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Pillsbury A Mill transformed into 21st-century hub for artists

More than a decade after Minneapolis’ historic Pillsbury A Mill closed, capping the city’s reign as the country’s flour-milling capital, the four-building mill complex—which includes the iconic limestone A Mill—is once again becoming a hub of innovation and industry, this time driven by artists. The developer Dominium, which recently transformed St. Paul’s 1890 Schmidt’s Brewery into Schmidt Artists Lofts, is completing the adaptive reuse of the milling complex with BKV Group into the A-Mill Artist Lofts.
 
The first phase, Warehouse 2, a four-story, wood-frame building next to The Soap Factory, has been open since December and includes 43 living units, says David Lepak, community manager, A-Mill Artist Lofts. The 1881 A Mill designed by architect Leroy Buffington, the south A Mill cleaning house, and the 1910 elevator known as the “red-clay-tile building,” will be open for occupancy in August.
 
“Dominium knows there’s a need for affordable artists’ housing, and we’ve been successful with other projects in St. Paul and St. Louis,” Lepak says. The complex, which will be LEED certified, includes 255 living units designed for qualifying artists. To support artists’ work, the complex includes galleries, a performance and rehearsal space, and studios for dancers, visual and multi-media artists, photographers and potters.
 
“The neighborhood is already highly populated with artists,” says Lepak, referring to the Marcy-Holmes and Northeast neighborhoods. The transformed A Mill complex will further “drive people to the area for creative resources, and bring untapped resources to an already existing artists community with theaters and galleries.”
 
BKV Group, a Minneapolis architectural firm, has been working with Dominium on the project. The design team started by conducting laser scans of the buildings, to determine where structures and floors didn’t line up, and where components were missing. In addition to shoring up exterior masonry, structural repairs included new steel support columns (particularly in the limestone A Mill), floor decking and joist repairs, and leveling the floors.

The project was made possible through historic tax credits, because the A Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, the renovation was closely scrutinized by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Park Service. In particular, the red-tile building—a former grain elevator—doesn’t have openings on the first eight floors, and none could be created. “It’s like a crawl space and we treated it that way,” explains John Stark, project architect, BKV Group.
 
The 27 new living units, instead, are on floors 8-12, and were designed around the existing openings, “which means each unit is unique,” Stark says. In the basement, the architects created a gathering space, fitness room and connections to the two-level parking garage. New outdoor landscaping around the railroad tracks is in the works.
 
The new complex will also have a roof garden with panoramic views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis, Stark says, and the landmark Pillsbury’s Best Flour sign is being redone in LED lights for greater energy efficiency.
 
Dominium is also considering the use of a hydroelectric heating and cooling system for the complex, using water from the nearby river. The water would enter through an existing tunnel, drop into a turbine pit and generate power to operate the complex. The initiative “would make the complex largely self-sustaining,” Stark says.
 
The project has significant merit regardless. “We’ve helped put the buildings back on the tax rolls, and created a new source of industry that tells the character of what Minneapolis was and is today,” Stark says. Lepak agrees, adding that the new A-Mill Artist Lofts “will add tremendously to the further development of an economically vibrant area of Minneapolis.”
 
 

WorkHorse brews a perfect blend of art and community

Ever since she began working as a program director at the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) in St. Paul five years ago, Shannon Forney has been excited about “the energy shift happening in the neighborhood.” The neighborhood is St. Anthony Park, which encompasses the Creative Enterprise Zone, and is home to the Metro Green Line’s Raymond Avenue light-rail station, which is across the street from MRAC’s office.
 
“People have been so excited about light-rail transit, what it would bring to the neighborhood, and how it might reinvigorate the historic fabric of the neighborhood,” she says. Forney and her partner Ty Barnett participated in Irrigate artist training last year, she adds, and “we really resonated with the idea of artists and businesses working together to raise each other’s profile.”
 
So Forney (also an arts administrator and performing artist) and Barnett, who has long been in the coffee business, decided to start WorkHorse Coffee Bar. Located half a block west of the Raymond Station on the Green Line, in a space that has housed both a coffee house and MidModMen + Friends’ extra inventory, WorkHorse is scheduled to open later this month.
 
That’s not all. Outside WorkHorse’s front door is a 24”x 35” vintage fire-hose cabinet, which Forney is transforming—with help from a Knight Arts Challenge grant—into the Smallest Museum in St. Paul. Forney will curate the micro-museum’s exhibitions with help from five-member board whose members she selected from local arts organizations and community members.
 
“Ty has been in the coffee industry for a long time,” Forney says—citing seven years as manager of Nina’s Coffee Café and a stint at Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, among other establishments—and “has dreamt of having her own coffee shop. So the impetus for WorkHorse really is coming from Ty. It’s an execution of her vision.”
 
“Mine is the Smallest Museum, and how I’ll bring my personality into the business,” she adds. Inspired in part by the Little Free Library movement, Forney explains, “I decided the cabinet is the perfect little nook for showcasing artwork.” She recently sent out a request for proposals. The first exhibition will open in June.
 
Meanwhile, Barnett has been working with contractors to renovate the 50-seat coffeehouse. The bathroom was made ADA compliant, and the kitchen, coffee bar and register area built out. They removed plaster to expose an existing brick wall and painted the tin ceiling silver.
 
“We’re restoring the space to its vintage grandeur,” Forney says. “There’s a real appreciation of history in this neighborhood, which Ty and I share.” The décor will be “vintage industrial,” she adds, “a cross between a machinist's shop and your grandfather’s workshop. We’re imagining a big, long, communal wood table down the middle of the space.”
 
Merging business, art and community is at the heart of the couple’s approach to WorkHorse, Forney says. A former colleague of Barnett’s, who now owns Voyageurs Coffee Roasters, will be roasting small-batch coffee for WorkHorse. “We have the delightful vision of two fledgling businesses helping each other,” Forney says.
 
She wants to create community in other ways. The exhibitions in the Smallest Museum will engage customers, passersby from the neighborhood and Green Line commuters. Forney hopes neighbors and commuters will become regulars, stopping by for beverages and simple lunch options. “For us, coffee and art are about community,” Forney says.
 
“We’re excited to become a part of the community synergy around transit, art and the exchange of ideas happening on University Avenue,” she continues. “‘Working together, all boats rise’ is a business philosophy we definitely live by. And it’s amazing how much support we’ve been getting already.”

 

LoHi gets another boost with pop-up Art Outlet

The much beloved Art Outlet, formerly located on I-394 (or Highway 12 for long-time residents) in Golden Valley just west of Minneapolis, is back. Carter Averbeck, owner of Omforme Design at 24th Street and Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, has teamed up with Greg Hennes, an art industry veteran and Art Outlet’s originator, for a two-week original art extravaganza at Omforme.
 
“Greg and I have banded our two small businesses together to bring back Art Outlet, and to promote original art and affordable art buying,” Averbeck says. “We’ve been hanging art throughout Omforme’s space for the last week. We’ve got artwork all the way up to the ceiling!”
 
For many years, Hennes’ eclectic Art Outlet was a prime destination for purchasing original art at discounted prices. Hennes stocked more than 1,000 original works of art in diverse media—at up to 50 percent off retail prices. In 2010, Art Outlet closed after the building was sold.
 
Hennes currently owns the Hennes Art Company in Uptown, a corporate and residential art consulting business that also offers custom framing and art brokering services. “But he has a lot of art,” Averbeck explains, “and reviving Art Outlet is something Greg’s been wanting to do for a long while.”
 
“Omforme already promotes local artists,” he adds. “So teaming to make art accessible to people who can’t afford retail price tags is something we both wanted to do.” Before opening Omforme, Averbeck experimented with several pop-up shops. So inserting Art Outlet as pop-up inside Omforme was a natural fit.
 
The pop-up Art Outlet includes works by a mix of local, national and international artists. “Name a style, a medium, a genre, and we’ve got it,” Averbeck says, from sketches, posters, prints and paintings to sculpture. A tag on each work includes information about where to learn more about the artist. Price points begin at $25.
 
The Lowry Hill East area, or LoHi, just south of downtown Minneapolis includes the Loring, Wedge and Lyn-Lake neighborhoods. In addition to Omforme—which offers a mix of vintage and modern pieces that Avebeck restores and updates with singular panache—unique boutiques like Serendipity Road and the Showroom are nearby.
 
Restaurants including French Meadow Bakery and Café, Bluestem Bar, Heyday and World Street Kitchen also generate a livable, vibrant neighborhood where people increasingly like to meet, eat and shop.
 
The temporary Art Outlet, which continues through January 30, “is another edgy, artsy, interesting small offering along Lyndale,” Averbeck says. “Slowly, LoHi is coming into it’s own.”
 
In fact, Omforme is doing so well, Averbeck is considering a move in the neighborhood to a new space up to five times the shop’s current size.
 
 

Architect innovates design service for accessory dwellings

They’re known as granny flats, mother-in-law apartments, even Fonzie suites for those who remember the Fonz’s digs above the Cunninghams' garage in the tv show “Happy Days.” For years, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been popular throughout the U.S. for homeowners needing an additional, separate living space for a relative (or family friend) adjacent to main house—and as a flexible housing option in developed urban neighborhoods.
 
Now ADUs are legal in Minneapolis. On December 5, 2014, the Minneapolis City Council passed a zoning code text amendment allowing ADUs on lots with single or two-family homes. Shortly thereafter, architect Christopher Strom, who spent countless hours working with zoning administrators during discussions about the code change, launched his new initiative, Second Suite.
 
“I wanted to be the first to market my expertise with the zoning related to these small residential dwellings,” says Strom, who has a thriving business as a residential architect in Minneapolis, and has designed ADU-type cottages for clients in the suburbs and northern Minnesota.
 
He learned during informational meetings that “a lot of people didn’t want ADUs because they fear too many people would be added to the neighborhood, resulting in extra noise and traffic,” Strom says. “But the new law limits ADUs to a total of 1,000 square feet, including parking; they’re only feasible on certain lots, depending on the positioning of the primary house; and the primary house must be owner occupied. Only one accessory building is allowed per property, so most people will combine an ADU with a detached garage.”
 
As a result, Strom continues, “The majority of the new ADUs to be built in Minneapolis will be Fonzie suites. Remember how he lived above the Cunninhgams' garage? He had a cool bachelor pad totally separate from the main house, but was always at the Cunninghams'.”
 
ADUs are a viable option for creating more space, whether for additional storage, an art studio, home office or apartment for aging parents. With the new zoning, the units can also include a small kitchen and/or bath. “They’re wonderful for seniors, and a nice way to establish multi-generational living next to the primary house while giving the occupant an integral level of independence,” Strom explains.
 
St. Paul, particularly the neighborhood of St. Anthony Park, is currently looking at its building codes, as well, by studying the feasibility of allowing ADUs on single-family lots.  
 
Strom adds that ADUs are “a great entry point for people to start working with an architect.” A well-considered design might result in an ADU that blends in with the architectural style of the existing residence, or be entirely different.
 
Moreover, Strom adds, “Second Suite represents a lifestyle that I want to be able to deliver to my clients. This lifestyle is about families pooling resources and enjoying more quality time together through care-giving that enables grandparents to help with childcare and adult children to help with aging parents.”
 
 

Du Nord opens MSP's first micro-distillery cocktail room

On Friday at 4:00 p.m., the Twin Cities’ newest micro-distillery will open MSP’s first cocktail “tap” room. Entrepreneurs Christopher and Shanelle Montana, owners of Du Nord Craft Spirits, have created a bar with windows looking into their distillery inside a former Motoprimo store in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
 
Bartenders will serve craft (and classic) cocktails made with the Montanas’ own L’Etoile Du Nord Vodka (named for Minnesota’s state motto, L’etoile du Nord or “The Star of the North”) and Fitzgerald Gin (named for author F. Scott Fitzgerald). Enthusiasts will also have a chance to join Du Nord’s cocktail club, a short-term promotion ending January 12, with three levels of patronage.
 
Du Nord doesn’t have a kitchen. But a food truck will be on hand. And visitors are welcome to bring in takeout. “We’re surrounded by a lot of good food here in Longfellow,” says Christopher Montana, from Parkway Pizza to Le Town Talk Diner to Midori’s Floating World.
 
In addition to brewing the booze, says Montana, he also built out the cocktail room with help from his father-in-law Mike, a Minnesota farmer who grows non-GMO corn for Du Nord. The two men constructed the tables and the bar, and crafted window moldings from barn wood gathered from a tumbled-down structure on Mike’s farm. With polished concrete floors, exposed ductwork, and several couches in addition to tables and chairs, the Du Nord lounge has a casual feel.
 
“We want people to feel comfortable having a drink and socializing,” Montana says. “We didn’t want the cocktail room to be too rough-edged, like a beer tap room, but not snooty either. The whole point is the room should be comfortable, not intimidating.” The lounge is also about sampling the goods. “We’re a distillery first, but we want people to taste our booze,” Montana adds.
 
Du Nord has been bottling since May, producing “several hundred cases of booze a month,” Montana says. By February, he hopes to be distilling whiskey, as well.
 
Distributed by Phillips Wine and Spirits, Du Nord has “a heavy presence” in the Twin Cities, Montana says, and can be found throughout Minnesota—particularly in the western part of the state, home to sugar-beet producers. “Sugar beets and corn are the backbone of what Northland farmers do well, and both go into our booze,” Montana explains.
 
When he begins making whiskey, the rye will come from a central Minnesota farmer “who was at our wedding,” Montana says. “We like to work directly with farmers, without a middleman.” Pictures of the farmers the Montanas source from will adorn the walls of the cocktail room because “we want people to know who grew the products we use.”
 
Prior to starting Du Nord, Christopher had meticulously home-brewed beer for about 10 years. He worked for Wellstone Action, Democracy for America and now-Congressman Keith Ellison. “I was [Ellison’s] field director during his first campaign and helped set up his office in Washington D.C.,” Montana says. After graduating from law school—where he picked apart the Surly Bill as part of an agricultural law class—he worked at Fredrickson & Byron, taking a leave of absence to open the distillery.
 
His wife Shanelle Montana has a graduate degree from American University in D.C., and is an associate in regulatory and legislative affairs for EDF Renewable Energy. The couple has a 13-month-old son. “We both have demanding jobs,” Christopher says, “but we’ve always thought it would be fun to own our own business. Du Nord is one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
 
In December 2014 the Minneapolis City Council approved Du Nord’s cocktail room, following passage of a new state law allowing distilleries to sell and serve their product onsite. Du Nord’s vodka has “a vanilla flavor to it, it’s a little heavier, smooth,” Montana says. “We don’t add anything to it, we just don’t strip out the flavor. I like vodka that tastes like something.”
 
Du Nord’s gin, he continues, has a louche quality, meaning it gets cloudy when cooled or added to water because of the higher ratio of juniper oils. “We want flavor in our gin, so it’s louche,” Montana says.
 
Whiskey is Montana’s drink of choice, however. Forget the old adage that only the best whisky comes from Kentucky, he says. “They take our corn, turn it into booze, ship it back to us and we pay a premium. Whatever they do there we can do better here. So let’s do it here!”
 
By the end of 2015, Montana is hoping to triple production. “What we can make in a year is what the big guys spill in day,” he says. “We are still just a drop in the bucket. But for this area, we’ll be able to meet demand.”
 
 
 

Peppers & Fries to open in former SuperAmerica

Wise Acre Eatery, Victory 44, and soon Peppers & Fries. The creative conversion of old gas stations into hip neighborhood eateries gets another jump start when Peppers & Fries opens in a former SuperAmerica later this month at 39th and Lake Street in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
 
Steve Frias and his daughter Marie Frias are the proprietors. They got their start working with their parents and grandparents (respectively), who are the owners of Boca Chica—the Twin Cities’ longest-lived Mexican restaurant and an institution on the West Side of St. Paul. Steve ran his own restaurant in Burnsville for a while. Marie has been a server, scheduler and manager in a variety of establishments.
 
So it was time, says Steve Frias, to open their own restaurant back in the city. They chose the old SA, which had been empty and for sale for six years, for its size and location. “That part of Lake Street is really growing, with lots of small businesses,” he says, including Forage Modern Workshop, Longfellow Market, Craftsman restaurant and Corazon gift shop. “I want to be part of that growth, with a neighborhood spot seating about 80 people.”
 
Peppers & Fries will be a family-oriented burger and burrito grill with 11 tv screens for viewing sports. Three garage doors will open onto a spacious patio (for dining in warmer weather). Ben Awes of the Minneapolis architecture firm CityDeskStudio, and Denise Fierst of Denise Fierst Design, have been working with Frias on the conversion.
 
“The building is pretty simple, but with surprisingly elegant existing brick and exposed steel columns,” Awes says. “All we did was try and stay out of the way, and highlight the best existing features!”
 
The interior includes polished concrete floors, exposed trusses and a simple gray color palette. “Steve has a scoreboard from an old field where he coached Little League baseball, which will be lit up on one wall,” Awes says.
 
The team also made sure the new restaurant compliments the existing neighborhood. “We’re not trying to be flashy,” Awes says. “Peppers & Fries is meant to be a good neighbor and serve local residents.” To keep costs down, Awes cut some of the components for the restaurant’s signage in his church basement.
 
The grill will have 16 beers on tap, 11 of them from local microbreweries. The Frias’ will make their own malt cups, source baked goods and tortillas from local establishments, and meats from Longfellow Market and South St. Paul. “My dad has dealt with those small business owners for years and I have those same connections,” Steve says.  

 

SooVAC plans consolidation and move to Minneapolis Greenway

Soo Visual Arts Center, colloquially known as SooVAC, is making a big move in April 2015. Founded by the late Suzy Greenberg in 2001, the non-profit art space—which for two years has also operated a satellite operation called SooLocal—will consolidate the two galleries and move to 2909 Bryant Avenue South, a large three-story brick warehouse building adjacent to the Minneapolis Greenway.
 
“We have steadily increased our budget and programming for the past three years,” explains Carolyn Payne, executive director. “In evaluating SooLocal, we decided it would serve our organization best to be under the same roof as SooVAC’s main space, and the new location has room for that. We are also in the early planning stages of a visual arts residency program and this building has room for us to create that programming as well.”
 
SooVAC will move into a space previously used as an event center. “The building is very green,” Payne says, “and along with radiant floor heating, [the management] requires LED lighting. Many other organizations and museums have transitioned to LED lighting. We’re working with lighting designers that have been in on that to ensure that we continue to put our exhibitions in the best light, so to speak.” The space is also be designed by Will Natzel, an artist and designer, in consultation with  Lars Mason, director of academic services at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a SooVAC advisory board member.
 
SooVAC prides itself on arts accessibility, building community through art and representing local artists. “As soon as we knew we were going to move, we had a public meeting with artists, supporters and community members,” Payne says. “We asked them where they would like SooVAC to move and what they would like to see in our new space. We had a size and price range, and looked at everything within those parameters.”
 
The new space was selected because it “met and even exceeded our requirements, and also allows us to stay in our current South Minneapolis neighborhood.” In addition, Payne is looking forward to the Greenway’s potential to attract new audiences for SooVAc’s programming and hopes to collaborate on projects with the Greenway Coalition.
 
 

HWY North popup brings locally made to Hamline-Midway

“It's hard to put into words what feeling we are going for,” says Emily Anderson. “Fun, unique items that make you smile and want to do a happy dance.” Do not, however, expect any mass-manufactured Snoopy’s in Anderson’s new pop-up shop in the Hamline-Midway area of St. Paul. Her new popup shop, HWY North, only carries locally made goods that Anderson carefully curates.
 
“I am emphasizing Minnesota made goods because a) it resonates with my desire to buy local, b) supports our neighborhood artists, and c) hopefully creates a space where the many creative geniuses in our awesome cities can come together, share their talents, and perhaps collaborate to make something bigger than would otherwise have been possible,” she explains.
 
Anderson opened HWY North after noticing a retail space for rent in her neighborhood. A crowd-funding campaign helped cover the costs of setting up shop. Anderson has a background in visual art and public art, with an emphasis in art education and museum studies. She explains that she’s “always been driven through the arts, but over time I've realized that more than being an artist, I am an appreciator of the arts.”
 
For a long time, she envisioned opening a shop “that offers the public a place to see the talent within the immediate area, as well as a place to come together, have a sense of community and make.” To that end, HWY North has a regular schedule of classes for kids and adults ranging from sewing a tote bag to creating a Ukrainian egg ornament to making holiday cards.
 
The workshops, Anderson says, “encourage others to become makers by showing them new/old/forgotten skills, and by getting them ready to continue making beautiful things with their hands. Did you know studies have shown that being creative is essential to mental health? We bump that up a notch by also providing a fabulous community for making. It's all pretty great.”
 
Anderson finds HWY North’s bespoke shirts, jewelry, toys, art and home furnishings through local craft fairs. “But people are starting to contact me directly, which is exciting,” she says. She and group of collaborators discuss which items fit best with HWY North’s aesthetic, a continual work in progress, she says.
 
HWY North’s lease runs through March, Anderson says, “however, I would love to extend the lease if the store is successful.”
 

Brews + asanas for micro-boom lovin' yogis

Forbes has called out Minneapolis as “The Healthiest City in America” despite our micro-brewery boom, not to mention our growing micro-cidery and micro-distillery scene. So how to maintain our awesome standing created by residents who “breathe clean air, prioritize exercise and keep their weight down, supported by a city that was among the first to add bike trails and ban smoking in public places” as the Forbes article gushed? Especially with the early onset of winter?
 
By doing yoga inside the breweries and cideries of course.
 
GetKnit Events has put together a new series that combines balances with brews for all the micro-boom lovin’ yogis in the Twin Cities. Called Yoga at the Brewery, the series kicks off Saturday morning at Urban Growler Brewing Co. in St. Paul. A ticket includes a one-hour all-levels yoga class taught by an instructor from YogaFresh, a flight of five samples for tasting, and exclusive access to the brewery prior to regular hours.
 
On Saturday, January 10, Yoga at the Brewery takes place at Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis, and on Saturday, February 28 at Excelsior Brewing in Excelsior. On arrival, guests will be situated on yoga mats in their intoxicating environment among the kegs and fermentation tanks. “After toning our bodies and focusing our minds,” according to GetKnit’s website, “we will turn our attention to communal health as we join together to enjoy flights of five brews.”
 
“How do Twin Cities residents keep up their commitment to fitness during the area's notoriously cold winters?” the Forbes article asks? Brews and asanas are the answer.
 
 
 
 

Arcanum's secret society promises immersive experience

The storied history of the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul includes gangsters, Prohibition, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Gatsby, and of course W. A. Frost. The restaurant and bar (with a summer patio no one can resist) is named for the pharmacist who opened his fabled apothecary (which sold “medicinal wines and liquors”) in the 1889 Dacotah Building. Today the creative thinkers at W. A. Frost are not only purveyors of “upscale unwinding,” as Robert Crew, director of food and beverage operations describes the iconic establishment’s vibe, but history buffs as well. And they’ve hatched an exciting new program for the likeminded.
 
It’s called the Arcanum Secret Society: a four-part series of immersive cocktail parties in historical places. Arcanum launches on November 25, and will occur again on February 7, and in April and June at “secret” locations. The first one? Not so secret anymore: The elegant Art Deco bar in the former Commodore Hotel. Once home to the Fitzgeralds and Sinclair Lewis—and reportedly a stop for bootlegger John Dillinger—the Commodore played a leading role in St. Paul’s Roaring 20s social scene.
 
That historical era will be the theme of the first Arcanum event, which is also “soft opening” for the newly remodeled Commodore. Arcanum participants, Crew says, “will be among the first to see the re-imagined space. It will truly be like stepping back in time, as though you were rubbing elbows with F. Scott and Zelda.”
 
The ticket price ($110 per person) includes classic craft cocktails assembled in part using a Prohibition era-style white whiskey from 11 Wells. Guests also enjoy passed canapes provided by W.A. Frost and live music. “For the cost of a typically upscale dinner you'll get food and beverages—plus an unforgettable experience. It's not an everyday occasion. It's a unique opportunity,” Crew says.
 
The idea for Arcanum had been brewing for a while, Crew adds, and extends W. A. Frost’s singular brand. “W.A. Frost has a reputation for facilitating ‘upscale unwinding.’ It's refined, but not stuffy. That's the exact kind of vibe that Arcanum has,” he explains. “So while the events aren't necessarily at W.A. Frost (in fact, we can't tell you where they all are!), they each exhibit that signature quality.”
 
Arcanum is working in concert with Commonwealth Properties on the series, which owns the Dacotah Building, the Commodore Hotel and other historic St. Paul properties. “Commonwealth Properties makes a point of uncovering some of the city's most iconic architectural treasures, and making them relevant to today while preserving all of the historic detail and charm,” Crew says.
 
“The Arcanum event series itself is somewhat of a throwback—the intimacy and secrecy of the events evoke the speakeasy and the Prohibition Era,” he continues. “That's fitting, since all of the Commonwealth Properties served as ‘witness’ to that time in St. Paul's history. Each Arcanum event will be held at a location that has historical significance and each event will feature an immersive cultural experience.”
 

Paddy Shack brings Irish fare to Half Time Rec

Goodbye frozen pizza. Hello savory shepherds pie, Irish poutine with crème fraiche and brown bread with Kerrygold butter. Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, who elevated bar food to an art in the kitchen of the 1029 Bar in Northeast Minneapolis as a start-up to the now award-winning Smack Shack in Minneapolis' North Loop, have done it again. This time the venture is Paddy Shack at The Rec, at the Half Time Rec in Como Park in St. Paul, best known until now for bocce ball in the basement, Irish music and dancing, and a decidedly laid-back vibe with beer prices to match.
 
Thoma and Fitzgerald teamed up with Jack Riebel, formerly of Butcher & the Boar, to build out a kitchen at The Rec and develop an Irish-inflected menu—including a lobster and cream sauce sandwich with a dash of whiskey dubbed The Dublin Lawyer that solidifies the culinary connection with Smack Shack. The dogs come wrapped in bacon with pickled green tomatoes and jalapeños or in beer cheese sauce, macaroni and Serrano pesto. Clearly, no one needs to leave hungry anymore.
 
Brothers Steve Mars and Scott Mars, who co-own The Rec, haven’t forsaken the dive-bar feeling or décor, despite the food upgrade. The Rec remains a beloved neighborhood bar—with a difference.
 
The brothers selected St. Paul native Riebel, a 2013 finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Midwest, because of his credentials, ingenuity and connections with Thoma and Fitzgerald: They’re all working on a redo of The Lexington, at Grand and Lexington avenues in St. Paul, as well. Meanwhile, The Rec’s added more than a dozen full- and part-time kitchen positions to ensure the food keeps coming.
 

Sioux Chef brings indigenous cuisine to Minneapolis

Minneapolis-based chef and Oglala Lakota member Sean Sherman is about to open the Sioux Chef, a first-of-its-kind restaurant that will serve locally sourced “pre-colonization” cuisine. Sherman is in the final stages of selecting a space, most likely along Seward’s Franklin Avenue or along East Lake Street. He wants to be “as close as possible to the heart of the Twin Cities’ indigenous community,” he says.
 
Depending on the condition of the space, the Sioux Chef’s doors could be open as early as December, but the first quarter of 2015 is more likely. When the restaurant opens, Sioux Chef will be the first in the country to serve a menu comprised exclusively of regional indigenous dishes that only use ingredients available prior to first contact with European settlers.
 
Sherman’s approached means no wheat, soy or other staples we currently take for granted. In addition to bison, elk, duck, perch and other fish and game species—often dried or cooked over an open flame—Sherman will incorporate such native plants as wild rice, wild turnips, chokecherries and sumac berries.
 
His flavors and technique are pitch-perfect. Though indigenous populations were decimated during the 19th and 20th centuries, there remains a strong cultural memory among older Lakota, Ojibwe and others. “People constantly tell me that my dishes taste like what their grandparents made,” he says.
 
One concession to modern realities: The Sioux Chef won’t serve wild-caught game, says Sherman, due to a lack of available processing facilities capable of satisfying health authorities. The restaurant’s bison and elk, among other species, will come from nearby ranches.
 
Nor will Sherman be dogmatic in his approach. “First contact” is a blurrier concept than many realize, he says. For example, dandelions probably arrived on the Eastern Seaboard with the first wave of white explorers and spread across the continent within 50 years, far faster than the Europeans who brought them. So Native Americans may have cooked with them long before setting eyes on the first settler—and that’s good enough for Sherman.
 
The Sioux Chef concept arose accidentally, when Sherman—then La Bodega’s executive chef—decided to write a traditional Lakota cookbook. After some digging, he realized there was very little recorded information about what the Lakota ate before Europeans arrived. Most of the recipes he found were from the Southwest. Even those “were basically Tex-Mex with some Native influence,” he says. Supposedly authentic foods from the Upper Midwest, like fry bread, only appeared after the introduction of white flour and other European staples.
 
Traveling extensively across Minnesota and his native Dakotas, Sherman eventually pieced together an exhaustive list—“too many to count”—of native plants, fungi and game species used by pre-colonial populations. He also researched traditional preparation and preservation techniques, like meat dehydration.
 
Until the restaurant opens this winter, the Sioux Chef is a mobile catering and education unit. Sherman travels to food-, health- and Native American-themed events throughout the Twin Cities and the greater Midwest, serving locally sourced dishes (some of which may appear on the Sioux Chef’s restaurant menu) and explaining his approach to pre-colonization cooking. Recent appearances include a diabetes conference and traditional medicine gathering
 
So far, Sherman says, support for the Sioux Chef is beyond what he expected. He was in Ohio last weekend for Roots 2014, a major gathering of celebrity chefs and nutrition experts, and “a huge deal for the Sioux Chef’s exposure,” he says.
 
Public enthusiasm may lead to bigger things for the Sioux Chef. “After I get the restaurant going, my ultimate goal is to hone this business model and expand with additional locations under different names,” he says. Since naturally available ingredients vary so much from place to place—“even from here to the other side of Wisconsin, the availability is totally different,” he says—the food at pre-colonization restaurants would vary widely from city to city.
 
“It’s funny that you can get food from almost anywhere in the world [in the Twin Cities],” he adds. “The only food you can’t get yet is the food that came from right here.” Sioux Chef will change that.
 
 
 

Frame by Frame shop provides gallery space in Dow Building

Within the unassuming Dow Building at 2242 University Avenue in St. Paul are studios in which more than 30 painters, woodworkers, metalworkers and photographers create their work. Now an innovative framing business with a unique model is giving the inner creativity of the Dow Building an outwardly visible face.
 
Khanh Tran opened Frame by Frame in the building’s storefront in September and plans to have his frame shop double as a gallery for artists in the Dow Building. Rather than take a commission on works that sell out of the shop, he charges artists a flat monthly rate to display their work. So far, 16 artists from the building have taken him up on the offer.
 
A frame shop needs artwork to frame and display, while artists need a clean, sleek space to show and sell their work. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Tran says. He designed the space with crisp white walls and professional grade track lighting.
 
As a tenant of the Dow Building for several years, Tran had been watching the storefront space for some time. He previously rented a small studio in the building to store his framing equipment while pursuing other interests. He developed relationships with many of the artists and makers in the building during that time, making the new gallery arrangement a natural fit.
 
Tran credits his entrepreneurial spirit to his parents. His father was a tailor, his mother a seamstress. Together, they built Tran’s Tailors, a chain of tailor shops throughout the Twin Cities. “They worked hard for it,” Tran says. “It’s not easy to open five businesses from nothing. That’s where I get my drive.”
 
The Trans’ family story of success in the face of adversity began on a boat in the Pacific Ocean in 1978. Looking to escape war-torn Vietnam, Khanh’s father saved what little money he could and bought a 30-foot boat. He boarded his 4-year old son and 20 other children and 10 adults to set out for a more prosperous life. “He wanted to escape Vietnam for the better,” Tran say.
 
The boat arrived in Japan and the passengers were moved to a refugee camp, where eventually they were given entry visas to the U.S. The family again packed up their belongings and headed for Bloomington, Minnesota, where Khanh’s uncle lived. Khanh Tran went to college and discovered framing as a potential profession. He stopped into a local gallery and asked if they needed help. “They hired me on the spot, taught me how to frame and taught me how to sell art,” he says.
 
Tran went on to open his own frame shop and gallery space in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis in a storefront across the street from the Northern Clay Center. He then moved to Montana with his wife. There he opened a successful automobile detail shop.
 
Now, back in the Twin Cities, Tran feels he’s landed in the right place to pursue his first passion: framing and selling beautiful original art. “The reason I continue is I like to see the art and I like to have a hand in making that art look even better,” Tran says.
 
 
 

Herbivorous Butcher plans first meatless “butcher” shop

Following a successful summer at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, the Herbivorous Butcher is moving ahead with plans to open a brick-and-mortar location to sell its “meatless meats.”
 
From ropes of “pepperoni” hanging from the ceiling to the black-and-white tile lining the walls, the new butcher shop envisioned by Aubry Walch and scheduled to open next year will have all the hallmarks of an old-time butcher—except the meat.
 
The Herbivorous Butcher cleared the coolers during its June opening weekend at the Market. Despite consistently upping production, Walch says she’s sold out her inventory every weekend since.
 
“We keep making more batches and we just can’t keep up with demand,” says Walch, who started the business with her business partner and brother Kale Walch.
 
To better feed the demand, the siblings plan to open the Twin Cities’ first meatless butcher shop in early 2015. They’re currently working with Studio M Architects, which designed the Wise Acre Eatery, to replicate the idyllic atmosphere of a traditional butcher shop. “We hope to take people back in time when they come in,” Walch says.
 
Aubry Walch’s been a strict vegetarian for 18 years. Her brother Kale is vegan. After wearying of available meatless options—which are often frozen, and contain loads of sodium and long lists of unrecognizable ingredients—they began concocting their own meat alternatives from locally sourced whole food ingredients.
 
They decided to put their culinary acumen to the test and enlisted 10 test groups that included vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters for an eight-week stint of food testing. The results, Walch says, were resoundingly positive.
 
It’s not just vegetarians and vegans gobbling up the inventory. Walch estimates that at least 60 percent of their customers are full-blooded carnivores discovering healthier meat alternatives for the first time.
 
The main ingredient in almost all of the products is vital wheat gluten sourced from Whole Grain Milling Co. in Welcome, MN.  Even though the product is 95 percent protein, it’s extremely low in carbohydrates and fat, and is cholesterol free.
 
“We have people who come to us because they have heart disease or diabetes…and they can’t eat meat anymore,” Walch says. “We’re the perfect alternative for them and they seek us out.”
 
There’s no shortage of meat-free protein alternatives on co-op shelves in the Twin Cities, but the Herbivorous Butcher has uncovered a serious hunger for handmade and locally sourced meatless meat. Every item sold at the Herbivorous Butcher is made fresh by hand in small batches from locally sourced whole food ingredients and is never frozen.
 
Thus far the meatless mainstays at the Herbivorous Butcher include pepperoni, Italian sausage, barbecue ribs, deli bologna and teriyaki jerky. Once the new shop is up and running, other market specials including Mexican chorizo, maple sage breakfast sausage and beer brats will be available.
 
Finding the right investors has been somewhat of a struggle, Walch says. The problem isn’t a lack of interest; it’s that many see a lucrative opportunity and want the meatless butchers to automate all their production, freeze their products and distribute nation-wide. Walch isn’t willing to sacrifice the artisanal approach and reliance on local ingredients that going so big would require.
 
Instead, the Herbivorous Butcher is taking the crowd funding approach, and will launch a campaign later this fall.
 
 

Wander North brings more micro spirits to Minneapolis

Wander North Distillery recently became the latest micro-distillery to open in Minneapolis, when owner Brian Winter cut the ribbon at the new location in Northeast Minneapolis with City Councilmember Kevin Reich.
 
Thanks to legislation passed in 2011 that significantly lowered a $30,000 annual permit fee for distillers in Minnesota, Winter says he was able to turn his long-time interest in the history of spirits and drinking in America into a viable business.
 
“Liquor production is tied hand-in-hand with the rise of the United States,” Winter argues. “Unlike brewing and beer, there hadn’t been the resurgence of locally produced spirits yet.” Minneapolis’ first micro-distillery, Norseman, opened last year.
 
Wander North’s first spirit, Outpost Vodka, is made from 100 percent Minnesota grown corn sourced from a supplier in Rosemount. Referencing the mutually supportive craft brewing community in Northeast, Winter says he is also pursuing plans for collaboration with local craft brewers, including Northgate Brewing, which recently expanded into a new space in the same building.
 
He hopes to take the wort (liquid extracted during the mashing process prior to adding yeast or hops) from Northgate’s Maggie’s Leap stout, ferment it, distill it and then age it in oak barrels. He would then hand the barrels back to Northgate to age the same beer in. “Then, sit and taste the whiskey and beer side by side,” he says. Winter is pursuing a similar collaboration with Sociable Cider Werks.
 
The state also passed legislation this past spring that allows for distilleries to have paid tasting rooms. The wait now is for Minneapolis to change its ordinance to allow for it, which Winter says is in the works.
 
Once the regulations are in place, Winter plans to launch a cocktail lounge on site. The lounge will feature two or three seasonal mainstay cocktails, along with several others that change on a weekly basis. “We’ll be limited to what is made at the distillery. But vodka is a pretty versatile starting point,” he says.
 
Wander North will donate at least 1 percent of its profits back to the community with an emphasis on veterans programs. Winter has served in the U.S. Military since 1993. Twelve of those years were on active duty, including as a platoon leader in Baghdad in 2004 and as a company commander in 2007. He currently serves as an assistant engineer officer with the Minnesota National Guard one weekend a month.
 
“A small business like Wander North is local. We pay local taxes, sell to people in the community and live in the community,” he says. “Why, if my business is successful, would I not want to give back to the community that helps me succeed?”
 
 
 
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