Signs of life at 50th & Bryant

More than a year after the fire, construction has started on a new home for businesses on the corner

The fire raged for a few hours, but sorting through the ashes took nearly a year.

Reconstruction of the commercial property at the corner of 50th & Bryant has finally begun. The new building should be completed by late spring, with businesses tentatively slated to open in June.

Last Feb. 18, a grease fire in the kitchen of Heidi’s Restaurant quickly engulfed the entire building, laying ruin to a Lynnhurst landmark that was home to Heidi’s, the original Patina, Blackbird Cafe, Shoppe Local and Stacey Johnson Jewelry.

Debris was cleared from the property last summer, and since then the site where the old building stood has basically been a hole in the ground. That hole will be disappearing soon, as Jaeger Construction plans to install the new building’s walls by the end of February.

Plans call for the new building to look much like the old one.

“The idea is to make it seem like the building has been there forever. We don’t want it to look like it’s been dropped down by a spaceship,” said Rick Haase, co-owner of the 50th & Bryant property and the Patina stores along with his wife Christine Ward.

The new building will have the same footprint and one-floor height as the old one. There will be room for just three commercial tenants, including an expanded Patina store and two restaurants, so each space will be slightly larger than the Patina, Heidi’s and Blackbird spaces were pre-fire.

With a brownstone, brick facade, the building should look like a throwback to the 1920s. But the challenge Haase and Ward now face isn’t just about replacing the old building with something similar. It’s about trying find new restaurant tenants that can live up to the high standards set by Heidi’s and Blackbird, and hence reestablish the 50th & Bryant corner as one of the best dining destinations in Southwest.

Haase and Ward confirmed that the new building will definitely feature a Patina, but were unable to discuss specifics regarding prospective tenants for the restaurant spaces, as no lease agreements have yet been finalized.

At a neighborhood meeting at The Malt Shop on Feb. 4, Ward said that the idea is for one of the restaurants to feature fine-dining, like Heidi’s, with the other family-style, like Blackbird. The couple assured attendees that they are only considering local, independent restaurant tenants.

With construction now proceeding in earnest and slated for completion before Memorial Day, a formal announcement regarding who will be leasing the restaurant properties shouldn’t be too far off.

New homes for Heidi’s, Blackbird

In a perfect world, Heidi’s and Blackbird would’ve returned to 50th & Bryant upon the completion of reconstruction.

Of course, in a perfect world, the fire wouldn’t have happened in the first place, and ownership at both of the restaurants said that waiting for 50th & Bryant to be reconstructed simply wasn’t an option.

“It was going to take too long — more time than we could afford,” said Stuart Woodman, co-owner of Heidi’s along with his wife and restaurant namesake Heidi Woodman.

The Woodmans reopened Heidi’s in the Lyn-Lake area at 2903 Lyndale Ave. S. in January.

Asked why it took nearly a year for reconstruction to begin, Haase explained that the complications he and his wife faced in the wake of the blaze went beyond dealing with their insurance company, which is certainly a time-consuming hassle in itself.

The couple wanted the new building to look similar to the old one, but achieving that while complying with city codes that have been overhauled since the old building was constructed presented difficulties. And all the while, Haase and Ward had to concern themselves with day-to-day operations at the four Patina stores that remained open.

“It just took that long to get going. Even if we had been able to move through the process faster, in the best case we maybe could’ve [begun reconstruction] about three months sooner,” Haase said, which still wouldn’t have been soon enough to retain Heidi’s or Blackbird as tenants.

Waiting for 50th & Bryant to be reconstructed “just was not really in our financial picture at all,” said Gail Mollner, co-owner of Blackbird along with partner Chris Stevens.

“It’s just me and Chris. We don’t really have financial investors, so it’s just the two of us and our home equity loan,” she added.

Following the fire, the couple began looking for a new spot to reopen their café. Ultimately, in November, Mollner and Stevens reopened at 3800 Nicollet Ave. S. in Kingfield.

“I’m sad about it because we did really love that corner, but it just wasn’t feasible for us to wait,” Mollner said.

While relocating from 50th & Bryant was bittersweet, both Woodman and Mollner said that business has been brisk at their new locales.

“I think we’ve been busier. We’re a little less tucked into the neighborhood on a busy [corner of 38th & Nicollet], so there’s most visibility, and we have a larger space that can accommodate more people at any given time,” Mollner said.

And though the new Heidi’s has barely been open a month, Woodman said that the addition of a full bar and the relocation to Lyn-Lake has resulted in more patronage from 20-somethings than he was used to seeing at the 50th & Bryant location.

Heidi’s and Blackbird are hitting the ground running in their new locations with many of the same staffers and regulars that helped make both establishments so popular at 50th & Bryant.

“It’s crazy, because [our business] has been like 80 percent customers from the old place,” Moller said, adding that all but two employees from 50th and Bryant made the move to 38th and Nicollet.

Woodman concurred.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of our old friends coming over here.”