You can get a serious crawfish po’ boy at Minnehaha Falls. At Lake Calhoun, you can get a fresh, flaky battered fish sandwich that even coastal dwellers would crave. The seasonal restaurants at both Minneapolis parks, Sea Salt and Tin Fish respectively, have become destinations separate from the charms of the parks themselves.
But, except for a nostalgic cone of peppermint bonbon or a bag of popcorn, nobody goes to Lake Harriet for the food.
That should change around Memorial Day of next year.
This afternoon the Minneapolis Park Board staff put forth a proposal to grant the new concession contract at Lake Harriet to the team who creates the food at Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl, and Red Stag. The full board will vote next week.
The new restaurant will be called Bread & Pickle, with an emphasis on casual, local food, including brats, grass-fed beef burgers, and whole-grain salads. The proposed menu, which will change seasonally, has everything priced at $7 or less.
“We heard loud and clear the heritage of Lake Harriet as a picnic spot and wanted to respect that,” said Kim Bartmann, founder and manager, along with her sister Kari Bartmann, of Barbette (shown below), BLB, and Red Stag. “We’re just really passionate about local foods and all the things that surround that. The park is a very public place. We want to continue to serve these foods at an affordable price: It’s for everyone and not just customers at high-end restaurants…. Bryant-Lake Bowl has been serving grass-fed burgers for years and we want to be able to do that now at Lake Harriet.”
What Bartmann (pictured in a file photo above right) is really excited about, she says, is her new plan to offer European-style picnic baskets, complete with a blanket from the local company Spruce Linens. Customers will be able to order online, choosing among breads, cheeses, and sweets, and pick up the basket in the park.
The early-morning walkers who fill path around Lake Harriet while the rest of the city sleeps may also be excited to hear that Bread & Pickle will serve a full breakfast menu, including egg sandwiches, granola, yogurt, and fruit — a first for Minneapolis parks.
But perhaps the most innovative thing about the menu is what Bread & Pickle won’t be selling. Under beverages, the proposed menu reads, “Minneapolis tap water (it’s free, look to your left).” That’s right: a concession stand that won’t sell bottled water. Instead, inexpensive refillable metal containers will be for sale.
“At first it made me nervous that she said she wasn’t going to sell bottled water. But then I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a creative, fun idea,’” said Don Siggelkow, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s general manager. “That’s what makes it special and that’s what we want to offer park users — something fun, just like the other two operators [Sea Salt and Tin Fish]. People love them.”
The Bartmanns’ proposal projects a meaningful increase over previous revenues, at an estimated $5.6 million over the next five years, of which the Park Board would take 12 percent of the first million dollars annually and 14 percent of anything over $1 million.
Bread & Pickle beat out 10 other proposals for the Harriet spot, including the current vendor as well as high-powered Twin Cities restaurateurs Larry D’Amico, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, Lowell Pickett of the Dakota, Supenn Harrison of Sawatdee, and others. A citizens’ advisory committee worked with the Park Board for 18 months to assess the needs of the concession spot, formulate a request for proposals, and rate the proposals submitted.
Siggelkow described the process as unique to the neighborhood, but a logical evolution of a new focus on concessions that began 10 years ago. “I came to the Park Board to help generate more income,” he said. “We started outsourcing food concessions in 2001 when I decided we just weren’t that good at food service and never would be.” Tin Fish took over concessions at Lake Calhoun in 2004 and Sea Salt moved in at Minnehaha Falls a year later. “I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams thought they would be as successful as they are. And now we want to circle back to Lake Harriet and find a vendor that meets the needs of that area.”
About Bread & Pickle, Siggelkow said, “There wasn’t anything in the proposal that the citizens’ advisory committee and the Park Board staff didn’t like.”
While some of the proposals included plans to expand the tiny existing kitchen into the breezeway of the concessions building — the citizens’ advisory committee recommended against expanding the footprint of the building or building anything new — Bartmann proposes to live with the space for a year before making any changes.
“We think we’re in a unique position to deal with that,” she said. “The kitchen in the Bryant-Lake Bowl [above] is so tiny you need a magnifying glass. We think we can make that space more efficient and we have some offsite support, using our other locations.”
Unlike several of the other proposals, the Bartmanns did not include alcohol sales in future revenue projections. While both Sea Salt and Tin Fish have liquor licenses — and Siggelkow said there have never been any problems with that — the Park Board would prefer that vendors first establish themselves before applying for a liquor license.
What’s next in food at Minneapolis Parks? Siggelkow has set his sights on Lake Nokomis. If he has his way, look for another tasty announcement around this time next year.
The writer of this story’s husband was part of the citizens’ advisory committee for this project.