MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The historic Forum Cafeteria space in downtown Minneapolis is coming back to life, after more than a year of being shuttered. After 18 years in St. Paul, restaurateur David Fhima is leaving Lowertown and Mears Park and moving into the space that was most recently Il Foro.
Fhima’s new restaurant will be called Bistro 3.7.3. as a nod to his old address in St. Paul.
“We will be using the space as an event center and bakery while designing Bistro 3.7.3.,” he said in a Facebook post.
Fhima has been redesigning the food for the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center, and he’ll be able to use the large kitchen space near City Center on 7th Street, just blocks from the arena in downtown Minneapolis.
The focus will be on his bakery, events and using the kitchen as a commissary for his work with the Timberwolves.
“We are having requests for events every day, we’re already booked for the Super Bowl,” he said.
WCCO’s Jason DeRusha profiled Fhima’s bakery operation recently, and the new location will provide his team much more room to create baked goods.
“Our bakery is up and running now,” he said. “There’s no interruption in the bakery piece of it.”
Soon he’ll open a Lavazza coffee shop and a retail bakery space in the back of the space that opens to the interior of City Center.
“There will be two display cases: one with pastries another with breads,” he said.
Fhima said he was leaving St. Paul because he couldn’t agree to terms on rent.
“Over the past six months, since the moment we closed our doors for a remodel, we have worked tirelessly, sparing no expense or effort, in order to stay in the building,” he wrote. “In the end, an agreement to terms could not be made, at least not one that made sense to our business, our staff and our family. It is with tremendous sadness that we must close our Faces doors.”
He said his work at Bistro 3.7.3. will be done in phases. The second phase will be expanding the bakery and tweaking the floor plan. Fhima emphasized tweaking though, not wholesale change.
“It’s a sacrilege to touch anything in the restaurant. For many reasons: the historical accuracy, the many great chefs and restauranteurs who have been in there. For me these are hallowed grounds,” he said.
He said he will take some of the booths out of the middle of the dining room, and give the bar a modern twist.
“That’s going to be a cool, modern, SoHo-feeling bar. A lot of wood, marble, brass,” he said. “I want a new generation to come into the space and be in awe of what restaurants used to feel like.”
He said he envisions a “modernized art deco, like what’s hot in Miami right now.”
Fhima has a long history in Minneapolis. He ran the Mpls. Café at 11th and Hennepin during the 1990s. Forum Cafeteria dates to 1914, but the space on 7th Street opened in the 1930s, and the Forum Cafeteria lasted 40 years before City Center was built around it. Scottie’s on Seventh, the Paramount Café, Goodfellows, The Forum, and Il Foro all occupied the large, historic Art Deco restaurant.
He said he feels the diversification of his business should protect him more than some of the other restauranteurs that have struggled at the space.
“When the restaurant itself isn’t your primary concern, you can truly concentrate on what the market wants, on what the service experience is, because you are not worried about how you’re going to make payroll,” he said.
He said he has a 10-year lease plus two five-year options.
“We’re planning on being here for 20 years,” he said.
He added he expects the bakery to open in late fall or early winter, and the Bistro will open spring of 2018.