Sunday, August 12, 2007

South Lake Minnetonka Restaurant Scene: Healthy from a layman's perspective

When you look at the South Lake Minnetonka business climate, a sector that seems to be doing well is the restaurant industry. Just to let you know how un-qualified I am to comment on this, I am purely an observer / customer like most of you. I don't know alot about the innards of the restaurant industry, nor do I have access to any financials of local eateries.

According to The Ohio State University, the failure rate for independent restaurants after 3 years is 57%, and for franchises is 61%. That tells me that the odds are slightly against any restaurant who tries to make a go of it. And I would assume that you can look at how busy an establishment is, and assuming that more customers and a packed house are generally good, anecdotally estimate how a place is doing. I of course don't know the operating costs and other profit / loss factors, but I'm just assuming that busy = good.

That brings me to the South Lake restaurant scene. This is very unscientific and I will undoubtedly leave some good restaurants out, but I see the following restaurants that have opened in the past few years:
- Jake O'Connor's -- appears to be busy, was really packing them in during the winter
- Hazellewood Tap and Grille - has been busy most times I've been there, appears to have captured the neighborhood crowd
- Joey Nova's - seems to be a great addition to the area at its price point, not always packed but appears to do a robust takeout and delivery business
- Biella - for how pricey it is, I've been impressed with how full it seems to be. Can't argue with the food creativity and quality -- top notch.
- Big Bucks Roadhouse - haven't personally been there, but have heard good things
- 318 Cafe - not a new restaurant, but new ownership in recent years. There are always people in there, and getting named Best Neighborhood Eatery by Twin Cities Magazine was quite an honor

Then you have the ones that have left the area recently, which by my count are:
- Pizza Hut - A victim of (eventual) redevelopment, and not a huge loss
- Lakeshore Deli - Another victim of the same redevelopment, and I'd love to see them open up again. Very underrated place for a sandwich.
- Sidney's - Getting a little ways away from Lake Minnetonka, but I'm guessing lots of Deephaven / Greenwood / Excelsior / Tonka Bay / Shorewooders frequented it. By all accounts I've heard, it was more a factor of legal problems than lack of business, but that is all I know.

Of course, we don't want to slight the old standbys that seem to be doing just fine, like Maynards, Snuffys, and Beanhaven. But this post is more about which places have come and gone recently.

In a nutshell, I see a score of 6-3: 6 recent successes vs. 3 closures, and 2 of those were due to real estate redevelopment. Overall, I think there is a pretty healthy restaurant scene in the area.

I'm interested in readers thoughts on what else we need in the area. I have my running list of places that I think would do very well in Deephaven, Excelsior, Shorewood, or Tonka Bay -- I think they would be popular from the moment they opened their doors:
1. A good breakfast place. Sorry Hilltop, but I'd like to see an Original Pancake style place move in nearby. I think they would thrive. Beanhaven has great quality breakfasts, but is small and can fill up in an instant.
2. A good D'Amico-style deli. Rumor has it that a deli might open that would be run by and affiliated with Jake O'Connor's. Lets only hope. They seem to be a good restaurant and would probably do a nice job with a deli.
3. A comfort-food place like the Edina Grill or Highland Park Grill. I think they would pack them in. The niche would be a slight step down in cost and class from a Hazellewood but a step up from my envisioned D'Amico.

For the record, I'm not only endorsing the aforementioned chains expanding to our area. I'd love for an independent, unique place to open up as well. I list the chain examples above since people are familiar with them and can picture them easily.

Other thoughts? What other types of places do you think our area would support? I realize that in the case of Excelsior, parking is a limiting factor, but lets save that divisive topic for another post.


  1. Joey Nova's does well, but it basically fills a void that was left when Mike's Pizza closed, or whatever it is called.

    I, too, have heard that there'll be some sort of deli sandwich business as part of the Irish pub.

    Hazellewood fills a void. It was no secret a decent restaurant would do well there, I'm surprised it took so many years to get one.

    While there has been some growth in the restaurant business, I'm not that impressed by the overall success in the area. It's not exactly a dining mecca. It has a few nice places to eat and a few other options sprinkled in. I am a bit surprised, however, that Biella is making it. Not because it's a bad place, but because it's a nice restaurant in a mediocre location.

    And what's the obsession with eating outside? Occasionally it's a nice day for it, but most days it's too hot, humid or both. And eating outside in downtown Excelsior doesn't get me hot or bothered. Looking at fancy cars and beat up, loud old junkers while eating, not my idea of a good time!

    I am surprised that the 7/101 area isn't more prolific. I realize it's not a traffic haven, like Ridgedale, but it would seem like a logical place for more than two fast food restaurants, a Chinese restaurant and a deer kill hunter's delight. Old Chicago is the closest thing to an American restaurant around there, and it's not high on my priority list when it comes to restaurants.

  2. I think we need more chain restaurants. I don't mind that Maynard's offers something unique. Who doesn't like a walleye sandwich? But there's value in predictibility. I love places like Noodles and Co., Quiznos and Baker's Square. Excelsior isn't as unique or special as it thinks. Having a few notable places, other than McDonald's, would go a long way in town.