( Blogger’s Note: Every Friday an excerpt from the soon-to- be published book Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears on this blog.)By the time Rob Dick walked out the front door of Crocus Hill I had my coat on and was locking up the back of the store. I didn’t realize it at the time but i was in the middle of bottom line expansion. Increase your sales and volume by adding another location and everything looks fine- for a while. That’s how chains are built.
"Kranston, get your coat. We are going to look at our next store."
"Are you crazy? We can´t afford this one. Don´t be ridiculous." She said.
"We can´t afford to not take it over. Let´s go."
I happened upon The Cottagewood General Store two years earlier while driving around Lake Minnetonka while hunting for a boat. Then the store was in disrepair and the neighborhood, although cute, was hardly a place that I thought I would ever want to live in. New York was still flowing in my blood then and the thought of being lakeside never crossed my mind. I never shared the first Cottagewood experience with Kranston. She would have thought I had lost my mind — earlier.
The problems at Crocus Hill were insurmountable. No parking. A minimal selection. And, it was not a full service grocery store. Along with that the customers were not yet gourmet-savvy. That trend had not spread to the Twin Cities, although it was on its way, and wouldn´t for at least another five years. No matter how successful we became we couldn´t continue to market, create, and cater in a world of Hamilton Beach Roasting pans. We needed a commercial kitchen yet the zoning regulations of S. Paul prohibited that due to the lack of parking spaces.
On the other hand, at the other shore, a kitchen sat in wait. Cottagewood had a brand new commercial kitchen. And, Crocus Hill had beautiful produce that wasn´t selling as quickly as it should. The combination seemed like a perfect marriage to me.
A new adventure. We were going further west yet, although only 29 miles, it seemed like it took forever in the rush hour traffic that crept by the new Mall of America construction site. We were experiencing, first hand, the culinary dichotomy that has swept the country and didn´t realize it at the time. Small single unit operator or large chain? That would eventually be the question.
One hour after we left St. Paul we sat in front of a gourmet gem fantasizing how we would negotiate to take over The Cottagewood General Store.
Rob was a preservationist. His restorational vision and ability was paramount. Our taste levels were similar and we enjoyed bringing the past into the present.
As we looked through the windows, around the patio and climbed the stairs to peek in through the door of the apartment above the store, the characteristics we saw made it apparent the store was a century old. Rob had refurbished the old and paired it with the new to maintain the stores integrity and character but still allow it function as a commercial venture. What once was a piece-meal bit of disrepair selling hot dogs and stale buns had been reborn as the perfect setting for casually elegant gourmet. A lakeside culinary adventure. If The Crocus Hill Market was a nicely restored 1951 Ford Convertible, The Cottagewood General Store was a 1958 Gull Wing Mercedes Benz limited edition model.
It´s another piece of Minnesota history that seduced me and will always hold a piece of my heart.
It was a first love. Wood has always been my preference in a building material. Rob refinished a lot of it.
While Kranston and I used smoke and mirrors to remake Crocus Hill, Rob used craftsmanship and spared no expense to rebuild Cottagewood. His remodel job was perfect. But it was the kitchen that grabbed our souls. Having never been in the restaurant business, Rob went to DeLuca Restaurant supply and told him he needed a kitchen for his space. Three days later the plans had been drawn, the equipment list finalized, and the stainless steel kitchen was on its way to Deephaven. Coolers, stoves, countertops, stock pot burners, slicers, dicers, and other accoutrements that would have made Mario Batali proud showed up at the back door. Rob had over bought. It was perfect. And, let´s not forget the new septic tank that had to be installed to take care of all the customers that would frequent the deli in the middle of the neighborhood.
Fate. Pre destination. Happenstance. This package had it all. And we would soon learn that there was dissention in the neighborhood about the stores new future. We couldn´t wait.