A new partnership — composed of four familiar Twin Cities dining names — is taking over a familiar space.
For its first project, Duck Soup Hospitality is launching Petite León (3800 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.) in the corner spot that was the home of Blackbird Cafe for nearly 10 years.
The quartet includes Ben Rients (Lyn 65, Centro and Popol Vuh), Travis Serbus (Butcher & the Boar, Lyn 65), Dan Manosack (Blackbird, Lyn 65) and Jorge Guzman (Surly Brewing Co., Solera), who has returned to Minneapolis after a two-year stint in La Crosse, Wis.
Guzman said that Petite León is the first of several Duck Soup properties in the works.
“We’re all supporting each other in what we do,” he said. “Travis and I are taking the lead on this concept. Dan is working on something else and Ben is working on a location for it.”
They’re giving the Blackbird space a makeover, but retaining what Guzman describes as its “good bones”: handmade booths, roomy bar/counter, big windows and wood floors.
“You can’t find a better spot,” said Guzman. “It’s a perfect size — about 70 seats — and it’s perfect for the cafe/bistro concept that we’ve been talking about. I love how diverse that corner is. You can take a walk down the street and hear three or four different languages.”
Don’t expect the impressively intellectual cooking that Guzman was doing at the former Brewer’s Table at Surly, which earned him a 2017 James Beard nomination.
“If I had to put words to it, we’re going to be doing bold, bright, layered comfort food, without being precious,” he said. “It’s going to be what I like cooking and eating. This is my restaurant. I can do what I want.”
To date, he’s “fiddling” on the 14th iteration of his menu.
“There’s not a specific cuisine, but you’ll know that Jorge is in the kitchen,” said Guzman, who was born in Mexico. “There’s a very strong Mexican influence, and a very strong Spanish influence. Cooking at Solera gave me an affinity for that food.”
Followers of Guzman’s Pollo Pollo pop-ups might be surprised that the concept didn’t precede Petite León. There's a reason: The 38th-and-Nicollet real estate doesn’t have the space for Pollo Pollo’s requisite charcoal- and wood-burning grill.
“I really love chicken, and we’ll do something brick-and-mortar with Pollo Pollo, just not right now,” said Guzman.
Opening a restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic isn’t ideal, but the quartet isn’t deterred.
“We were talking about this long before COVID-19 happened,” said Guzman. “This is how we make our money and feed our families. And it’s our passion. That’s not something that we can stop.”
The plan is to open sometime in the late summer or early fall, starting with dinner and then adding brunch. Expect to find a strong takeout component.
“That’s a few months from now, and the advantage is that we can see what our peers are doing,” said Guzman. “We’re going to be smart about what we do, and how we do it. We’ll just have to err on the side of caution. It’s exciting to get this opportunity.”