The longtime food service provider for Como Park Zoo will take over the food and programming concessions at the Como Lake Pavilion after the restaurant's previous owner decided to scale back his business obligations.
Lancer Hospitality will assume the existing contract with the city of St. Paul to operate Spring Cafe with few if any expected changes, according to city Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Clare Cloyd.
Lancer will be the fourth food vendor to operate in the historic pavilion space since 2015.
Lancer is also acquiring Red River Kitchen, which serves food out of a restored grain elevator along the Mississippi River near downtown St. Paul. Spring Cafe and Red River Kitchen were owned by Matty O'Reilly, who runs Republic in Minneapolis and Bar Brigade in St. Paul.
O'Reilly is traveling in Southeast Asia and was not available Monday for comment. But in an e-mail, he confirmed selling Spring Cafe and the Red River Kitchen as part of a "conscious decision to downsize." He said he wants to focus on his year-round ventures and is looking forward to taking summers off to spend more time with his family. In addition, he's planning to finish up his MBA in May — "so the timing is great for me!"
St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said he has two decades of experience working with Lancer.
"I have a lot of confidence in Lancer based on their history in the park and their knowledge of our seasonality," he said Monday. "I am confident that they're up to the task here. They know the park and they want to be here for the right reasons."
Lancer takes over management of the pavilion immediately, Cloyd said in an e-mail.
"Different from previous transitions at this facility, only the underlying ownership of the current service partner is changing. The current management contract remains in place and the foundations of service will remain the same," she wrote.
In an email Tuesday, Lancer marketing director Ashley Turner said the 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry is confident it will be successful, despite the frequent turnover in the pavilion's operations.
"Our plans for Spring Café are to continue many of the same menu selections, while our culinary teams develop additional offerings to enrich the menu and experiences," she said. "We're excited to continue scheduling events that have been held historically at the Pavilion and to book new events and we're looking forward to creating innovative and first class culinary and dining experiences for our guests and the community."
The agreement with Spring Cafe, which started April 1 of last year and goes through Dec. 31, 2023, calls for the restaurant's owners to pay the city a minimum of $100,000 a year and a total of $575,000 over the life of the contract — essentially 10 percent of the restaurant's monthly gross revenue.
Last March, city officials chose Spring Cafe to replace Como Dockside after it closed abruptly in November 2017. The New Orleans-themed restaurant's owners said they could no longer endure wintertime losses.
Dockside was chosen in January 2015 to replace Black Bear Crossings, a coffee shop that had occupied the pavilion for years, that was ousted from the space after city officials decided they should be getting heftier revenue from the pavilion and its picturesque setting.
Black Bear owner David Glass later sued the city for breach of contract and won an $800,000 settlement. The city made its final payment of $137,500 to Glass in July 2018.
It is not yet known when the pavilion restaurant will open this spring, Cloyd said. Molly Maher, who has organized the pavilion's popular entertainment programming, will continue in that role, city officials said, and the pavilion's other fair-weather offerings are expected to continue. Last year, the pavilion hosted more than 100 events, including nearly 20 dates of the city's Music in the Parks series.
Staff writer Sharyn Jackson contributed to this report.