Tin Fish’s 14-year run as a popular seasonal restaurant at Lake Calhoun has come to an end as a new food vendor prepares to open at the lake’s refectory.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved a five-year lease with Lola’s Café to operate a restaurant, dubbed Lola’s on the Lake, at Calhoun, or Bde Make Ska. The proposal beat out 11 other vendors, including a new Tin Fish ownership group, to operate in the lake’s historic food pavilion.
“I know change can be hard for people but I think we will see a lot of positive come out of this,” said Park Board President Anita Tabb, whose District 4 includes the refectory and much of the lake.
Lola’s had competition from well-known restaurateurs like Andrew Zimmern, who proposed his Canteen concept, Travis Serbus of Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar and the Wyn65 food truck and Ann Kim of Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza and Young Joni, according to proposals shared with The Southwest Journal. Several local restaurant companies proposed new concepts, including teams with Eat Street Social, New Bohemia and Prospect Park’s Caspian Bistro.
Penny’s Coffee, which operates cafes in Linden Hills and downtown; Sprout Salad Company, which has three Twin Cities locations; and Market Bar-B-Que, a longtime downtown barbecue restaurant, proposed bringing their concepts to the lake.
Chicago-based Aloha Poke threw its name in the ring. The fish salad chain recently announced it would be expanding to several new metro areas nationwide.
Lola’s on the Lake will serve wings, salads, sandwiches, street tacos and seafood items like fish sticks and crab cakes. The proposed kid’s menu features hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken tenders.
Commissioners praised the creative business practices of founder and owner Louis King’s concept, which may bring additional kiosks around the lake to address long wait times and offer opportunities to dine in the park. The satellite locations would allow parkgoers to rent small tables, blankets and reusable bags for picnicking.
King and his 35-year-old family business has operated a Lola’s location at U.S. Bank Stadium and Lola’s Café at King’s Landing at the board’s Jim Lupient Water Park, in addition to concessions stands at festivals like Twin Cities Pride and SoundSet. Lola’s will be the first black-owned restaurant to operate at the lake.
The seasonal restaurant is expected to be open mid-April through mid-October. The lease begins on Jan. 1, 2018 and ends in 2023.
Tin Fish operated seasonally for 14 years at the lake. Original Tin Fish owners Sheff and Athena Priest operated another location of the seafood restaurant at Braemar Golf Course in Edina.
The Park Board offered them a 15-year contract late last year, but they declined. Three longtime employees responded to the board’s request for proposals with a plan to continue Tin Fish.
Lola’s joins several other park restaurants, including Lake Harriet’s Bread and Pickle, Lake Nokomis’ Sandcastle and Minnehaha Park’s Sea Salt Eatery. Similar to deals with those operators, the lease requires Lola’s to pay 12 percent of gross revenues of sales to the board and invest in improvements to its home, in this case the refectory.
The four concessionaires raised approximately $850,000 in revenue last year. Restaurants at Harriet, Nokomis and Minnehaha have invested nearly $2 million in improvements to their park facilities.
The Park Board is looking to raise approximately $2.2 million from the restaurant at the lake in order to pay for $900,000 in kitchen improvements and $1.3 million in restroom upgrades. King has proposed to tackle the improvements in three phases.
The refectory at Lake Calhoun was built in 1930 and has operated as a food pavilion since 1988. It is part of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, the most popular park destinations in the city with nearly 6 million visitors annually.
Owamni on track to open downtown in 2019
The Park Board is making progress on its next restaurant pavilion, this time a glass building built out among ruins along the downtown Minneapolis riverfront. The Water Works building is expected to be home to the first park restaurant open year-round.
Commissioners voted Nov. 29 to approve a letter of agreement with the Sioux Chef. The move formalizes the board’s partnership with chef Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, the team behind the indigenous food concept, which has a working title of Owamni: An Indigenous Kitchen. The name means “Place of Whirlpools” in Dakota and refers to St. Anthony Falls.
Along with the agreement, commissioners approved the schematic design of Water Works’ first phase, which will bring the pavilion to the riverfront between the Stone Arch Bridge and the Third Avenue Bridge. Crews have begun demolishing the Fuji Ya building, which will be partially salvaged to create the Water Works pavilion.
Minneapolis-based Damon Farber Landscape Architects and HGA Architects and Engineers are designing the project. The board expects to break ground on Water Works next fall to prepare it for a grand opening in 2019.