A showdown — restaurant vs. coffee shop — is shaping up over the future of the historic Depot building in downtown Savage.

The owners of Flavor at the Depot, who have operated a full-service restaurant in the building since 2013, have proposed adding two years to their lease, which ends in June. The operators of the Dunn Bros Coffee shop on Egan Drive in Savage also are seeking a two-year lease for a new Dunn Bros location in the Depot.

The city, which owns the building and since January has been seeking proposals for its future, “is interested in any use compatible with downtown Savage,” according to documents.

A subcommittee of the city’s Economic Development Commission has been weighing the proposals and meeting with applicants. The City Council is expected to consider the options in April.

While a popular landmark, the Depot has been challenging for businesses, with limited visibility from nearby Hwy. 13 and limited storage space. Two coffee shops have failed there since 2007.

Paul and Cindy Hurley, who own Flavor at the Depot, had hoped to make their restaurant a destination, but it has sometimes been a struggle to keep it going. Business has been improving, Paul Hurley said. The restaurant recently hired a new chef and is buying more tables for outdoor dining.

In their bid to continue at the Depot, the Hurleys proposed paying $1 a month in rent, $290 a month in property taxes, and utility costs — the same terms under which they have been operating.

“I think something like what we’re doing really is the best use for the building,” Hurley said. “I have nothing against a coffee shop. But the first two failed. To put another coffee shop there when you’ve got proof the first two failed doesn’t make any sense.”

Customers return to the restaurant for scratch-made fare that includes sandwiches made with pastrami the Hurleys brine and smoke themselves.

“I don’t know of any place south of Hwy. 62 where you can get the quality of food we offer,” he said.

Competing proposal

Dunn Bros franchisees Ken Sutherland and Sharon Odell proposed paying $1 a month in rent until they break even and 10 percent of gross sales after that, plus property taxes and utilities.

Sutherland and Odell are in their fourth year of operating Dunn Bros Coffee shop on Egan Drive. Sutherland said he believed their experience and the name recognition of Dunn Bros Coffee would help them succeed in the Depot.

“We think we’re more likely to draw in a lot of people because of the brand,” Sutherland said. “If you know the brand and quality of coffee and food, you’re more likely to stop. We’re hoping that brings people in, not only on the way to work, but during the day and to see the building itself.”

Sutherland said he would prefer to see the Depot house a retail business that would help draw people downtown.

“The way it’s set up, the best thing is a coffee shop,” Sutherland said. “It’s not conducive to a sit-down restaurant.”

The Depot, built in 1880, served as a railroad station until 1970. It was later moved to a site in Shakopee before returning to Savage in 2006 after residents raised money to “bring the Depot home.”

The city spent $130,000 to install the Depot at its downtown location and used a grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community to pay for a $30,000 commercial hood and exhaust system that was needed for a restaurant to operate in the building.

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com