Cookie entrepreneur Tina Rexing knew she was going to have to shutter her T-Rex Cookie bakery and restaurant on University Avenue SE. in Minneapolis on Dec. 31.
She just didn’t know that she was going to be in the middle of a legal fight between Prospect Park neighbors and the developer who plans to build a new residential-retail complex on the site. Rexing plans to return as an anchor retail tenant in 2020.
In the meantime, a bare-bones version of the business operates out of temporary digs in Eagan.
“T-Rex Cookie has been in business purgatory since the announcement of the development,” said Rexing, who took the business from her kitchen five years ago to a retail-and-wholesale operation of $500,000-plus in sales last year. “This lawsuit only serves to delay the start of my next chapter.”
Rexing, 46, a one-time IT manager for Northwest Airlines and Target, quit corporate America in 2014 to start T-Rex. She’s CEO, chief baker and delivery-van driver.
The most recent obstacle is the Witch’s Hat, a historic water tower in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood. The 110-foot tower offers a panoramic view of the Twin Cities. A Prospect Park neighborhood group alleges that the planned 14-story condo building along University Avenue will ruin the view from and of the water tower.
Visitors are permitted to climb up to the tower’s observation deck only once a year, for an annual school fundraiser.
The lawsuit, filed by the Friends of Tower Hill Park against Chicago-based Vermilion Development and three property owners, argues that the redevelopment would violate the Minnesota environmental law by blocking the observation deck views of downtown St. Paul and the State Capitol.
“If you put another tall structure next to it, you obscure and obliterate views out from the tower, but you also detract, in a substantive way, from what this tower right now means as an iconic landmark,” Gayla Lindt, a lecturer in architecture at the University of Minnesota and a founder of Friends of Tower Hill Park, told the Star Tribune last month.
Ari Parritz, development manager for Vermilion Development, has called the lawsuit’s assertions “ludicrous” and said the development had been supported by most residents at community meetings.
Rexing has yet to receive her unspecified “business interruption payment” from Vermilion, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
She also had to lay off several employees. Rexing and her husband used savings to pay off $50,000 in bank and city loans triggered by moving T-Rex to temporary quarters in Eagan. Rexing intends to keep the wholesale business alive. She also will operate a food truck, starting in the spring.
“I will be an anchor tenant of the new development, if it goes through.” Rexing said. “In Eagan, it will be just me and my manager, and maybe my parents. It’s like I’m starting out all over again. In small business, you have to adapt to the environment.”
She said the food truck will hit the streets in April.
“It will be a cookie-and-milk truck. I’ll roll in after the lunch trucks leave. I won’t have to fight for a spot. I’m still having fun and trying to keep a sense of humor about this. But I miss my day-job check I got working in corporate America.”
Rexing is an immigrant from the Philippines and an economics graduate of St. Olaf College. A resourceful Republican, she’s also irreverent in life, business and politics. She opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy but figured out a way to trump him for fun and a buck.
At her T-Rex Cookie cafe in Minneapolis in January 2017, for a few weeks she sold a sandwich she called “The Donald.” She overpriced it.
The price was $10 for a slice of bologna and American cheese on white bread. Immigrants were charged only $5.
“In times like these, we need to bring a little humor into the picture,” said Rexing, who also has worked as a model and tennis instructor.
The Trump sandwich didn’t sell well and is off the menu.
Rexing, a good guerrilla marketer, is contemplating a “Klobuchar Cookie,” as the senior U.S. senator from Minnesota considers a run for the presidency.
She’s doing her due diligence on the right recipe. She knows Klobuchar, a Democrat, smiles a lot, was the Hennepin County prosecutor, works long days, counts Republicans among friends, and visits 87 Minnesota counties a year.
Rexing said the Klobuchar cookie will be blueberry chocolate chip.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.