Restaurant Redux

It’s an odd feeling when a restaurant closes. If it had a big-name chef or the affection of local critics, the closing can cause much hullabaloo (as was witnessed one recent winter). If the eatery was not-so-celebrated, as is more often the case, the closing happens quietly, sadly.

But what of the space? For a while, many of them exist in a ghostly way, hanging darkened signs from former tenants. I remember peeking into the windows of a shuttered sports bar and seeing the napkin roll-ups still set in the booths, just waiting for the big game to begin. I can’t tell you how many pairs of shoes I’ve seen in abandoned kitchens, as if the cooks were shuttled out mid-shift.

Of course there are the usual post-mortem queries: What happened? Who dropped the ball? Why couldn’t they make it? What went wrong? But at some point my brain starts ticking forward: Who’s looking for a spot? What does this place need? What could this space become?

It’s so exciting! Aren’t you ready to jump into the most thrilling industry on the planet? There are more than a few potential spots out there right now. There are a few you might never consider (unless you had the passionate, risk-taking hearts of Niver and Fratzke) but there are plenty of safer-bets for the start-up. Even though I usually get paid thousands of dollars for this kind of "concepting" (shyah), in the interest of The Dream and a bit of January-killing, I’m willing to share my million dollar ideas to get you off your duff and looking for angel investors.

First of all, good luck to anyone trying to open a fine-dining, high-falutin concept in the face of the rumored coming recession. Seriously, it helps to have backers with deep pockets.

When Cosi closed in Wayzata, it left a relatively clean and newish space but a small kitchen lacking most major equipment. Everyone thinks that area bleeds money, and yet the Punch Pizza and Chipotle that opened last year are the most consistently packed. Filling the void of high quality Asian, the former Cosi could easily become a casual sushi spot like Yumi or better yet a robata/sushi joint like Obento-ya.

The space on 11th and Harmon that formerly held Willie’s Wine Bar is a tough one. It’s not on a main street and it’s presence is sort of marred by the overhanging skyway. Still, the law school and growing number of neighborhood residents make this a palusible spot, but not for a wine bar. I think that an upscale burger and beer joint might win here. Not big and splashy but cool and easy, cultivating the off-the-beaten-path thing you could make it a worthy hangout for students. Really great burgers and a stacked beer list (featuring hard to find Belgians with a beer club) will draw the neighbors out of their condos.

The Auriga space deserves to be more than a mausoleum. For ten years it did well as a cutting-edge restaurant, it could do another ten as the same with a new, driven chef. Or it could be lightened up as the modern diner with a killer brunch/lunch, ala the Egg and I meets Town Talk. If there was room for an in-house bakery, I’d even open late-night for post-bar breakfast and cupcakes (our own Magnolia!). There are a ton of young, active people in the surrounding neighborhood, whatever goes in there should do whatever it takes to win those repeat guests.

If you give me a big bag of money, I’ll share some of the other winners I have rattling around. Of course I can’t gurarantee success with any of these ideas. What sounds bright and shiny to me now, sitting on my couch, could be punched down for a litany of different reasons (permits, liquor laws, recession, tanking real estate values, unruly landlords, etc). But on a blustery winter day, what else would you dream …