Ann Ahmed, the culinary talent behind Lat14 Asian Eatery (8815 7th Av. N., Golden Valley, lat14.com) and Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine (8600 Edinburgh Center Dr., Brooklyn Park, lemongrassmn.com), is opening a third restaurant.
She's taking over the space — dormant since the start of the pandemic — that was formerly home to Harriet's Inn (4000 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.).
So far there aren't a lot of details. There's no menu, no name (she dropped plans to call it Spice Market) or opening date ("We're hoping for 'soon,' but it's hard to put an exact date on it," she said), but Ahmed is loaded with ideas.
"I'd love to share everything, but from now until we open there are going to be a million things that go in opposite directions," she said. "I want to make sure that we can deliver what we promise."
Ahmed sees all kinds of possibilities in the building ("It's got good bones," she said). For starters, there's a spacious patio, a key asset for pandemic-era dining.
Ahmed was also drawn to the large kitchen — it's roomier than the one at Lat14 — which will allow the restaurant to accommodate takeout demands after indoor dining resumes in full force.
And then there's the "market" side of the plan. A space at the back of the restaurant with a separate entrance will be devoted to retail sales, and will also be used as gathering spot for private parties and cooking classes.
"I love shopping, so this is perfect, I get to have my own boutique," said Ahmed. "People are always asking me things like, 'What fish sauce do you buy?' and so we're going to offer those kinds of curated items, along with textiles and handicrafts that connect and give back to the rural communities of Laos."
"My heart and my passion is in Southeast Asian food," she said. "When we sat down with Shea, I couldn't get past the thought of being at a resort, and having that transporting feeling. We're all missing that, so let's bring that here, and make people feel as if they're always on vacation. That's the concept what we're leaning toward."
After a year of extreme challenges to the hospitality industry, Ahmed is seeing some promise in the months ahead.
"The pandemic has forced all of us to slow down, take a step back and look inside ourselves," she said. "It forced me to reassess what was important. One person can't change the world, but you can change something within yourself and have an effect on the world. I think that opening a restaurant is creating hope. For me, it's going to a city that I love so much, to create jobs and to give back to the community."
The restaurant is a homecoming for Ahmed, who spent her elementary school years in south Minneapolis, when her family ran a Laotian market on Nicollet Avenue.
"Minneapolis has always been on my radar," she said. "I've been looking in Minneapolis for many years. Lat14 was supposed to be in Minneapolis, but the locations didn't work out. This opportunity came up, and it was too hard to pass up."