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Summer on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue – Southside Pride

Owasso Guitars at Twin Cities Guitar Show, 2016

BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

Before the pandemic, there were a lot more restaurants on Grand Avenue. Grand Cafe, Dixie’s on Grand, Saji-Ya, Emmett’s Public House, Grand Catch: all have closed since 2020. One restaurant/bar that closed, and then reopened (twice!) under new management, is Billy’s on Grand. Now Billy’s is at the center of a controversy in the neighborhood that may impact its ability to get its own liquor license. (Since the second re-opening, in May of 2021, under the management of two experienced managers, Wes Spearman and Chuck Gilbert, the business has been “borrowing” the liquor license of RJMP Group, who managed the first re-opening in 2020, but lasted only a few months, partly due to COVID.)

As we go to press, the two current managers are facing a mid-August hearing that will determine whether the borrowed liquor license may be revoked, as well as whether they have to pay a $1,000 fine imposed for alleged license violations and other safety concerns. Billy’s makes a case that they are being blamed for crimes that didn’t happen, or that did happen but not on their premises and unrelated to their business.

Among neighbors, they have both friends and opposition. Billy’s on Grand’s customers are largely African American. “Some of the neighbors are proactively working with us, others think we’re the worst thing. Anything on Grand Avenue involving a person of color gets associated with us,” said Gilbert. “The bottom line,” said Spearman, “is it’s a Black crowd, and that’s new to the neighborhood.”

The Billy’s kerfuffle is not the only controversy brought about by change. There was a time when Grand Avenue was known as a place where you could have something close to big city sophistication, but with affordable rental housing. Rents have been rising way too fast everywhere, and there is no exemption for Grand Avenue. New housing developments are almost always controversial, but Kenton House, currently under construction at 695 Grand Ave., is getting more than its share. The website for the development unabashedly states that it will be “the only luxury apartment destination along Grand Ave.”

Kenton House under construction

The site was previously occupied by three very popular restaurants: Dixie’s on Grand, Emmett’s Public House and Saji-Ya. The new housing complex will be a five-story building with 80 units of “luxury” housing – market rate rentals. Two of the temporarily closed restaurants, Saji-Ya and Emmett’s Public House, will be reborn as the ground floor commercial tenants, along with two more to be announced. Although “tenants” is not really the right word here, since it is the owner of Emmett’s (and landlord to Saji-Ya), Peter Kenefick, who owns the site and is funding the development, along with west metro developer Reuter Walton.

Most in the Summit Hill neighborhood group have never really liked this idea. However, they did not have a big enough majority or a strong enough voice to prevent the approval of the Planning Commission. In July 2021, the commission voted 9-1 to support a conditional use permit and three zoning variances related to the proposed redevelopment of the Dixie’s on Grand lot into a five-story residential and commercial building,” according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Permission having been granted, construction has now begun and is moving along, but the controversy is unabated. The main reasons for opposition include: the height (one of the zoning variances), which neighbors say will block light and views; the density, which many fear will attract more traffic and crime; and the elusive gentrification factor.

Even with the losses, there are plenty of interesting restaurants along Grand Avenue, including a couple of new ones. One of the newest, just opened this summer, is Em Que Viet, at 1332 Grand Ave., an extension of the small, family-owned Que Viet chain, famous for its State Fair egg rolls. “Em” means “little sister” in Vietnamese. Their menu is similar to other Que Viets, with all your favorites. They also have a great list of zero-ABV cocktails.

Souffle pancakes with Hmong accessories for Hmong American Day at Thirty-Six Cafe

Another Grand Avenue restaurant with southeast Asian influences is the Thirty-Six Cafe at 949 Grand Ave. Owner Macy Lee, a Hmong American, was inspired by her 2017 trip to Thailand, where she had honey toast, to open a cafe featuring sweet delicacies such as that and souffle pancakes, along with coffee and tea drinks, smoothies, and other casual and fun breakfast/brunch fare. Lee named her cafe for the age she was when it opened in 2019.

Two restaurants farther to the east on Grand Avenue, one a small casual chain, the other quite fancy, are inspired by the dining culture of Italy. The fancy one is Hyacinth. There are a lot of fancy things there but one I’ll highlight is the option of “Amari” in place of dessert. Amari (bitters in Italian) are special dark, low ABV, bitter liqueurs typically consumed after dinner to aid digestion. How very civilized!

The casual chain restaurant is Punch Pizza. This is exactly the kind of pizza place I love – no gimmicks, and looking not to Milwaukee or even Chicago for inspiration, but to Naples, and maybe a little bit to Sicily. They’re all about the pizza – only one dessert on the menu, no pasta or hoagies. They don’t deliver, apparently, but for an extra $20 you can get an impressive “pizza steel” with your order that allows you to professionally reheat your pizza at home.

Apart from restaurants, Grand Avenue has some of the most interesting shopping options in the Twin Cities. One that stands out is Owasso Guitar Co. (OGC), at 407 Grand Ave. Opened in 2012, it embodies traditional artisanal values by building acoustic guitars by hand. They have some stock models, or they can design and build a custom guitar to the artist’s specifications. Check out their website, especially the page on varieties of “tonewoods” used to make guitars.

If OGC can build tradition in just 10 years, what can a company like George’s Shoe, Leather, and Hockey Repair do in 117 years? Their current business grew out of a custom boot making shop that started in Lebanon in 1905 by family patriarch Joseph George.  The George family tradition of craftsmanship is now in its fourth generation, with a network of family-owned shoe repair shops in various parts of the Twin Cities. The George’s Shoe, Leather, and Hockey Repair store on Grand Avenue continues in that tradition, as well as branching out into repairing hockey gear.

In the 1970s, Jerry George expanded his shoe business to include sports equipment repair, working with everyone from kids’ teams to professional athletes to Hollywood film productions. Their website tells the story: “When the producer of ‘Mighty Ducks II’ needed a genuine skate repair shop … Jerry George moved his entire shop to a sound stage in Minneapolis for three weeks of filming and generously acted as a technical advisor.” These days, George’s repairs hockey equipment nationally for professional NHL teams and individuals—both in their brick-and-mortar storefront on Grand Avenue and via their mail-in services.

Blackwing pencils for stationery enthusiasts at Next Chapter

Next Chapter Booksellers represents a case where the tradition is carried on but the ownership changes hands. The current name is owned by Nicholas Ballas, but the shop is still in the location of its predecessor (Common Good Books) at 38 Snelling Ave., just off the Macalester College campus. You can shop in person at Next Chapter for new fiction, nonfiction and poetry, as well as book-adjacent items such as fancy stationery, including the esteemed Blackwing pencils to go with your Moleskine notebook. Their book inventory is also available from their online shopping site for pickup, delivery or shipping. See their website for news of readings, book clubs and other hosted events.

We’ll finish up our 2022 survey of Grand Avenue with Golden Fig Fine Foods, a shop so iconic some people go to Grand Avenue only to shop there. Opened in 2006 by Laurie McCann Crowell, the shop nearly doubled in size in 2017 and is now a big draw for St. Paul. You can shop online, but only a small selection of the items available in the store can be purchased online, as the store itself has many options like fresh produce and deli items.

Golden Fig spice blends

A unique offering at Golden Fig, apart from the fact that literally everything in the store is produced in the U.S. and a huge majority in the upper Midwest, is Golden Fig’s own-label products, which include herb and spice blends, fancy salts and peppers, dip mixes, cocoa mixes, flavored sugars and infused vinegars. The Golden Fig also participates in the St. Paul Farmers Market and is a drop-site for a dairy CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).


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John Cena Legacy Championship Collector’s Title Belt Now Available for Pre-Order at WWE Shop

WWEShop.com has a new John Cena Legacy Championship Collector’s Title Belt that’s now available for preorder. And yes, it’s actually called a “Title Belt” on the website.

Fans can purchase their own for the cost of $999.99. It’s expected to ship starting Friday, September 23. Here are the title details from WWE Shop:

Product ID: 4997093
Material: 100% Zinc Alloy – Plate; 100% Leather – Strap
Title belt weighs approx. 6.17 lbs.
1st side plate measures approx. 4.5” x 4.5”
Main plate measures approx. 10.25” x 10.25”
2nd side plate measures approx. 3.875” x 3.875”
Snap fasteners
16 Gems represent John Cena’s 16 WWE World Championships
Spinning front plate reminiscent of John Cena’s custom championships over the years
Box measures approx. 18.687” x 10.687” x 12.75” (without handle) and weighs approx. 21.164lb (with title belt)
Includes exclusive sweatband set (100% Cotton), rally towel (100% Cotton) and box (100% MDF; 100% Metal Hardware)
Suitable for waist sizes up to 46”
Towel measures approx. 17” x 12”
Strap measures approx. 51.188” x 11.625”
Imported
Brand: WWE Authentic

Celebrate 20 years since the debut of one of the most legendary figures in all of the WWE by grabbing this John Cena Legacy Championship Collector’s Title Belt, including an exclusive rally towel and sweatband set. The gems in the spinning plate represent the 16 World Championship titles that Cena gained during his time dominating the WWE. Many of the graphics of the belt pay homage to iconic career moments, such as “U Can’t C Me.” Any true fan of “The Doctor Of Thuganomics” will have this piece proudly displayed in their fan cave.




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Show for sports collectibles and memorabilia hosted in Bangor

BANGOR, Maine — Sports fans and enthusiasts gathered Saturday at the Elks Lodge in Bangor for a daylong sports collectibles and memorabilia show. 

The event kicked off at 9 a.m. and wrapped up around 3 p.m.

Dan Parks is the organizer of the event. He said Saturday’s event was the biggest show they’ve had since starting back up in February. 

The shows are held every two months at the Elks Lodge and give sports lovers a chance to sell and trade their cards and other collectible items.

Parks said trading cards seem to be rising in popularity again in recent years. 

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, we saw kind of like a dying out of it. The card companies kind of mass-produced a lot of stuff, so there was a little bit less interest. We went through this time period where there really wasn’t much of an interest and over the last two years, three years we’ve really seen a resurgence of the collectibles hobby,” Parks said. 

Parks said the next collectibles show will be held in October.


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JJ Watt Responds to Fan Selling Merchandise to Pay for Funeral

This is why we love sports.

NFL star JJ Watt recently saw that a fan in Houston was selling some of her merchandise to help pay for her grandfather’s funeral and that is when he stepped in.

The Arizona Cardinals star, who once played for the Houston Texans, responded to a woman’s Tweet and told her to not sell anything.

He would go on to say that he would help cover her family member’s funeral expenses.

Since the story and Tweets surfaced, some on social media are questioning the woman’s story. There are allegations that suggest that the woman may be formulating a scam.

We will dive into that after we acknowledge what the NFL star was willing to do upon seeing the original Tweet.

Here’s her original Tweet and Watt’s response.

Now, let’s get to the scam part of this story. Some on Twitter are saying that the same woman here has asked for help in the past, with funeral expenses.

Still, if this is a scam, it does not overshadow the generosity of JJ Watt. We have covered a number of stories in the past where Watt has stepped up for people that are in need of help.

Here are a few Tweets that have surfaced claiming Simpson was attempting to scam others on social media.

 

30 famous people you might not know were college athletes

Stacker dug deep to find 30 celebrities who were previously college athletes. There are musicians, politicians, actors, writers, and reality TV stars. For some, an athletic career was a real, promising possibility that ultimately faded away due to injury or an alternate calling. Others scrapped their way onto a team and simply played for fun and the love of the sport. Read on to find out if your favorite actor, singer, or politician once sported a university jersey.




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Change the structure of the NCAA basketball tournament format? Not so fast

Recently, there has been some talk from conference personnel that it is time to change the structure of the Big Dance.

I understand why the SEC and Big Ten would want the field to change. Texas and Oklahoma are coming to the SEC, while USC and UCLA will join the Big Ten. That will give those conferences even more viable candidates for the field.

Several thoughts have been floated on the internet. Expand to 96 teams, giving a few more little guys a chance, but also adding for those conferences that are expanding. Or, maybe, cut the field down and feature the power conferences.

I have my own opinion on the subject.

For three weeks, the college basketball world dominates the sports headlines. We have a great event with 68 teams. We have a few teams upset they were left out on Selection Sunday. We have major representation from the power conferences. We have Cinderella stories pulling Shock City.

I love the tournament the way it is. Family members who don’t watch the sport all season suddenly are interested. Sure, they fill out the brackets to keep them interested.

What would the tournament be like if George Mason, Butler, VCU, Loyola-Chicago and others were not even invited? Those schools made the Final Four. If the seeding process changed, would a No. 8 seed like Villanova, a No. 7 like Connecticut or No. 6 seeds such as NC State and Kansas cut down the nets?

Championship Week, in its current state, creates great excitement leading up to Selection Sunday. Teams that win their conference tournament have earned the right to enjoy the glory.

I can’t wait for this season, returning to the sideline calling games. The sport is so special and the Big Dance is in a great position right now. It fairly gives the fans, the players, the coaches and the media a great way to enjoy the competition. It also makes good money for the NCAA.

I hope we don’t see any changes for the immediate future. Enjoy the great thing we have now!


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John Cena Legacy Championship Collector’s Title Belt Now Available for Pre-Order at WWE Shop

WWEShop.com has a new John Cena Legacy Championship Collector’s Title Belt that’s now available for preorder. And yes, it’s actually called a “Title Belt” on the website.

Fans can purchase their own for the cost of $999.99. It’s expected to ship starting Friday, September 23. Here are the title details from WWE Shop:

Product ID: 4997093
Material: 100% Zinc Alloy – Plate; 100% Leather – Strap
Title belt weighs approx. 6.17 lbs.
1st side plate measures approx. 4.5” x 4.5”
Main plate measures approx. 10.25” x 10.25”
2nd side plate measures approx. 3.875” x 3.875”
Snap fasteners
16 Gems represent John Cena’s 16 WWE World Championships
Spinning front plate reminiscent of John Cena’s custom championships over the years
Box measures approx. 18.687” x 10.687” x 12.75” (without handle) and weighs approx. 21.164lb (with title belt)
Includes exclusive sweatband set (100% Cotton), rally towel (100% Cotton) and box (100% MDF; 100% Metal Hardware)
Suitable for waist sizes up to 46”
Towel measures approx. 17” x 12”
Strap measures approx. 51.188” x 11.625”
Imported
Brand: WWE Authentic

Celebrate 20 years since the debut of one of the most legendary figures in all of the WWE by grabbing this John Cena Legacy Championship Collector’s Title Belt, including an exclusive rally towel and sweatband set. The gems in the spinning plate represent the 16 World Championship titles that Cena gained during his time dominating the WWE. Many of the graphics of the belt pay homage to iconic career moments, such as “U Can’t C Me.” Any true fan of “The Doctor Of Thuganomics” will have this piece proudly displayed in their fan cave.




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ae372081-fea8-48e8-9074-73847a7495e6_1140x641.jpg

Show for sports collectibles and memorabilia hosted in Bangor

BANGOR, Maine — Sports fans and enthusiasts gathered Saturday at the Elks Lodge in Bangor for a daylong sports collectibles and memorabilia show. 

The event kicked off at 9 a.m. and wrapped up around 3 p.m.

Dan Parks is the organizer of the event. He said Saturday’s event was the biggest show they’ve had since starting back up in February. 

The shows are held every two months at the Elks Lodge and give sports lovers a chance to sell and trade their cards and other collectible items.

Parks said trading cards seem to be rising in popularity again in recent years. 

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, we saw kind of like a dying out of it. The card companies kind of mass-produced a lot of stuff, so there was a little bit less interest. We went through this time period where there really wasn’t much of an interest and over the last two years, three years we’ve really seen a resurgence of the collectibles hobby,” Parks said. 

Parks said the next collectibles show will be held in October.


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JJ Watt Responds to Fan Selling Merchandise to Pay for Funeral

This is why we love sports.

NFL star JJ Watt recently saw that a fan in Houston was selling some of her merchandise to help pay for her grandfather’s funeral and that is when he stepped in.

The Arizona Cardinals star, who once played for the Houston Texans, responded to a woman’s Tweet and told her to not sell anything.

He would go on to say that he would help cover her family member’s funeral expenses.

Since the story and Tweets surfaced, some on social media are questioning the woman’s story. There are allegations that suggest that the woman may be formulating a scam.

We will dive into that after we acknowledge what the NFL star was willing to do upon seeing the original Tweet.

Here’s her original Tweet and Watt’s response.

Now, let’s get to the scam part of this story. Some on Twitter are saying that the same woman here has asked for help in the past, with funeral expenses.

Still, if this is a scam, it does not overshadow the generosity of JJ Watt. We have covered a number of stories in the past where Watt has stepped up for people that are in need of help.

Here are a few Tweets that have surfaced claiming Simpson was attempting to scam others on social media.

 

30 famous people you might not know were college athletes

Stacker dug deep to find 30 celebrities who were previously college athletes. There are musicians, politicians, actors, writers, and reality TV stars. For some, an athletic career was a real, promising possibility that ultimately faded away due to injury or an alternate calling. Others scrapped their way onto a team and simply played for fun and the love of the sport. Read on to find out if your favorite actor, singer, or politician once sported a university jersey.




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NCAA Needs to Embrace Dissenting Voices in Reform Efforts – Sportico.com

Today’s guest columnist is B. David Ridpath, professor of sports business at Ohio University.

The NCAA as an organization is as fragile as it’s ever been. There’s general skepticism from reformers like myself over the organization’s ability to evolve, combined with swirling rumors of further conference realignment, a Power 5 football breakaway and more compensation for college athletes.

Many people, including myself, have been critical of the organization for decades, specifically for its inability to consistently enforce its rules and adapt with the changing college sports marketplace. Instead, it hangs onto outdated and virtually non-existent concepts of amateurism and the so-called collegiate model. And recently, the NCAA has not helped itself in its ongoing efforts to review its policies and practices, attempting to ostensibly reform and reframe itself as the primary intercollegiate athletics governing body in the country.

The reason I am skeptical is because when it comes to making change, the NCAA has a history of leaning on people who I would call insiders or those more friendly to preserving the status quo rather than really disrupting things and truly affecting positive change. It is time the NCAA embraces outsiders for advice, debate and true rigorous reform that may or may not even involve the NCAA as it currently stands.

Take, for example, the ongoing Division I transformation committee charged with commitments, regulations and membership obligations that directly respond to the set of issues that continually challenge the division. While it has been advertised that this committee will turn college sports upside down in attacking this mission, I have my doubts, even with an impressive membership that includes Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, and Julie Cromer, my own outstanding athletic director at Ohio University.

Our friends at the NCAA seem to use committees such as the transformation committee as a way to make it seem like they did something, which mirrors the past historical approach of continuing business as usual.

A related, and personal, NCAA committee sleight of hand: I was invited to participate in a review of the NCAA’s much-maligned Academic Progress Rate (APR) committee and asked to speak to the Division I Committee on Academics Task Force and share my thoughts and opinions on the APR. However, after vetting participants, the NCAA legal office recommended against my participation, and my invitation was rescinded.

There are several issues with this. First, the NCAA should know to vet potential speakers before extending an invitation. Second, if you truly want to hear good and bad, why wouldn’t you invite people who have not only been critical of the APR but also have empirical data and research to back up any claims? Just because someone disagrees does not mean they are wrong.

It is important to mention the real issue here: the inadequacy of the APR and other NCAA academic metrics such as the Graduation Success Rate (GSR). These metrics are simply public relations “smokescreens.” They hide widespread exploitation of academically underprepared athletes and academic fraud by institutions chasing the priority of winning and financial success in Division I athletics.

While there is not a perfect solution to this failure of academic standards, the APR is clearly not the best we can do. So how do we better change academic metrics for college sports? As a member of The Drake Group’s Board of Directors and its former president, I have commented on this issue extensively and the Group has issued a position paper with recommendations.

First, we suggest the NCAA discontinue its use of the GSR, APR and Coaches Academic Success rate calculations. They are fundamentally flawed metrics that don’t permit comparison with non-athlete students and don’t recognize institutional differences in mission, classroom competitiveness and student quality or the effect of these factors on underprepared college athletes. Additionally, they invite academic fraud when mismatched recruits are denied appropriate remediation through academic support services and serve as way to justify exorbitant academic bonuses for coaches and administrators when the connection to academic efficacy is virtually non-existent.

We proposed eight academic reforms that would hold NCAA member schools and coaches accountable for recruiting athletes capable of graduating and for remedying academic deficiencies that might otherwise make graduation unlikely. In short, we want college sports to be about education first and not eligibility maintenance so fans can be entertained on athletic landscapes. College sports are supposed to be about education after all.

This position paper was compiled by some of the leading experts in NCAA academics and compliance. The NCAA should want to hear all voices—even those who comment publicly to the media, Congress and the courts about the organization’s unfairness and deficiencies. It seems counterintuitive for an organization that allegedly is committed to change not to include diverse perspectives.

I am not sure the NCAA can find useful paths of change from people who have not been critical. If the NCAA truly wants to remain relevant and strives to be the main governing body for intercollegiate athletics in America, it needs to alter the culture and listen to dissenting voices who may have a better approach or plan. The NCAA reviewing the APR for potential modification is another example of the organization acting like it’s doing something, rather than actually taking the bold action needed for change.

Prior to his career in academia, during which he has authored two books, more than 30 journal articles and 10 academic book chapters, Ridpath worked for over 15 years in intercollegiate athletics administration and coaching.




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Summer on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue – Southside Pride

Owasso Guitars at Twin Cities Guitar Show, 2016

BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

Before the pandemic, there were a lot more restaurants on Grand Avenue. Grand Cafe, Dixie’s on Grand, Saji-Ya, Emmett’s Public House, Grand Catch: all have closed since 2020. One restaurant/bar that closed, and then reopened (twice!) under new management, is Billy’s on Grand. Now Billy’s is at the center of a controversy in the neighborhood that may impact its ability to get its own liquor license. (Since the second re-opening, in May of 2021, under the management of two experienced managers, Wes Spearman and Chuck Gilbert, the business has been “borrowing” the liquor license of RJMP Group, who managed the first re-opening in 2020, but lasted only a few months, partly due to COVID.)

As we go to press, the two current managers are facing a mid-August hearing that will determine whether the borrowed liquor license may be revoked, as well as whether they have to pay a $1,000 fine imposed for alleged license violations and other safety concerns. Billy’s makes a case that they are being blamed for crimes that didn’t happen, or that did happen but not on their premises and unrelated to their business.

Among neighbors, they have both friends and opposition. Billy’s on Grand’s customers are largely African American. “Some of the neighbors are proactively working with us, others think we’re the worst thing. Anything on Grand Avenue involving a person of color gets associated with us,” said Gilbert. “The bottom line,” said Spearman, “is it’s a Black crowd, and that’s new to the neighborhood.”

The Billy’s kerfuffle is not the only controversy brought about by change. There was a time when Grand Avenue was known as a place where you could have something close to big city sophistication, but with affordable rental housing. Rents have been rising way too fast everywhere, and there is no exemption for Grand Avenue. New housing developments are almost always controversial, but Kenton House, currently under construction at 695 Grand Ave., is getting more than its share. The website for the development unabashedly states that it will be “the only luxury apartment destination along Grand Ave.”

Kenton House under construction

The site was previously occupied by three very popular restaurants: Dixie’s on Grand, Emmett’s Public House and Saji-Ya. The new housing complex will be a five-story building with 80 units of “luxury” housing – market rate rentals. Two of the temporarily closed restaurants, Saji-Ya and Emmett’s Public House, will be reborn as the ground floor commercial tenants, along with two more to be announced. Although “tenants” is not really the right word here, since it is the owner of Emmett’s (and landlord to Saji-Ya), Peter Kenefick, who owns the site and is funding the development, along with west metro developer Reuter Walton.

Most in the Summit Hill neighborhood group have never really liked this idea. However, they did not have a big enough majority or a strong enough voice to prevent the approval of the Planning Commission. In July 2021, the commission voted 9-1 to support a conditional use permit and three zoning variances related to the proposed redevelopment of the Dixie’s on Grand lot into a five-story residential and commercial building,” according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Permission having been granted, construction has now begun and is moving along, but the controversy is unabated. The main reasons for opposition include: the height (one of the zoning variances), which neighbors say will block light and views; the density, which many fear will attract more traffic and crime; and the elusive gentrification factor.

Even with the losses, there are plenty of interesting restaurants along Grand Avenue, including a couple of new ones. One of the newest, just opened this summer, is Em Que Viet, at 1332 Grand Ave., an extension of the small, family-owned Que Viet chain, famous for its State Fair egg rolls. “Em” means “little sister” in Vietnamese. Their menu is similar to other Que Viets, with all your favorites. They also have a great list of zero-ABV cocktails.

Souffle pancakes with Hmong accessories for Hmong American Day at Thirty-Six Cafe

Another Grand Avenue restaurant with southeast Asian influences is the Thirty-Six Cafe at 949 Grand Ave. Owner Macy Lee, a Hmong American, was inspired by her 2017 trip to Thailand, where she had honey toast, to open a cafe featuring sweet delicacies such as that and souffle pancakes, along with coffee and tea drinks, smoothies, and other casual and fun breakfast/brunch fare. Lee named her cafe for the age she was when it opened in 2019.

Two restaurants farther to the east on Grand Avenue, one a small casual chain, the other quite fancy, are inspired by the dining culture of Italy. The fancy one is Hyacinth. There are a lot of fancy things there but one I’ll highlight is the option of “Amari” in place of dessert. Amari (bitters in Italian) are special dark, low ABV, bitter liqueurs typically consumed after dinner to aid digestion. How very civilized!

The casual chain restaurant is Punch Pizza. This is exactly the kind of pizza place I love – no gimmicks, and looking not to Milwaukee or even Chicago for inspiration, but to Naples, and maybe a little bit to Sicily. They’re all about the pizza – only one dessert on the menu, no pasta or hoagies. They don’t deliver, apparently, but for an extra $20 you can get an impressive “pizza steel” with your order that allows you to professionally reheat your pizza at home.

Apart from restaurants, Grand Avenue has some of the most interesting shopping options in the Twin Cities. One that stands out is Owasso Guitar Co. (OGC), at 407 Grand Ave. Opened in 2012, it embodies traditional artisanal values by building acoustic guitars by hand. They have some stock models, or they can design and build a custom guitar to the artist’s specifications. Check out their website, especially the page on varieties of “tonewoods” used to make guitars.

If OGC can build tradition in just 10 years, what can a company like George’s Shoe, Leather, and Hockey Repair do in 117 years? Their current business grew out of a custom boot making shop that started in Lebanon in 1905 by family patriarch Joseph George.  The George family tradition of craftsmanship is now in its fourth generation, with a network of family-owned shoe repair shops in various parts of the Twin Cities. The George’s Shoe, Leather, and Hockey Repair store on Grand Avenue continues in that tradition, as well as branching out into repairing hockey gear.

In the 1970s, Jerry George expanded his shoe business to include sports equipment repair, working with everyone from kids’ teams to professional athletes to Hollywood film productions. Their website tells the story: “When the producer of ‘Mighty Ducks II’ needed a genuine skate repair shop … Jerry George moved his entire shop to a sound stage in Minneapolis for three weeks of filming and generously acted as a technical advisor.” These days, George’s repairs hockey equipment nationally for professional NHL teams and individuals—both in their brick-and-mortar storefront on Grand Avenue and via their mail-in services.

Blackwing pencils for stationery enthusiasts at Next Chapter

Next Chapter Booksellers represents a case where the tradition is carried on but the ownership changes hands. The current name is owned by Nicholas Ballas, but the shop is still in the location of its predecessor (Common Good Books) at 38 Snelling Ave., just off the Macalester College campus. You can shop in person at Next Chapter for new fiction, nonfiction and poetry, as well as book-adjacent items such as fancy stationery, including the esteemed Blackwing pencils to go with your Moleskine notebook. Their book inventory is also available from their online shopping site for pickup, delivery or shipping. See their website for news of readings, book clubs and other hosted events.

We’ll finish up our 2022 survey of Grand Avenue with Golden Fig Fine Foods, a shop so iconic some people go to Grand Avenue only to shop there. Opened in 2006 by Laurie McCann Crowell, the shop nearly doubled in size in 2017 and is now a big draw for St. Paul. You can shop online, but only a small selection of the items available in the store can be purchased online, as the store itself has many options like fresh produce and deli items.

Golden Fig spice blends

A unique offering at Golden Fig, apart from the fact that literally everything in the store is produced in the U.S. and a huge majority in the upper Midwest, is Golden Fig’s own-label products, which include herb and spice blends, fancy salts and peppers, dip mixes, cocoa mixes, flavored sugars and infused vinegars. The Golden Fig also participates in the St. Paul Farmers Market and is a drop-site for a dairy CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).


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