For sale: Uptown’s ‘cursed’ restaurant site

Apartments may be next for 2841 Hennepin, according to the property owner.

The owner of the former Piggy Bank Eatery & Music Hall property says he’s giving up on restaurants at 2841 Hennepin Ave., and expects to quickly sell the site for redevelopment. 

Stuart Chazin, who owns the property as part of 2841 Hennepin LLC, said the site may be under contract as soon as this week, likely for new apartments. Piggy Bank closed in November, and Chazin said he’s received multiple offers in recent weeks. He said he wanted to wait five to ten years before selling, but restaurants are not making enough money in Uptown.

“I kept getting offers, but I kept refusing them, because I didn’t want to sell it,” he said. “I don’t know what would have worked, seriously. … Live music possibly would have worked there.”

The closely watched site held five different restaurants in five years following Old Chicago’s long run. Old Chicago originally opened in the mid-90s, taking over a furniture wholesaler space, the Star Tribune reported at the time. Rocky Rococo operated there in the mid-80s, according to city data.

Chazin’s group acquired the site for $2 million in 2010, and Old Chicago’s departure in 2013 was “their call, not mine,” he said. 

Chazin said Kaskaid, the restaurant group behind Crave and Union Rooftop, held a long-term lease, and the company either partnered on restaurant concepts or subleased the space to other groups. They tried BoneYard Kitchen & Bar in 2014, Salsa a la Salsa in 2015, Game Sports Bar in 2016, Lotus in 2017 and Piggy Bank in 2018. News headlines and social media posts have called the location “cursed.”

BoneYard Chef Jason Bush, pictured in 2014.
Lorenzo Ariza pictured in 2015 at Salsa a la Salsa, now located at the Midtown Global Market.
Samantha Fox (l) and Meshika Shadows at GĀME Sports Bar, pictured in 2016.
Yoom Nguyen pictured in 2017 at Lotus Restaurant’s original Loring Park location, still in operation at 113 W. Grant St.

Marketing materials ask for $5,767,380 for the three-quarter acre site, highlighting its location next to the Uptown Transit Station and Midtown Greenway. The site is currently zoned as a Community Activity Center District or “C3A,” allowing four stories by right. Under the Minneapolis 2040 plan for growth, future zoning would allow heights of two to ten stories by right. The site is also part of a pedestrian-oriented overlay district, which comes with design guidelines to help the pedestrian experience. 

Paul Shanafelt, executive director of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, expressed surprise at the decision to sell. Two weeks earlier, the neighborhood group sought creative ideas for the space on social media. Responses included a dog-friendly brewery, or a marijuana dispensary, or anything that includes 20 stories of housing, or the return of Old Chicago. Whatever is to come, Shanafelt said, he hopes a developer engages with the community.

“This is such a unique site, and not just because it lost so many tenants over the course of the years. It’s just an incredible cross section of transit and communities,” Shanafelt said. “You have such a densely populated area, and I don’t think it’s really capitalized on the synergy around all that.”

 “Maybe it’s just not the spot for a restaurant,” said Jason Bush, who served as BoneYard chef and now works as a chef in Colorado. BoneYard suffered from competing visions as a southern restaurant and a DJ-driven Sunday Funday spot, he said.

“Maybe apartment buildings or putting more people there will give the other restaurants more people to actually serve,” he said. “It might actually be a good thing for the area.”

Restaurateur Lorenzo Ariza called the Hennepin Avenue site a “prize piece of real estate.” He’s seen this before. His original Salsa a la Salsa location on Nicollet closed in 2018 to make way for a new apartment building. (Ariza said he’s not willing to spend a half-million dollars to reopen as part of the new Nicollet development, and he’s very happy with Salsa a la Salsa’s current home at Midtown Global Market.) 

“People are trying to make the most out of their property,” he said. “All I hear from everybody around me is: ‘How expensive is rent going to be?’” 

City officials recently approved a new development just north of Piggy Bank’s parking lot. A development team involving Yellow Tree LLC and Perkins|Levin received Planning Commission approval in August to build 76 rental units. That project replaces three single-family buildings at 2824, 2828 and 2832 Girard Ave. S. with a six-story building and 43 parking spaces, featuring a semi-automated parking system.

Emily Kinnunen, who manages Bishops on Hennepin, visited all five of the short-lived restaurants. She was sad to see Piggy Bank’s vegan options and friendly workers go. It seems typical that a restaurant could become apartments, she said, thinking of the Arby’s development at 1116 W. Lake St.

“I’d be kind of bummed, but I wouldn’t be surprised either,” she said.

“Uptown has fundamentally changed over the years,” said Kip Clayton of Parasole Restaurant Holdings, a company that shuttered Libertine shortly before Calhoun Square changed hands. Clayton said Uptown is challenging for restaurants due to the city’s minimum wage law, high rents and the growing popularity of other areas like LynLake and the North Loop. But Parasole’s Chino Latino has survived by changing with the times, he said, adapting hours for Uptown’s smaller late-night business, managing costs and offering valet parking. 

Restaurateur Jason Jenny said that with the exception of the apartment sector, it seems Uptown is in a “slump.” His restaurant Stella’s Fish Cafe has survived with the help of a good food-to-liquor balance, a young entertainment crowd, a summer patio, a system to manage overhead costs and a helpful landlord. But it’s not easy, he said, and he’s hearing a consumer perception that Minneapolis is unsafe and seeing more growth in his suburban restaurant.

“The average restaurateur in Uptown is going to be challenged,” he said. 

Chazin said that given the rent he must charge, a restaurant can’t survive at 2841 Hennepin. (Property taxes in 2019 were $95,490.) Customers in the area seem to gravitate to bars and cheap food and alcohol, he said. Crime is also an issue, he said, and the city needs more police. The City Council required more lighting and cameras in the restaurant parking lot in 2018 following a shooting at The Lotus Uptown that hurt bystanders. 

Chazin said suburban customers are not coming to Uptown anymore, avoiding bad traffic and scarce parking. 

“It’s not a curse. It’s not the location,” Chazin said. “It’s the times in Uptown: Restaurants cannot make it.”