Dining at a train station can be an act of expediency for the harried traveler, or a luxurious respite, depending on the location. Will it be a shrink-wrapped sub for dinner, the elegant Oyster Bar in New York’s Grand Central Terminal — or perhaps something in between?
Passengers at St. Paul’s Union Depot didn’t have a full-service dining option for more than two years after the departure of Christos Greek Restaurant. That changed in late June when the Union Depot Bar & Grill opened in the historic structure’s head house, just off the main entrance.
It’s been a bit of a wait. The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, which owns Union Depot, struck a five-year deal with Twin Cities-based Kaskaid Hospitality in August of 2016 to open the new eatery.
But the renovation of the restaurant space took longer and cost more than expected because of unforeseen challenges.
“You start opening up walls and you find things,” said Kaskaid’s CEO Kam Talebi. “We were expecting this, it’s very normal because we’ve done renovations before.”
In this case, uneven flooring prompted a redesign of the restaurant’s kitchen, bar and mezzanine, which pushed the budget borne by Ramsey County to $2 million, an increase of nearly $94,000. The extra money was also used to bring the space up to current-day code and make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Kaskaid has opened a number of popular restaurants, including seven Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar locations in the Twin Cities. The firm has experience with unusual sites — its Union Rooftop Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis has a retractable roof, and the Muse Event Center took over space once occupied by Trocaderos nightclub, infamous for its unruliness back in the day.
Union Depot Bar & Grill features a casual menu, including steaks, burgers and salads made from scratch. The deal also makes Kaskaid the exclusive caterer for corporate and private events held at the Depot, which has seven available sites of varying size — the expansive waiting room can accommodate 3,000 people.
‘A work in progress’
Beyond the traveling public, Kaskaid has begun to ramp up efforts to market the space to prospective diners in the neighborhood and beyond.
“I had no idea it was there,” said Lowertown resident Matt Olson last week, as he walked his dog Superman in nearby Mears Park. “I might stop by.”
Opened in 1926, Union Depot fell into disuse when the final train pulled away in 1971. With the help of federal, state and county funds, a $243 million renovation reclaimed the structure’s grand, neoclassical demeanor in 2012.
Now, it serves as a hub for passengers using the Green Line light rail, Amtrak, Metro Transit buses, Jefferson Lines, Greyhound and Megabus. More transit is expected to arrive in the future, including the Gold Line and Rush Line bus-rapid transit and the Riverview corridor streetcar.
But around happy hour last Friday, the train station was quiet except for three people in the restaurant, and a few waiting for their buses.
Otis Girardeau of Jacksonville, Fla., says he travels around the country by train and bus because his wife doesn’t like to fly.
“With more and more people taking the train, I would think stations like this would be more crowded,” he said.
The Lowertown section of downtown St. Paul, once known for its inexpensive studio space for artists, has experienced an influx in recent years of new residents, restaurants and amenities, such as CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints.
Resident Marina Regni hadn’t heard of the new restaurant at Union Depot, either, but said she planned to check it out.
“In Lowertown, it’s a very close-knit community,” she said. “Everyone tries to support local businesses.”
Railroad Authority Chair Rafael Ortega said leasing space in the Depot has been “a work in progress.”
But, he said, he hopes Lowertown residents will support all the businesses in the Depot.
“They’ve been chiming in with ideas,” he said. “They want it to be successful.”