Nearly a year after Rainforest Cafe closed in Mall of America, it will reopen Friday in a new location across from Bubba Gump restaurant on the east side. Asked if he was concerned about the move from a prime spot on the first floor to a less-trafficked 3rd floor, Rainforest's chief operating officer Keith Beitler said, "The third floor will draw synergy from the other two themed restaurants," [Bubba Gump and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville opening in the spring.]

The new location is about the same size as the previous location, 12,000 square feet, and seats 320. Slight changes have been made to the decor, from the addition of TVs at the bar to carpeting throughout. The menu maintains favorites such as the chimichangas, Mojo Bones ribs and Rasta Pasta. But the large tropical fish tank that greeted diners at the original location that opened in 1994 did not make the move. "Those tanks are heavy," said Beitler.

The food, which received 2.5 or 3 stars out of five on Google and Yelp prior to closing, has often taken a back seat to the explosion of the senses created by the thunderstorms every 22 minutes, the cool mists, the starscape above, and the noisy but non-threatening elephants and primates, But the chef is back as are a quarter of the staff from before it closed. In the interim, "Some of the employees worked in other Rainforest Cafes around the country or in our other restaurants here like McCormick & Schmick's, Bubba Gump and Oceanaire."

When the original Rainforest Cafe opened in MOA in 1994, it also featured live tropical birds. When Landry's purchased RFC from local founder Steve Schussler in 2000, it got rid of the birds in a cost cutting move. Now the restaurant which was founded on an ecological appreciation is furnished only with animatronic snow leopards, elephants, gorillas, tigers, crocodiles and snakes.

There are 22 Rainforest Cafes in the U.S., down from a peak of 32. Although other themed restaurants in the Mall of America such as Planet Hollywood and Cafe Odyssey have failed, Rainforest has been around for 22 years, one of the longest tenures for any themed restaurants in the country.

Rainforest Cafe MOA (952-854-7500) will be open starting Friday. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mon-Thursdays., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fri-Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. 

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