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Food & Drink

Wanna Buy Birchwood Café?

The south Minneapolis dining institution just hit the market, and everything must go.

It's hard to overstate how ahead of its time Birchwood Café was when it opened in 1995. Industry terms like "farm-to-table" and "sustainable" have since become marketing cliches, but back then owner Tracy Singleton helped pioneer better sourcing practices, plus an emphasis on social and community engagement.

"It has been a huge labor of love, and it went really well for a long time," listing agent Mike Smith says of Singleton's decision to sell. "At this point in her life, it's time for her to let go and let somebody else do it."

Listed for $2 million last month by Anderson Realty, the 4,144-square-foot building at 3311 E. 25th St. comes ready to cook and serve right outta the box. "It's turnkey, you get everything; you basically can open up just like the Birchwood," Smith says.

He means everything: A buyer will get the brand name, the recipes, and all of the front/back of house equipment, furniture, and fixtures. That purchase price includes quite a legacy. Here's former Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson raving about the Birchwood in early 2000.

My Y2K new-year's resolution is to relocate to Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood. That way I can be within walking distance of the Birchwood Café. Now in its fifth year, this cheery, unpretentious counter-service spot is the kind of place that should be around the corner from everyone's home. The chalkboard menu changes often, and the food—simple, honest, creative and mostly vegetarian—is almost always delicious.

Built in 1926 as a creamery, the Birchwood building would exist for decades as a mom 'n' pop grocery store. Singleton, fresh from a serving gig at Lucia's, started her restaurant there as a "good real food" response to the "SnackWell’s and Diet Mountain Dew" culture of the '90s, according to this 2015 review of the The Birchwood Café Cookbook. (The greater Twin Cities dining scene remained in the Dark Ages back then; chef Doug Flicker recently told us that exotic items like olive oil and parmesan had to be shipped in from the coasts.)

Eleven years ago the Birchwood temporarily closed for a 1,380-square-foot expansion project that upped seating from 62 to 86, added rooftop solar, and overhauled the décor, kitchen, and HVAC. Construction was bankrolled by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $112,126. The Birchwood endured a rough road back from the pandemic. Marshall Paulsen, the executive chef for 13 years and co-author of the cookbook, left in 2020. Things bottomed out in the summer of 2021, as explored in great detail here by Heavy Table's James Norton, with "a mass firing that, according to former employees, left 18 people out of work" following a reportedly contentious Juneteenth block party. Toxic work environment accusations came in the subsequent weeks, and the now-closed restaurant never really recovered.

Smith reports that a few parties are "quite interested" in buying the Birchwood, but no deals have been inked yet. Let's take a photo tour of the space, courtesy of SinghShots and Anderson Realty:

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