Mel Duncan and Craig Waldron were sitting at a table in front of one of the massive windows at Como Dockside on Christmas Eve, discussing Hezbollah, when they paused to compare the merits — and drawbacks — of this eight-month-old restaurant on the shore of St. Paul’s Como Lake.
Drawbacks? Duncan, a St. Paul resident, who is good friends with the former coffee shop owner booted from the space by city officials seeking a higher return, said he misses the feeling of community that was here. The sense of neighborhood. “I haven’t felt that so much since,” he said.
On the merit side, Waldron pointed to a fine beer selection, the tasty bowl of gumbo he was enjoying for lunch and the fact that city officials expect Como Dockside to pump 10 times more revenue into city coffers next year than the previous tenant, Black Bear Crossings, ever did.
“How many times have you heard people say that cities have to run like a business?” said Waldron, a former Oakdale city administrator. “St. Paul seems to be doing that here.”
From its opening May 8 through the end of November, Como Dockside, with its live music and New Orleans-inspired menu, has generated more than $1.3 million in revenue and deposited $83,000 into a capital improvements fund, city officials said. In 2016, the restaurant expects revenue to top $2 million. Of that, the city will receive a commission of more than $200,000.
That’s a night-and-day difference from the $20,000 in annual rent the city collected from David Glass, who ran Black Bear Crossings for years. St. Paul wound up paying Glass $800,000 after he sued the city for breach of contract.
“What more can be said about Como Dockside?” Brad Meyer, a spokesman for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which owns the Como Pavillion, said in an e-mail. “They’ve exceeded our expectations and we’re super pleased with what they’ve done in only a few short months.”
On a gray Christmas Eve lunch hour, more than 20 diners sat at tables and at the bar in the open, airy restaurant. Huge windows let in light as people enjoyed Po-boys, salads and craft beers. Seated not far from Waldron and Duncan was Craig Christensen, a Scandia resident who said he liked Black Bear Crossings — but added that Dockside is a “big improvement.”
“We just stopped in for a quick bite,” he said. “The food is excellent. So is the atmosphere.”
Jon Oulman, who paid $200,000 to remodel the place when he took over the space from Glass, said in September that he expects to spend another $90,000 to expand the kitchen and spiff up the pavillion’s dock area. City officials must sign off on all improvements. St. Paul’s deal with Oulman’s group runs through 2020.
Meyer said in his e-mail that Dockside is expected to pay a total cash commission to the city in 2016 of $200,161 and put another $21,711 into a capital improvement account. The restaurant’s success has pleased city officials, who still owe Glass three annual payments of $137,500 in July of 2016, 2017 and 2018 as part of the settlement.
“The future revenue sharing and six-figure private investment into the facility is huge, but Como Dockside delivering on their promise to activate the lake and respond to community demands for improved services has us super excited,” Meyer said. “This facility has so much potential, and we think Como Dockside has only scratched the surface on helping us realize it.”