"The restaurant business is such an easy, simple way to get rich fast," said no one. Ever. Lest you think it’s all wine sampling and eating gloriously carbtastic family meals for free, here’s some news that gives you a little insight into the craziness, and might make you pause on your quest to find a lease and open that tuna poke bar.
Erik Forsberg, who owns Devil’s Advocate, was told over a year ago that he would have to leave the building because it was being redeveloped. While he’d always known it was a likelihood, he was given a few months by his landlord. Of course this happened just as DA was really finally hitting its stride and making money. He started looking frantically around, even looking out of state, and found very little second generation spaces (not new construction) that would work for him. Meanwhile, the landlord’s plans were delayed and he found himself with a series of extensions, in what has to become the longest Minnesota goodbye. “It’s kinda like living under the Dread Pirate Roberts: Good night DA, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning,” jokes Forsberg. DA is still currently living on borrowed time, eeking forward and cash-flowing, awaiting news of development. Or not.
And here’s a weird hook: if the building actually does get developed, and there exists retail space on the ground level, DA’s lease just gets put on hold during construction, as he has right of first refusal for the space…on his former lease terms, which are well below what new construction in the downtown area would go for. So, why would he jump ship just yet, and vacate that potentially awesome deal?
And of course, then he found a space—the former Hubert’s, by the former dome.
Well actually, Hubert’s found him. The ownership group was looking for someone local to bring something special and craft-beer focused to the corner. Forsberg has come up with a very cool concept: the spot (which is in the shadow of the new Viking’s stadium) will be known as Erik The Red and will serve craft beer and a very interesting kind of menu…Northern Southern Smokehouse. Right?! “When you think about it, the smoking and curing traditions of the South are not far from the smoking and curing traditions of the North. And barbecue is really regional, you know? Memphis is different from the Carolinas which is wholly different from Texas, so why can't we be the next regional designation? Minnesota BBQ, with smoked meats and pickled things that come from our Nordic traditions which are already based in smoked meats and pickled things,” Forsberg said—a.k.a. how the Vikings survived and conquered while creating the world of trade. Forsberg is messing around with rubs and sauces that would include juniper berries and other regional ingredients. All of it would remain humble and accessible, as the place wants to be an every day kind of joint. Construction is starting soon and he hopes to be open this summer.
Meanwhile, as all the plates are spinning, Forsberg has a purchase agreement in place for Dan Kelly’s Pub which should change hands from Matty O’Reilly and Rick Guntzel to Forsberg in mid-May. O’Reilly told me, “We are so happy to be selling to Erik, he’s a great guy and made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. We’ve been waiting for the Affordable Care Act details to unfold over the course of a few years now, we have been patient to see if it made sense to grow, hold steady, or reduce the size of our company. From what we’ve learned, we’ll be able to manage a much more profitable company if we stay under 50 employees (thus not “qualifying” for the penalty). The alternative course of action would be to attempt to basically triple the size of our company, which just wasn’t in the cards for our group at this time. We are a small company and act as one. Winning the airport bid (for a Republic) also played a part in this decision. Because of the licensing agreement nature of that deal it just came down to math, logic and economics: we remain more profitable by reducing our exposure and staying small, and we’re pretty cool with that. We aren’t short on ideas to grow, but we feel right now is not the best time.” So the go-big-or-go-home mantra is not one they hold to, a sentiment echoed by other restaurateurs who are leery of the economic impact of looming legislation.
Of course Forsberg thinks that it could become a Devil’s Advocate if he needs it to, but for the here and now, he intends to keep Dan Kelly’s as it is, with the same employees and Irish focus, though he’ll put his stamp on it. He wants to give the space a little bit of a brightening up, and the city has granted them the patio area in between the neighboring buildings, which should open as soon as it’s warm enough. “I’ve been working in the downtown area long enough to know that lunchers either grab-n-go to take it back to their desk, or plan to escape and hang out, so you have to have something craveable to get them in the door. We’re working on that," Forsberg said.
So right now it’s like a cliffhanger: Will Devil’s Advocate close and then reopen in a shiny new downtown space? Will it close at all? Will Dan Kelly’s eventually become Devil’s Advocate if it does? Will Erik the Red define Northern smokehouse barbecue for a generation of football fans? Or will Forsberg lose his mind and go be a hermit in a cave somewhere? As they say: stay tuned.