Luke Shimp, owner of the popular Red Cow and Red Rabbit restaurants, was looking for a St. Paul spot for a second Red Rabbit location.
Jay Salmen, owner of Wild Onion on Grand Avenue in St. Paul for the past 20 years, was thinking it was time for a change.
The two came together over lattes and made a deal.
By midsummer, Red Rabbit, a pasta, pizza and oyster bar restaurant, should be open in the Wild Onion location.
They expect to close the deal by April 1.
Wild Onion, at 788 Grand Av., will close March 31. The American-fare bar and grill, popular with the college crowd, will offer specials from now until then to thank neighbors and patrons, Salmen said Sunday.
“We’ve had a great run,” he said. “I’ve come to the point in my career where it’s time to pass the torch.”
Salmen, 69, is former CEO of Sun Country Airlines and a longtime attorney who was born, raised and educated in St. Paul. He will continue to sit on a number of corporate boards and practice law part time, he said.
“My love for St. Paul and Grand Avenue will still be there, but I’m going to entrust the torch to my successor,” he said.
Shimp, 43, owner of the burger, beer and wine Red Cow restaurants, opened the first Red Rabbit, with a more mainstream Italian theme, last year at 201 Washington Av. N. in Minneapolis.
Red Rabbit consistently garners great reviews; the chicken Parmesan was named one of the “Top 10 dishes of 2017” by Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson, who gave the restaurant three out of four stars in his review last May.
Shimp, who runs the restaurants with his wife and two sons, was searching for a location in St. Paul and mentioned that to Salmen. A few hours later, they had a coffee date.
He called the Wild Onion space “an A-plus location.”
The new Red Rabbit will have the same theme as the Washington Avenue spot but will probably have 36 beer taps instead of 24, he said.
He and chef Todd Macdonald need to make a few modifications to the kitchen and, if the permitting process goes smoothly, the restaurant should be open by midsummer, he said.