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Sneak Peek: Birch's on the Lake
By: | Posted: 01/18/2013
In the eternal war between fresh vegetables and rock-and-roll, who’d have thought that the veggies would win?
But it happened. I just got off the phone with Lynn Gordon, who founded the French Meadow Bakery and Café in 1985, and, yes, the rumors are true: She has a purchase agreement in hand to buy Minneapolis rock-and-roll bar legend the CC Club—the bar that opened soon after Prohibition ended, and eventually inspired the Replacements to write "Here Comes A Regular." Assuming all goes well at the closing, we’re going to have to chalk this up to gluten-free almond cake 1, telecasters and Premium 0 . . . Or are we? Will anything really change?
Gordon explained that this has been a long time coming. A really long time. Those of you intimate with South Minneapolis arcana will recall the small strip of parking lot just south of French Meadow, the parking lot owned by the CC Club, when it seemed like it should belong to French Meadow. There were years of boots, tow-trucks, and general misery. “It was a war,” remembers Gordon. “I have terrible stories about their booting my customers cars. We kept paying for boots. People were afraid to come here! Finally, about five years ago, Steve, my business partner, convinced them that they should lease the lot to us . . .” And the great macrobiotic-punk rock thaw began.
Not that Lynn Gordon had much time to appreciate it. Gordon was busy running the national side of her business, the bakery, and growing People’s Organic, and overseeing the establishment of French Meadow in various airports. (For those who have wondered, the way that works: The airport vendors who own the contracts with the airports, for instance, at the MSP airport, HMS Host, the vendors actually run the licensed restaurants, the owners of the restaurant just consult to establish the look and feel, and turn over their recipes. Later, the owners have a process whereby they can file official complaints if things aren’t done to their standards.) In 2006, Gordon sold the wholesale baking side of her business, French Meadow Bakery, to a big national firm, as part of that deal she had to work for them for several years—and lease her old name for her Minneapolis restaurant! Then, in January 2012, Gordon quit the national baking business and returned to her café full time, feeling it had gotten a little lost in the shuffle. Folks from Macalester College approached her about opening a French Meadow on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, in a building Macalester owns, and so she busied herself with that—and then a few weeks ago representatives from the CC Club put out feelers, wondering if she’d like to buy the CC Club.
And she did want to buy the CC Club, because she wanted that parking lot! “To me, that is the most valuable parking lot in Minneapolis,” Gordon says. “Could you imagine if we lost it to someone else?” Someone who owned a towing-and-booting company, for instance? Owning that parking lot also happened to dovetail with a dream Gordon has had, a dream of opening two new places.
Introducing Meadow Bar! And the Nord Tasting Room. Because guess what else happened when Gordon sold her wholesale bakery? She suddenly found herself with all sorts of square footage previously used for wholesale baking. As of this spring, that space is going to be repurposed into:
On the southwestern corner of the main French Meadow building, accessible from the south, formerly contested parking lot, there will be a new wine bar, seating about 60 people, and serving small plates. Gordon has purchased a glass wall, formerly part of a South Minneapolis church, and will have this put in between the existing seating in the southeast corner of the dining room, and the new wine bar. So nothing at French Meadow proper will change, it will still feel like a bakery day and night, but back through the glass wall: Wine bar!
Nord Tasting Room
To the north of the current French Meadow, between the CC Club and French Meadow, you may recall a loading dock. It was used for loading up bread trucks; the bread came from behind giant double height garage doors. Now, on the other side of those doors: An event space! For parties, for weddings, for whenever you need to host 20 to 125 people for a private event. History buffs will be interested to learn that the Nord used to be a horse livery stable and blacksmith, and that it and the CC Club share an underground steel door. Gordon says she's heard that, during Prohibition, this steel door was how beer was supplied to the CC Club. It went in through the horse stable, and came up behind the CC Club bar.
But now will this door be the portal for wheatgrass shots?
“My friend Laura, who’s a yoga instructor, sent me an e-mail,” Gordon said. “Her daughter, somehow, had heard about it, she said: Mom, tell her not to change a thing. She’ll be the villain of Minneapolis! So there was this assumption I would turn it into a wheatgrass bar or something. Or put wheatgrass in the beer. Or turn it vegan. I told Laura, if we do buy it, I’m not changing one little thing.”
You heard it here first. “I feel like I’m the curator of a piece of art! It’s such a work of art. It’s a cult, or a culture, it’s important. It’s not for me to tamper. It’s not for me to change. It helps that I’m so busy and I have my hands full. I don’t even have time to turn around or see my granddaughters, so I don’t have time to meddle. I met with the staff last night—I stood up and introduced myself. It started with a lot of crossed arms. I told them I felt like we had been the Hatfields and McCoys—we didn’t have much to do with each other, but now, here we are. But I can relate to what it means to love something, to have something dear to you, and I can promise you I value that. Everyone had thought we were closing it down! People had started to take souvenirs, and the staff was posting their résumés on Craigslist. But we’re not closing it down. We went around, and asked everyone what they wanted. There is one change they requested,” that the old CD-jukebox of local rock music be returned, and restored to its former glory. And another one: A tuna melt may be coming to the menu, as well as a daily hot dish. (That’s a classic casserole, to you out-of-towners.)
“In the end,” said Gordon, “I shared with them what drew me to food and nutrition,” namely, when her mother died when she was 15, and she became convinced she could help the world with better food. “I was a macrobiotic teacher for many years. Did you know I named my restaurant at macrobiotic summer camp? I shared with them that I don’t judge them. It’s true. I might have judged them before, when my agenda was that darn parking lot, and I didn’t give them a chance. But I’ve become the protector now. It’s amazing how we evolve. How the universe speaks to us. Now it’s clear that the universe is saying: Don’t get so full of yourself, don’t think you’re so high and mighty with the fresh and organic and local, because you might just find yourself the curator and guardian of a corner bar.”
French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, 2610 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-7855, frenchmeadowcafe.com
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.See bio
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