The popular Tin Fish restaurant is gone from the shore of Lake Calhoun, but its likely replacement plans to keep serving seafood tacos — along with smoked chicken wings, pulled pork with macaroni and cheese, and rib tips.
Lola’s Cafe won preliminary approval from a Minneapolis Park Board committee Wednesday for a five-year lease of the space at the lake, which is also called Bde Maka Ska. In addition to the expanded menu, the proposal by Lola’s includes adding more cash registers and kiosks around the lake to reduce long wait times.
“What Lola’s brought to the presentation really addressed some concerns that we have heard over the years at the location,” said Shane Stenzel, a permits manager for the Park Board. “They had a very good plan.”
The board ranked Lola’s its first choice after 12 restaurant and food service operators submitted bids to operate the concession stand. Lola’s Cafe would be the first black-owned business to work with the board at Lake Calhoun.
The board is expected to take a final vote Nov. 29.
If approved, Lola’s would move in to the refectory building in January and open for business in April.
“We’re going to focus on delivering things to get people in and out,” owner Louis King said. “We know we’re built for crowds. We know how to get people in and get them out in two minutes.”
Lola’s Cafe operates concession stands at U.S. Bank Stadium and Jim Lupient Water Park in northeast Minneapolis. King said he is going to continue the tradition of Tin Fish restaurant by hiring young people.
Tin Fish closed at the end of the summer season when owners Sheff and Athena Priest decided not to renew their lease, which expires at the end of the year. At one point, the Park Board also explored options to take ownership of Tin Fish, but found out that it did not have legal authority to buy the private franchise.
Three longtime Tin Fish employees submitted a bid to take over the operation, but finished as runners-up to the Lola’s Cafe plan.
Peter Toft said he and his colleagues wanted to continue with Tin Fish’s name and traditions, but were frustrated by the Park Board’s process.
“The biggest concern was the lack of transparency and the lack of communication we felt,” Toft said. “We viewed Tin Fish as a second home and we would have appreciated the ability to provide that to other people.”
Stenzel said the Park Board proposal process is the same for everyone and the new Tin Fish proposal was not treated any differently.
Park Board President Anita Tabb, whose district includes Lake Calhoun, said Lola’s wide variety of menu items and its creative plan to minimize lines at the site made it her top pick. Tabb said the new Tin Fish operators seemed knowledgeable about the restaurant itself but she questioned the financial end of their proposal.
The new vendor has to give 12 percent of its gross revenue to the Park Board and also make improvements to the building.
“That’s a big deal for the Park Board,” Tabb said. “We’re not a charity, we’re out there looking to run a business as well as it can be run.”
Marcus VanderSanden said he’s sorry Tin Fish has closed. He worked at the restaurant for eight years, sometimes alongside his brother, Peter.
“We created a community at the lake,” Marcus said. “I’m really sad to see Tin Fish gone.”