Park Board may add Lake Harriet restaurant

Spurred by declining state aid and the success of Lake Calhoun's Tin Fish restaurant, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is considering developing a restaurant at Lake Harriet and at a minimum of three other park sites.

The Park Board has a $15,000 contract with restaurant consultants Idein LLC, said Don Siggelkow, who heads up the Park Board's enterprise efforts.

According to a Nov. 23 professional services agreement, Idein, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S., will work with the Park Board "to establish the top four food service priorities, currently anticipated to be Lake Harriet, Loring Park, Theodore Wirth Park and Minnehaha Park."

The contract asks for "recommendations for maximizing revenue potential at each of the four priority locations" and "recommendations regarding existing/new restaurants concepts that would enhance the consumer experience at the four priority park locations."

According to a company profile at, founders Phil Roberts and Kevin Kuester "have created a series of hit restaurant experiences," including Bucca di Beppo, Chino Latino and Manny's Steakhouse.

"We are a quiet firm," the profile said. "We operate discreetly, confidentially and professionally, and we pride ourselves in providing extraordinary consulting in often highly sensitive, challenging and/or fast-growth situations."

News of the Idein contract surfaced during interviews for new superintendent candidates Nov. 30. Park Board Commissioners pressed the candidates for their ideas for new funding sources in the face of tax revenues that lagged behind inflation.

Then Interim Superintendent Jon Gurban talked about the success of the Tin Fish.

The Tin Fish restaurant opened in the Lake Calhoun refectory this past year, and it appears to be a harbinger of the future. Southwest residents Sheffield and Athena Priest have a contract with the Park Board and share the profits. The Tin Fish offers traditional concession stand fare, as well as various fish dinners.

Public satisfaction had increased as well as revenue, Gurban said. The Park Board needed to look for a similar approach in other areas.

The Tin Fish grossed $447,748 on food and beverages in its first year, said Shane Stenzel, manager of special services. The Park Board's cut was $50,816.

The Park Board ran the concession stand in 2003, and while it grossed approximately $110,000 on food and beverages, it lost approximately $10,000, Stenzel said. The Park Board earned $3,500 on the Calhoun refectory food and beverages in 2002 and lost nearly $56,000 in 2001.

The Tin Fish's financial success matches and even surpasses profits at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, historically the Park Board's most lucrative concession stand. The Lake Harriet concessions netted nearly $49,000 in 2003, approximately $36,000 in 2003 and lost money in 2001, Stenzel said.

Gurban said the Park Board had not made food and beverage concessions a priority in the past, and it needed to be more entrepreneurial in the future.

In his closing statement - making the pitch to Park Board Commissioners that he is the guy to lead them into the future - Gurban told Commissioners about the Idein contract, saying the restaurant recommendations would come to the Board as part of the Master Plan discussions.

The Park Board's financial pinch became evident the following day when it cut its 2005 budget by $1 million, or roughly 2 percent, from a status quo budget because revenues did not keep up with inflation.

While the Tin Fish seems to have resonated with Park leaders, future moneymaking proposals could carry political risk if residents raise concerns about the commercialization of the parks. When the Park Board proposed a Dairy Queen lease at the Lake Harriet concession stand in early 2002, public outcry quickly defeated the proposal.

In November, the Lake Calhoun Sailing Club proposed erecting a five-building complex on the lake's south shore. It would include an event center, three retail/concession buildings and a sailing school/yacht club building.

Park Board planners are reviewing the Sailing School proposal and are expected to report to the Board later this year.