St. Paul leaders applaud as Como Park eatery cooks
Updated: 5:49 p.m. | Posted: 3:22 p.m.
A year after one of the biggest legal settlements in St. Paul history, the city says the battle over a restaurant at Como Pavilion is paying off.
The city on Tuesday released sales numbers for Como Dockside, the new restaurant, bar and event center that replaced the Black Bear Crossings coffee shop in the historic pavilion beside Como Lake. The Dockside owners say the place brought in more than $1 million in sales since it opened in May.
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"The restaurant was built out to serve maybe 75 people (daily) and we were doing maybe 300 or more. We were just overwhelmed," said Dockside owner Jon Oulman. He also runs the Amsterdam Bar and Hall downtown and the 331 Club in Minneapolis.
Oulman won the bid to take over the pavilion after a historic and expensive legal battle between the city and the previous tenant.
David Glass ran his Black Bear Crossings coffee shop out of the pavilion for 14 years. The city refused to extend its five-year lease, despite a renewal option written into the contract.
The fight ended with the city paying an $800,000 settlement last year. It was the third largest legal settlement ever in St. Paul, and earned criticism for city officials, including City Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who pushed for the change.
"To me the numbers show that in spite of the lawsuit, St. Paul will benefit both financially and through this newly activated public space," Brendmoen said.
The city says it projects more than $200,000 in revenue sharing from Dockside next year based on this year's sales, compared to $20,000 the city earned from Black Bear Crossings in 2014. Dockside has also made several hundred thousand dollars of improvements to the building.
Glass, who is challenging Brendmoen's re-election to the Ward 5 council seat this fall, conceded the sales represented "a nice chunk of change."
"But I wasn't in the bar business. I was in the community building business," Glass said. "They can spin any kind of story they want, this close to the elections, but the fact of the matter remains the city broke a contract with a minority business ... It was the wrong thing to do, they know it and I know it."
Glass is Ojibwe and his shop made reference to his and Minnesota's Native American history.
Oulman, who runs Dockside, said this year's sales so far represent the "high season" of recreation on the lake. He expects the traffic will taper with colder weather.
Next year, Oulman hopes to add a second kitchen among other improvements. The crush of customers kept Dockside from building out a full concession operation or begin catering services at the pavilion, Oulman said.
"We've been so busy that we wound up hiring and training 79 people this summer. It was awesome."
Mayor Chris Coleman says the Dockside's success shows partnerships with restaurants and bars might be worth a look in other city parks.
"We certainly have some other opportunities," Coleman said. "We have the buildings down by the river at the Upper Landing that certainly could be used in a similar fashion, maybe there's some opportunities that we'll explore."