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Como Dockside closes after three years; search on for replacement

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

What should replace the Como Dockside restaurant and programming operations at the Como Park Pavilion? More than 70 people weighed in with ideas Nov. 27 during a meeting at the facility. The St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation is already seeking a new partner and hopes to have a new operation up and running by spring 2018. Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said there had been several inquiries from prospective restaurant operators.

Meeting facilitator James Lockwood said the intent of the meeting wasn’t to place blame but to discuss ideas going forward. Comments were transcribed and will be reviewed, along with online comments.

Any change will be reviewed by Como Community Council, which had an advisory committee in place when Como Dockside was retained. Members of the committee were present Nov. 27 and said they’re willing to serve again.

This is the second park amenity that is being replaced this winter. Parks and Recreation in November closed a submission period for requests for proposals for the park’s miniature golf course, for a course operator or operator of a new amenity.

Those at the Nov. 27 meeting had plenty of suggestions. One point several people agreed on is that they’d like to see more restaurants in the Como area. Having something at the pavilion meets a neighborhood need. Desires were expressed for a restaurant with a more varied menu, some breakfast offerings, and at least some limited winter service.

“I think unless you were walking in the park, you wouldn’t know a restaurant was here,” one man said. He suggested better signage along area streets. But, signage in the park is regulated tightly by the city.

A review of Como Dockside was inevitable. There was widespread praise for the variety of entertainment options, ranging from concerts to family game nights. “I liked that there was a lot of variety and we had entertainment we could walk to,” one woman said. Many people said they liked being able to rent boats and bikes at the park.

But restaurant service and consistency of food got mixed reviews. Several speakers said Como Dockside’s prices were too high and the New Orleans-style menu too limited for those wanting a regular family stop. “I felt the prices were a bit steep, especially for a family,” said one woman.

Minneapolis’ parks food offerings came up during the discussion. Some people pointed to the popular Sea Salt seasonal restaurant there. Others were emphatic that St. Paul isn’t Minneapolis and that anything here needs to keep St. Paul needs in mind.

Some people didn’t like walking into the restaurant space with children and seeing a large bar. Others were OK with that. Many people liked being able to pick up grab-and-go food at a service window and enjoy time in the park.

Como Dockside’s closing on Nov. 22 ends operations that began in 2015. In a statement released by the city, Como Dockside co-owner Jon Oulman said, “We had hoped a year-round staffing model and upscale full-service restaurant concept would be successful at the facility, but unfortunately, due to the seasonality of the facility and competitive labor market we could see that long-term we’d need to adjust—and we felt a different vendor would be a better fit for this space.”

But the space was packed at times, and empty other times. That wasn’t sustainable over the long term, especially with such slow times in the winter.

Como Dockside replaced Black Bear Crossings on the Lake. That restaurant operated for 14 years before getting into a dispute with the city and losing its lease. Black Bear owners David and Pamela Glass took the city to court and won an $800,000 judgment.

City staff said Nov. 27 that no decisions had been made on Como Dockside’s contract for the facility, which runs through 2020. Como Dockside was to share nine percent of gross revenues. Fee estimates were exceeded in 2015 and 2016, and looked to be close if not over estimates for 2017.

Como Dockside owners invested almost $300,000 in facility upgrades, to the restaurant/kitchen space, dock, promenade, dock, and concession stand areas. The city reimbursed the operators for almost $100,000 of those renovations. The contract also required Como Dockside to pay the city nine percent of its monthly gross revenue, or at least $100,000 annually after the first year of operations. This year that amount was expected to top the $150,000 mark. Final figures haven’t been released. But city officials said they expect to clear the $540,000 mark with facility improvements and shared revenues.

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