Spoonriver, the dining favorite of Guthrie Theater audiences as well as diners fluent in the words “local,” “sustainable” and “healthy,” is closing in mid-December, after a distinguished 14-year run.
The high-profile address — across the street from the big blue theater — won’t stay dark for long. A partnership between the Birchwood Cafe and the Minnesota Farmers Union is taking over the space, opening a restaurant that will focus on locally grown foods.
Spoonriver co-owner Brenda Langton has been a powerful force on the Minnesota dining landscape for decades, championing the virtues of healthy eating from a bully pulpit that has included several cookbooks and three landmark restaurants.
Langton was 21 when she opened Cafe Kardamena in St. Paul in 1978, and from 1986 to 2009 she operated Cafe Brenda in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. She and spouse Tim Kane launched Spoonriver in 2006. In 2019, the couple was in the running for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur award.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve done at Spoonriver,” said Langton. “I started in this business when I was 15, so that’s a really long time.
“We want to say goodbye to our community and invite people to come in, have a meal and celebrate the change. I’m looking forward to taking the next step in the other work that I do.”
That includes her involvement with the Mill City Farmers Market, which takes place outside the restaurant from May through October. Langton co-founded the popular market in 2006.
“The market isn’t going anywhere,” she said. “I can dig in even deeper now. There’s so much work that has to happen to help our farmers. Getting people to take the time to eat healthy is where I’m going to continue to focus.”
Langton will stay on as development director for the market and plans to continue as a senior fellow at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.
Langton’s legacy of emphasizing locally raised foods will continue with the new operation.
“That’s really cool, and I’m super-excited,” she said. “They’re going to use this space to continue to build awareness for all of our farmers.”
The Birchwood Cafe and the Minnesota Farmers Union — a member-based organization that works to enhance the economic interest of the state’s family farmers and rural communities — are not strangers, having run a successful partnership at the Minnesota State Fair for the past five years. At the 2019 fair, Birchwood chef Marshall Paulsen and his crew sold 8,400 BLT sandwiches — made using premium ingredients raised at Minnesota farms — during the fair’s 12-day run.
Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton said that a restaurant-based alliance between her 24-year-old south Minneapolis cafe and the Minnesota Farmers Union is a natural.
“Local farmers are at the core of both of our missions,” she said. “By joining together, we can amplify what we’re both doing, and that’s connecting eaters with the people who grow their food, and creating new markets for farmers.”
Singleton and Paulsen don’t have a lot of details on the new restaurant. No name, no opening date.
“Although it will be sometime in 2020,” Singleton said.
This much is certain: The restaurant will be a table-service operation. And Shea Design of Minneapolis will be managing a top-to-bottom renovation of the space.
Not that Langton will be leaving the operation entirely.
“I have such great respect for what Brenda has done for our local food scene,” said Singleton. “Marshall had this great idea. Somewhere on the wall, we’re going to have Brenda’s quote: ‘Eat your vegetables, damn it.’ That will help carry on her spirit.”