Tin Fish likely won’t get another year serving fish tacos as park commissioners prepare to approve a new lease with a different operator for the refectory at Lake Calhoun, or Bde Maka Ska.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Administration & Finance Committee approved Nov. 15 a five-year lease with Lola’s Café, a wings restaurant that has operated concessions stands at U.S. Bank Stadium’s Medtronic Plaza and the board’s Jim Lupient Water Park in Northeast Minneapolis.
One big change that would come with Lola’s is less emphasis on the lake’s historic refectory and more on the rest of the lake, which would see more kiosks to account for demand.
“We intend to program the entire lake,” owner Louis King told commissioners.
The beloved seasonal seafood restaurant closed last season after longtime owners Athena and Sheff Priest decided not to renew their lease with the Park Board and hand the reigns over to three employees. They continue to operate a Tin Fish restaurant in Edina’s Braemar Park.
With a need for a new restaurant, the Park Board opened a request for proposals for concessionaires and attracted a dozen interested parties. In the summer, a seven-person committee made up of commissioners, park staff, neighborhood association representatives and a current park restaurant operator narrowed down the proposals to the new Tin Fish operators and Louis and Beverly King’s Lola’s Café.
The restaurant serves smoked wings, hot dogs, brats and seafood, among other items. The lease agreement would be similar to what the board has with its other concessions partners — Lake Harriet’s Bread and Pickle, Lake Nokomis’ Sandcastle and Minnehaha Park’s Sea Salt Eatery — which require contractors to pay 12 percent of gross revenues of sales to the board and invest in improvements to the building. It would begin Jan. 1, 2018 and end at the end of 2023.
President Anita Tabb, whose District 4 includes the eastern portion of the lake, said she was impressed with King’s creative problem-solving skills and less impressed by the financial skills of the new Tin Fish ownership group.
“Creativity in business is really important,” she said. “I know change is very difficult, but I’m excited about the possibilities of this.”
At-Large Commissioner Annie Young, who noted she was a longtime friend of King’s, said he has helped young adults learn skills and “how to make it.” King, who has employed young people at his other concepts, told commissioners he plans to do the same at the lake.
“You have helped so many young people. You have really shown the light,” Young told him at the meeting.
The full board is expected to vote on the lease on Nov. 29, after this issue went to press. If it’s approved, Lola’s Café would be the first black-owned restaurant to operate at the lake. King said he expects the café to open in April.
The refectory is one of the most popular park destinations in the city. As part of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, the area is the most-visited park in the state with nearly 6 million visitors annually.
The Park Board is in the process of expanding its concessions operations with a new restaurant at Water Works, a new park pavilion and riverfront destination near the Mill District in downtown Minneapolis.
Earlier this year, the board selected The Sioux Chef, a concept specializing in indigenous cuisine developed by chef Sean Sherman and partner Dana Thompson, to operate the city’s first year-round park restaurant inside the new building.