Matty O’Reilly and Rick Guntzel are parking in St. Paul. It’s a brilliant move.
Have you seen that clutch of condos go up along the river off of Shepard Road in St. Paul? Doesn’t it look like you could live there? There’s a beautiful path for running and biking, tree-lined roads, and a hop-skip adjacency to downtown. There’s also a gorgeous and historic empty park building right on the river, known as City House.
For a few years, people have been looking at it thinking it could be the next big seasonal like Sea Salt or Sandcastle. But here’s the problem: it’s on a flood plain. The site has flooded six times in the past 50 years or so. Hard to sink a bunch of money into building a kitchen on the spot only to have to scrap it if the river rises.
But what if, when the river rises, you could just drive your kitchen away from the waves?
Red River Kitchen at City House will be able to do exactly that. The RRK food truck will be the kitchen for the space, parking on the side of the building for the season and acting as the hotline for all the food. If the water starts rising, they'll just turn a key and drive it up the hill.
“These old buildings need to be saved and used. We have a track record with Republic, even Dan Kelly’s, of finding old and underused spaces and helping them become the best they can be," O’Reilly told me in the space. “It’s going to be so cool to have people come in and hang out here and enjoy the river, you can just sit and watch the barges and boats move along.”
The new spot will be counter service only, you’ll order all food and drink from the counter that they’ll build into the back of the building. You won’t order from the food truck itself, it will be too busy handling the cooking. You’ll get your order number and find a seat, they’ll bring the food out to you.
Speaking of the food, here’s some news: chef JD Fratzke (of The Strip Club Meat & Fish and Saint Dinette) will be working on the project with O’Reilly, helping out with the expanded menu and operations for the seasonal endeavor that will be open roughly from May through October. They’re looking at creating easy but interesting park fare: chips and guac, beer cheese nachos, sweet potato fritters with red chile sauce and blue cheese, steak salad, caprese salad, a smokin’ bowl of beef brisket with Szechuan BBQ sauce, maybe some crab noodles in a curry broth, a round of sandwiches and burgers that might bring the neighborhood a Cubano, Tuna Melt, Pork Schnitzel roll, a bison cheeseburger and the like.
There’s also a full liquor license at this location, so you’ll find plenty of the craft beer you’ve come to expect from the owners of Republic, plus wine and kegged cocktails. “I’ve actually managed to engineer a zero-waste beverage program. Everything is coming from kegs, there are no single service bottles or plastics. Wine, beer, cider, NA cocktails will all come from kegs and be served in glass containers, we won’t have any to-go cups."
The bones of the old sack house are solid, the brick and iron work treatments have a great patina. Besides constructing a counter and installing a computer system, they’ll bring in some tables and chairs, string some cool lighting up, hang some plants, and that’s about it. The space is rough and real and there’s no point in tarting it up because: flood.
They’re really hoping that the casual space will appeal to the neighborhood dwellers and path users most. Even while we stood there on a Wednesday around 1pm, at least 12 people walked through the space looking at the river and roughly 20 more rode/walked/ran by. “We’re hoping to get yoga going on here in the mornings. There will be enough space to have certain events that can happen while diners are still able to pop in.”
What’s exciting to me is that this is already a proven concept, Red River Kitchen has been rolling in the streets for three years, feeding people at breweries, farmers markets and events. The space they’re bringing back to life will be a great addition to the waterfront, they’ve already booked a beer fest in the space and look forward to more things happening until the weather shuts them down. Fingers crossed—if all goes according to plan, the spot will be open by August 1 to get your end of summer river gazing in.