When two notable culinary forces with a highly talented team come together to open a new restaurant, local food enthusiasts and powerhouse restauranteurs certainly take notice — even if that’s much to the surprise of the owners themselves.
Add in the suspense of a long-awaited opening and plenty of water cooler buzz and you’ve got more than enough pressure to live up to, before anyone has even perused a menu.
Luckily, it seems Jim Christiansen (former executive chef at Union) and Lorin Zinter (former La Belle Vie frontman) aren’t sweating it.
Having just opened Heyday to the public the night before, Zinter seemed calm and relaxed Wednesday morning — albeit a bit tired — but full of positive words for their incredible team, in disbelief of the outpouring of support from the Twin Cities culinary elite and yet, focused on the level of service they need to achieve.
In between restocking and setting up for night No. 2, Zinter was kind enough to chat about the long journey that brought Heyday to fruition and the reality of a dream come true for three local guys wanting to show off what Minneapolis is all about.
What was behind the motivation to open Heyday?
Jim and I had wanted to do a restaurant together for a long period of time. We met while opening La Belle Vie in 2005 and we went on to open Sea Change together, all while we were working for Tim McKee. The whole time, Jim and I worked really well together, we understood each other really well, we had similar personalities and beliefs in a restaurant and when we met our business partner, Mike Prickett, we kind of knew the whole thing had come together and we had all the pieces to make this happen in a very effective matter. So that’s kind of how it all started. We started looking for spots and it took a long time to find the right spot that had all the things we wanted in terms of location, in terms of size, in terms of the right rent, the right landlord, everything. So once we found the right place, we felt really great about it. Although it was a much bigger project than we anticipated. We anticipated a much smaller project that would be easy, turn-key, keep it simple, smaller place. This is a little bigger than we anticipated and it was a lot more work – this was a full gut and renovation.
What was in this location before?
This side was a Laundromat, the other side was the Sunny Side Up Café. So it was a huge, huge project that way. Our business partner (Prickett) has really great vision in terms of interior design so he was able to facilitate this beautiful design that we have now and really made it the space we all love so much. We’re really pleased with how it turned out.
It’s a very cool space. You have the separation between the bar and restaurant but also different areas to cater to what the diner may be looking for, on a particular evening.
Yeah, we call it rustic chic. We wanted it to feel like the place had been here a long time. We were able to maintain the ceiling, which is original to the building. The building is 100 years old. So we wanted the rest of the place to feel — we didn’t want it to feel like a new building trapped in an old building. We wanted it to feel like everything had been here a long time. There’s a lot of pieces that don’t match, there’s a lot of mismatch, there’s a lot of items that look older or feel older or have this more rustic feel to them, just because we felt it was more appropriate to the building itself.
What was it about this space that made you feel it was right for Heyday?
We all are very familiar with the neighborhood. We all love being in Uptown, or Lyn-Lake, I should say. We love the area. It was really kind of all the elements at once – the fact that it was a little bigger, the fact that it allowed a bigger bar program for us, which we really wanted to emphasize but in other locations we didn’t have that opportunity. It allowed Jim to have a kitchen that he could work in better, too, because we could design our own. So it was really the fact that everything came together. It was a different project than we anticipated but it still felt like it was the right project for everyone.
And from early conception to opening day, how long of a process was it?
If you want to go back the whole way, it was four years. That’s when the partnership was fully developed and that’s when we all decided yes, we want to do this and this is what we’re looking for. Now, that along the way, took a year from the signing of this lease until we owned it. And in between there, the project has changed dramatically, in terms of ideas, in terms of full concept. It started smaller and more neighborhood-y and kind of grew into this bar that serves food until 12 a.m. and alcohol until 1 a.m. and it kind of blew up and we love what it’s turned into. But yeah, if you asked me what the concept was on day one and what the concept is when we opened, those are completely different things.
How would you describe the concept?
Great food, fun atmosphere but relaxed. People want to pinpoint what the cuisine is and Jim and I kind of laugh about that because what is cuisine anyway anymore? Everything’s been blended so much which is really great – it’s great for everyone. If you tell me you’re going to an Italian restaurant, to me, I don’t know what that means anymore. Are you going to an Italian-American restaurant? Are you going to a northern Italian restaurant? Are you going to a Sicilian restaurant? I mean, that’s a pretty small country. And there’s a lot of cuisine throughout that country.
So really, when people want to start to talk like that they’re looking for a really vague description. So I guess our vague description would be we’re New American, or what we like to call a Minneapolis bistro. We want to represent Minneapolis really well. We want chefs from out of town to come here or travelers from out of town to come here and say, ‘I know what it means to dine at a Minneapolis restaurant. I know what they’re trying to do for cuisine. I know what they’re trying to do in terms of fun and in terms of their atmosphere. This feels like Minneapolis.’ We don’t want them to come here and think, this is a hotel restaurant that I could go to in any city. We want this to be unique to Minneapolis.
How are some of the ways you’re trying to accomplish that through the menu? I know it’s going to be a changing menu.
The menu will change with whatever Jim’s inspired by at the moment. So we keep the menu pretty small in size. It’s about 20 savory items, not counting dessert which is another four to five. But we really wanted it to be inspired by the seasons, what’s available. Sometimes that’s easier said than done because of the beautiful Minnesota weather but we deal with that and we adjust with that – that’s what we embrace is the challenge, anyway. And a good challenge, obviously.
But we also wanted to feel really Minneapolis-based, as well, with local artist Terrence Payne doing our artwork. Our name is a nod both to The Replacements, they have a song called “Heyday” and to just the meaning of the word itself – to be at the peak of one’s life, having the time of their life, so it’s just a nod to that. We have Replacements quotes on the wall and a piece of art back there. It’s really about making sure people understand that this is a local restaurant. It’s local home-grown guys doing this – all three of us are from here, born here, raised here, live here. I live eight blocks away. Jim lives about three miles away. Our other business partner, Mike, lives less than five miles away. We’re all right here. We all live and work in Uptown so it’s great for us.
And the dessert menu is already getting plenty of buzz.
To me, it’s just amazing. It’s so much fun. We’re having fun with it. It’s whimsical but it’s still simple, straightforward flavors but really in fun presentations. I don’t think anything’s too contrived. To me, it’s really exciting and fun and the desserts aren’t overly sweet. They have these really great flavors but still in a delicate fashion but it’s not necessarily a delicate presentation. I don’t even know the best way to describe it. They’re not necessarily pretty plates, is the way I like to describe it, where everything is so perfectly dotted – it’s more fun, it’s more … it’s just not contrived. It’s much more fun that way.
And you brought in some friends from La Belle Vie and other places to help collaborate?
Yeah, we got some really great talent and to say that, would be an understatement. The people we have working here, it’s just an unbelievable team. When people say, ‘This is Jim and Lorin’s restaurant,’ it’s doing such a disservice in our opinion because it’s not Jim and Lorin’s, it’s Jim, it’s Lorin, it’s Mike, it’s Jo Garrison, our breadmaker; it’s Peter Thillen, our sous chef; it’s Britt Tracy, our cocktail maker; it’s Dani Megears, our wine director, it’s all the service staff. We have chefs that came here to cook. People who were executive chefs at other restaurants that are here cooking for us. We have this really great crew. It really isn’t … it’s not fair when people say it’s a Jim and Lorin restaurant because that’s not accurate at all. We want this to be known as a collaboration because it truly is. … Without (them) this restaurant wouldn’t be half of what it is.
After Tuesday night’s opening, what kind of feedback did you get?
Well right now, everyone’s saying really positive, great things to us. It’s very, very flattering. But people say things like, ‘Oh, you’re so great, you’re so great.’ And it’s like, ‘No, we know we’re not that great yet. We’re working on becoming great and we hope that we get to great. But right now we’re still working out the service issues and the kitchen is executing on a very high level, we’re really pleased with what they’re doing – we’re pleased with what everyone is doing. But we know we still have great strides to make to get to the level we want to be at.
It seems like this is the restaurant that everyone has been anticipating. Everybody’s been talking about it, tweeting about it.
That’s because we stretched it out so long. (Laughs)
Do you feel added pressure when you have so many eyeballs watching you and waiting for you to open?
It boggles our minds every day. All of these great chefs around town that we really, truly respect and that we’ve idolized for so long … Jim and I love to go to their restaurants and we love them as people and we love them as chefs. All these great chefs send us messages, texts, Facebook messages, tweets saying ‘Hey I’m so proud of you guys, we’re so excited for you guys.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh my God, you’re kidding? You guys are excited for us? We’re just doing what we’re doing.’
We didn’t think anything like this would happen, in terms of the excitement level. It blows our minds. It truly, you talk about humbling and surprising and exciting and everything else, it’s all those things every day. Jim and I were having a cooler meeting the other day and we were just sitting there talking and it was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ The people who are coming out and supporting us, it’s seriously overwhelming. We couldn’t be happier and more excited and we’re still trying to stay so grounded at the same time, because, like I said we know we have so much work to do to get to where we want to be but still, flattering isn’t even the word it’s so exciting.
Heyday is located at 2700 Lyndale Ave. S. The restaurant serves dinner daily, starting at 5 p.m. For a sample menu and more information, click here.