Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Community Organizing By Restaurant Ownership

Note: This a very early draft based on one interview. There is at least one other session to follow. This story is presented in response to Mary Turck’s challenge to find positive north Minneapolis Stories

Also: I revised my earlier story on the Minneapolis Center for Photography. I replaced the earlier version. Paul Bauer

Lead 1:
Mick and Kris Brogan have operated their Italian restaurant in the Victory Neighborhood of North Minneapolis for 3 years now. The other day I visited Mick at the restaurant and asked him, why with all the bad news we hear about the area, they chose North Minneapolis to locate their restaurant. “It was an accident. Kris needed a new condenser for her car air conditioner and somebody recommended an auto repair shop on the north side. When we brought the car in we noticed the place across the street was available to lease.”

Lead 2:
When Mick Brogan opened Papa’s Pizza in the Victory Neighborhood of North Minneapolis friends asked him why he would want to have a restaurant in a high crime area like north Minneapolis. When I visited Papa’s, earlier this week, he told me that crime in North Minneapolis is no worse then anyplace else. “For two years I was the night manager at the Embers on 26th and Hennepin on the south side and I made more arrests then the police did.”

Lead 3: When Mick and Kris Brogan opened their Italian restaurant in the Victory Neighborhood of north Minneapolis it culminated a 10 year search for the right place to fulfill a dream of Mick’s to own his own restaurant. When I asked Mick why they selected a site on the north side Mick said, “Because we couldn’t fine a good location on the south side.”

Papa’s has a small compact dining room with 16 tables and soft lighting from a lamp suspended over each table. As I visited with Brogan the sound system played ballads from the 50’s and 60’s with the recognizable voices of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin. They have a beer and wine license and a menu with a variety of pizza, pasta dishes and salads. I suspect the cafĂ©, located on a corner, in a residential neighborhood with walls covered by album covers, posters and photographs memorializing the life of Frank Sinatra is reminiscent of cafes in Brogan’s home town of Trenton New Jersey.

Mick and Kris Brogan moved to Minnesota from Trenton 25 years ago to find a better place to send their kids to school. Mick started to look for work in the restaurant business, while Kris became involved in community development and real estate. After a few years working for food service corporations as a restaurant manager, including several years running four restaurants in the IDS center owned by Woolworths, Mick decided he would be happier owning his own place. That started a 10 year journey which finally ended when He and Kris opened Papa’s Pizza on 44th and Thomas in North Minneapolis’ Victory Neighborhood in June of 2005. (The Victory neighborhood is located in the north Minneapolis west of Penn and Newton avenues, east of Xerxes Avenue, between Dowling Avenue on the south and the Humboldt Industrial Area on the north.) Even after they stumbled on to the North side site it still took two years before they were able to work out a lease and navigate City approvals and licensing processes.

Often what comes to mind when people think of North Minneapolis are dangerous gang activity, a high crime area, drive by shootings and home foreclosures. I asked Brogan if those perceptions influenced their decision to open Papa’s? “What we found,” said Brogan, was a neighborhood that was changing. There are younger families moving into the area, because the housing prices are lower and the quality of housing is high."

The Brogans did some research and found that the neighborhood wanted a restaurant, particularly and Italian restaurant. “I’m Irish, but my step grandmother was Italian,” Brogan said.

Brogan acknowledged higher then normal foreclosures and some crime and vandalism. “We don’t see crime as a big issue. We have some petty crime like all neighborhoods. A few years ago we had big problems with graffiti but after one big hit we organized a group a started to remove the graffiti within a few hours of discovering it. Since then we haven’t had graffiti."

What Brogan sees is a neighborhood that is largely safe, stable and diverse and economical. “The houses are smaller, we have a mix of white, Asians and African Americans and it is an inexpensive place to live.” (According to the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood profile the neighborhood is 70% white, 15% Black, 5% Asian and 2% Hispanic)

Yet even with their positive research, actions and attitude the Brogan’s have been disappointed with patronage from the immediate neighborhood. “People in this area -because there hasn’t been much up here- have a mentality of driving to the suburbs for shopping. So when people eat out they go elsewhere.” Said Brogan. But they are doing things to generate more neighborhood awareness and business. The Papa’s Pizza Web site has links to arts and education, businesses, local publications and community organizations representing all the neighborhoods in North Minneapolis. Kris Brogan chairs the Community Livability Committee that meets monthly at Papa’s. They have come along way with the neighborhood. When they opened the restaurant people were suspicious because the Brogan’s lived in South Minneapolis. Some people even believed that when a couple of businesses nearby closed –a barber who retired and an upholsterer who relocated- that Brogan had driven them out of the neighborhood.

Since opening in June of 2005 the business has grown steadily. “I still haven’t generated a salary for myself” said Brogan, “My wife supports me and all extra cash from the restaurant goes back into the business.” Last summer Brogans expanded by leasing the store front next door where they added a deli bar. Was opening a restaurant in North Minneapolis worth the effort? “It was hard to get started but it's growing and Kris and I have started looking for a house in north Minneapolis.”

1 comment:

Twin Cities Daily Planet said...

This looks pretty close to a final draft -- is the note at the top still applicable ("waiting for a second interview")?