For those of us counting down the days until a savory waffle could once again be in our grasp, Tuesday’s official reopening of Birchwood Cafe (2.0) was certainly a welcomed sight.
After months of renovations, Birchwood’s new digs now features a larger seating area — from 62 seats to 86 seats, plus the patio — a huge open kitchen, space for private events or meetings and even a few new menu items.
But the heart and soul of the restaurant, and the reason why it’s been a neighborhood favorite for years, still remains the same — much to the relief of owner Tracy Singleton.
“I didn’t want to change the feel or the ethos and the soul of the place. But it really needed some fixing up, some new equipment and we needed more space,” she said. “We just want everyone to be here and everyone to feel welcome, whether they just got out of the garden or off their bike.”
The new space is the result of more than seven years of dreaming and planning, Singleton said. Sure, some of that time was devoted to Singleton’s role as a then-new mom and there were certain obstacles to overcome that made the idea of expanding more challenging.
Take for instance, the zoning. One of the most attractive things about Birchwood is its neighborhood location, but that meant trying to grow the business in a residential area required special zoning — and it wasn’t easy to get.
Singleton said she had several offers to move her restaurant elsewhere — some that were quite financially attractive. But in the end, she knew it had to stay right where it is, where its rich history had stood the test of time.
“Birchwood has been here since 1926. It was originally a dairy and grocery store. So we’ve got quite a history here and a reputation and the name. Our heart is in this neighborhood. We didn’t want to leave,” she said.
Re-zoning to a commercial property took a significant amount of time and several public meetings but they quickly found out how much support was behind them. They had the highest turnout of supporters for any project in Minneapolis, Singleton said, which only solidified her belief they were making the right decision.
Once they got approvals, they had to figure out fundraising. In October, they launched a Kickstarter with a lofty goal of raising $100,000. To their surprise and relief, they reached their goal in 30 days and were ready to put their vision into reality.
“The day after the Kickstarter closed, the construction crew showed up, started digging, tearing up the backyard, knocking down the garage and doing all that stuff they needed to do before winter,” she said.
They officially closed their doors in February to prepare for the major overhaul of the kitchen and dining areas — two places that diners will see the most change. The expanded kitchen now allows Birchwood to expand their dinner service. Instead of only being able to flip burgers one night a week, they now have a flat top grill equipped to make the tasty creation a regular menu item.
They also added a deep frier, where they’ll be making organic French fries.
Dinner will also offer table service, not just counter, plus a few new items will be added to the regular menu.
Not all the projects are complete, either. In the next month or so, Singleton said they’ll be adding a recycling and compost area (thanks to a Hennepin County grant) and solar panels will be installed on the roof in June.
While Singleton said she hasn’t had a chance to really let the final renovations sink in, she feels encouraged that others have the response she was aiming for.
“We’ve had a lot of customers come in, who have been here since we opened, and all of them are saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it feels like home’ or ‘It’s like the first one, but better.’ So I feel really successful in that,” she said. “I didn’t wreck it. I was afraid of wrecking it by changing it but I really feel like we were able to make it better.”
Birchwood Cafe is located on 3311 E. 25th St. in Minneapolis. For more information, check out their website.