.

"I've been driving by that building for 10 years, and I always told myself, if it ever comes up for sale, we need to move on it, quickly," said David Benowitz, Craft & Crew's president. "Over the summer, I had the feeling that the owner might be interested in pursuing other opportunities."

He was, and a deal was struck.

"This is the biggest project we've ever taken on," said Benowitz.

The restaurant and bar will follow the model of other Craft & Crew properties and serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The company specializes in populist gastropub fare: burgers, rice bowls, Buffalo-style cauliflower, broasted chicken, brisket-stuffed grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese curds, biscuit-based brunch dishes and more, at approachable prices.

"We want to be the neighborhood's go-to restaurant, the place where you'll go a couple of times a week," said Benowitz.

The bar program will continue Craft & Crew's focus on tequilas and whiskeys, and will also include a wide range of frozen drinks and offer 30 beers on tap.

One possibility for the property is a pop-up bakery, offering baked goods for dine-in and takeout.

"The idea came from my wife," said Benowitz. "Since COVID, she's taken up baking, and it's fantastic."

The building dates to 1972 and was originally home to a Shakey's Pizza Parlor. Sidney's took over in 1993, and Christos arrived in 2007. The 170-seat dining room and bar is getting an overhaul.

"We're basically gutting the majority of the building," said Luke Derheim, the company's director of operations. "It will feel homey and warm without being pretentious."

The patio will also undergo a significant transformation, expanding from a few dozen seats to nearly 170, including a 14-seat outdoor bar. The space will be surrounded by an 8-foot wood fence, and new trees will provide plenty of shade.

"It's going to feel like a lush courtyard experience," said Derheim. "People will gravitate there, and it's going to be different from anything else in the area."

The company's dog-friendly emphasis will continue at Duke's on 7. How friendly?

"We're getting close to serving our 50,000th dog meal, that's how much it's a part of our brand," said Derheim. "This large space is going to be fun. Whenever anyone brings in their dog, it puts everyone in a better mood."

Christos will be closing on Jan. 10.

"The pandemic hastened the decision to downsize," owner Gus Parpas said in a news release. "Restrictions were imposed, rules changed, and the flow of our business was disrupted in ways that made a very hard job even harder. Much of that burden fell on my shoulders. After much deliberation, we entered into an agreement with a local restaurant group to sell the property."

Parpas will continue to operate his 33-year-old Eat Street location (2632 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.). Meanwhile, in Minnetonka, construction is scheduled to begin in February, with a targeted opening of late May or early June.

Duke's on 7 will be Craft & Crew's fourth suburban location, following the Block Food + Drink in St. Louis Park, Pub 819 in Hopkins and the Bar Draft House in Hastings; the company also operates Stanley's Northeast Bar Room and the Howe Daily Kitchen & Bar in Minneapolis.

"For us, going into Uptown or downtown was never in the cards," said Benowitz. "I've seen so many restaurants be hot for three or four years, and then make a 180 and close the following year. We look for buildings that we can purchase for long-term restaurants, and we look for areas that are in need of a concept that's a fair price and a good product, a place that customers can patronize on a weekly basis and feel good about spending their money."

(By the way, the Duke's on 7 name is a blend of "David" and "Luke," and the "S" is a nod to CEO Steve Benowitz).

When David Benowitz has shared the news of Duke's on 7 with friends and family, the first question he's invariably asked has something to do with the wisdom of expansion during the economic challenges of the pandemic.

"Several people have told us that we're crazy," he said with a laugh. "But risks are also where you find opportunities. I want people to know that we feel that the restaurant industry is going to come out of this pandemic stronger than we were before. The pandemic has taken a lot out of everybody, but we're hopeful that the tide will turn, and that we'll hear news of more restaurant openings."

On another note, the Craft & Crew patios have been doing big business this winter. So much so that the plan is to launch ice games — beer pong, beanbag toss, shuffleboard, all crafted by Minnesota Ice — on Jan. 20 in the parking lots at the Block and the Howe. Expect to find fire pits, hot drinks and s'mores.

"This whole winter has, out of necessity, made us think differently and creatively," said Derheim. "We tell people to bring a blanket, and they love it. It's going to be a fun thing to do in the middle of winter."

Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib