LYNNHURST — Fred Navarro knows the expectations for his family’s new restaurant, George & the Dragon, are pretty high.
One reason: its address. The restaurant is located at 50th Street and Bryant Avenue where, two years ago, Heidi’s and Blackbird Café were destroyed by fire.
Both of the beloved restaurants relocated after the devastating blaze as the property was redeveloped from scratch.
“We’ve got some really big shoes to fill here, obviously,” Navarro said during a recent visit to the space. “People have really missed Heidi’s and Blackbird, so the expectations are really high.”
And while Navarro acknowledges the anticipation is nerve-wracking, he says he is confident that the concept he and his wife Stacy have developed will be embraced by the neighborhood.
The idea is to create a festive, casual environment where families, couples and neighbors can come together, share a meal or a drink, and simply enjoy their community.
The ethic is personified in the sign hanging outside the building declaring the restaurant “Lynnhurst’s Public House,” and in the name itself. George & the Dragon is a common moniker for English pubs, which serve as meeting spaces in many communities.
“We really want to be that neighborhood gathering space where people come together,” Navarro said. “We see this as a way to give back to the community, and surround ourselves with the people we love every day.”
Reconnecting with the community is one of the main reasons Navarro and his wife decided to tackle the project in the first place.
The couple spent more than 17 years as managers at Lettuce Entertain You, which operates several Mall of America restaurants. It was a good job, but a big one and removed from the community they’ve called home since 2001, Navarro said.
Moving to George & the Dragon will be a huge lifestyle change for the couple.
Instead of 500 seats, there will now be 65. Instead of an interstate commute, they will travel, perhaps by bike, six blocks from their home to work. Their 8-year-old son, Paco, who goes to Burroughs Community School, will get a small library at the restaurant and may be found doing his homework there after school.
“Honestly, opening a restaurant has never been a dream of ours,” Navarro said. “But when the opportunity came up, it was too good to pass up. This situation was unique. It’s a huge change of pace, and that’s why we did this.”
The move will allow the couple to share their passion for food, too.
Describing themselves as “as foodie as it gets,” the Navarros say they will be offering a menu built on “pub classics and family favorites.”
Fish and chips, bangers and mash and macaroni and cheese make up the pub portion of the menu. Family recipes such as the “Asian Hangover,” a spiced pork shoulder with green beans and a fried egg,” and “Dragon’s Milk braised ribs” make up the family side. A recipe for chocolate cake from Stacy’s mom, “Grandma A,” will also be on the menu.
“A lot of places take normal food and make it fancy, we want to take normal food and make it great,” said Navarro, who will share time in the kitchen with Stacy, who will play the lead role.
The menu is also driven by a desire to be as welcoming as possible. Navarro says he hopes to avoid the “two-hour waits that go on at some restaurants,” and has built the space to feel like a pair of well-worn shoes.
Though it is new, the 1,800-square-foot space features a host of reclaimed wood and will feature local art that plays up the space’s whimsical namesake.
“The idea is to create a building that feels as if it’s been in the neighborhood for years,” Navarro said.
George & the Dragon’s return is one of several new signs of life for the retail node, which sits just southeast of Lake Harriet.
Zinnia Folk Arts, which had been in St. Louis Park, is opening in mid-May at 826 W. 50th St., the space that previously held Kurimay Interiors.
Patina, located just west of George & the Dragon, also re-opened in their rebuilt space last year. Patina owns the George & the Dragon space, and is looking for a third tenant to fill one remaining spot in the west corner of the rebuilt building.
Katie Curran, Patina’s office and property manager, said the company is meeting with potential tenants now, and that another restaurant is the most likely option for the space.
Customers have been happy to see the corner come back to life, she said.
“It’s been wonderful,” Curran said. “Everyone’s really, really excited.”
Reach Drew Kerr at