A real restaurant at Lake Calhoun?

Park Board explores new -- and perhaps more profitable -- future for refectory

The Lake Calhoun refectory could open a sit-down restaurant by 2005.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is talking with Mintahoe Hospitality Group, the caterer at Nicollet Island and Columbia Golf Course, and SNP Enterprises LLC to see which will offer the best plan for the building near Lake Street and East Calhoun Parkway.

The negotiations are part of the Park Board's ongoing effort to boost concession revenue after 1980s profits turned into 1990s losses.

The Park Board's overall concession operations -- Lakes Harriet, Calhoun, Nokomis and Minnehaha Park -- lost money every year from 1996 to 2000, according to a Park Board report summarizing revenue from 1980 to 2000.

During that two-decade span, concession revenue peaked in 1987 at $141,243.

The park system has made several efforts to overhaul the system in recent years; the most controversial was an unsuccessful 2002 proposal to have Dairy Queen operate the Harriet and Calhoun operations.

Shane Stenzel, Park Board special services manager, said staff would recommend a Lake Calhoun restaurant concept no later than Aug. 15.

Commissioner Vivian Mason, whose district borders Calhoun's north and west shore, supports the idea.

"Back when I was on the master plan committee for the Chain of Lakes, that is one of the things that came out of that committee -- people want a sit-down place where they could have a meal at the lake."

Lake Calhoun refectory

St. Paul-based Mintahoe submitted a proposal to operate both the Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet concessions, offering a sliding-scale, profit-sharing plan.

Mintahoe's proposal gave few specifics.

"Our Executive Chef worked for Camp Snoopy for five years and has lots of innovative ideas on how to upgrade the menu and presentation of the area," it said.

Stenzel characterized the restaurant concept as sit-down with no waiters. Customers would order at the counter and someone may deliver the food to the table, but not provide the other kinds of wait staff services.

SNP -- the brainchild of Lowry Hill residents Sheffield and Athena Priest -- proposed The Tin Fish, a casual restaurant. "Our mission is to provide Minneapolis with a low-priced, high quality, one-of-a-kind lakeshore dining and recreation experience."

Sheffield Priest now works as the shipping department manager for Light & Life Publishing, which ships religious books overseas. Athena Priest is an aquatic physical therapist at St. Paul's Regions Hospital, according to resumes submitted with the SNP proposal. They both list work with Melluso Enterprises in catering and food service with The Tin Fish in San Diego from 1999 to 2001.

SNP submitted a sample menu with its proposal. It had appetizers -- calamari, crab cakes and cheese quesadillas -- as well as fish tacos, chicken tacos, burgers and hot dogs. The most expensive item, $13.95, is the mixed seafood grill with shrimp, fish and scallops.

The Tin Fish also proposes selling popcorn, homemade ice cream, candy, cameras/film, towels, pet treats, diapers and espresso drinks.

Mintahoe would give the Park Board 12 percent of gross revenue in year one, increasing to 18 percent in year five.

(The lower initial rates would offset Mintahoe's capital investment, its proposal said.)

SNP would give the Park Board 15 percent of the first $150,000 in gross revenue, 12 percent of the next $100,0000 and 10 percent of everything over $250,000.

Mintahoe projects the Park Board's Calhoun take at $48,000 in the first year, rising to $117,000 by 2009. SNP projects a $22,500-$34,500 Park Board profit in the first year of a three-year deal, to a high of $44,500-$51,800 by the third year.

The Lake Calhoun operation lost money every year between 1990 and 2000, according to Park Board data released in 2002.

"I don't know that I have ever gotten a good answer on why things in the last 10 years have gone in a different direction than they had the 10 before that," said Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent of finance, who joined the Park Board in 1999 with an assignment to increase enterprise money.

The Park Board hired Kate and Dave Anderson to run the Calhoun refectory as contract employees with incentive pay in 2003. The Park Board earned $48,052 last year, Stenzel said.

A key Park Board committee approved negotiating a one-year extension with the Andersons while the Park Board works out the restaurant deal.

Lake Harriet

The Park Board is negotiating a separate deal on the Lake Harriet concession stand. A key Park Board committee approved negotiating a three-year contract with Steve Gillen of Schwick, Inc., who has operated there since 2002.

Park Board made $15,103 from Lake Harriet in 2002 and $20,331 in 2003, according to data released by Stenzel.

The new contract would require a fixed payment of $45,000 in 2004 and increase to $47,740 in 2006. The deal would also require Schwick to pay for utilities and up to $1,500 in maintenance each year, Stenzel said.

Historically, Lake Harriet has been the most lucrative concession operation in the system. Between 1987 and 2000, it lost money only one year, 1997. Profit peaked in 1987 at $89,295.