It's been nearly three years since the Town Talk Diner on East Lake Street welcomed its new owners, but now they're finding it hard to shake its history.
Since long-running owner Vicki Brever left in 2002, the distinctive diner is on its 5th set of owners, which included one company that closed the restaurant after being embroiled in an embezzlement scheme, as CityPages reported.
The current owners, Charles Stotts and Kacey White, have endeavored to shed the restaurant's "diner" image by setting it up as a gastropub selling high-quality, locally-sourced food.
But all is not right at Town Talk, with the pair this week taking the unusual step of addressing Longfellow residents directly through the local Nextdoor group.
They say that over the next few months they will have to decide whether to sign another 5-year lease, or give notice to the landlord "that Longfellow (and her surrounding south Minneapolis neighborhoods) and our 'local, ingredient driven' restaurant concept, for whatever reason, sadly aren’t a sustainable match."
In a post titled "Looking for Answers," the owners highlighted their restaurant's locally-sourced ingredients and support for nearby food businesses like Turtle Bread and Sunrise Flour Mill, but isn't getting the same support from local consumers.
"Yet, despite our most sincere efforts to be the dining beacon of the south side, the resistance of so many south Minneapolis locals to enter our doors and try OUR concept has been incredibly great. A resistance that we could neither imagine, much less wrap our hands around. Thus, our plea… our search for answers. Please tell us, south siders, what is the deterrent? What is it about 2707 E. Lake St. and the old 'Town Talk Diner' sign that mentally forbids you from entering through the old double doors?"
Do you think it’s still closed? We promise, we’re open.
They go on to point out that their restaurant has some of the highest ratings on Yelp, Open Table etc., as well as saying that its prices are competitive and it's no longer the "kitschy French spot" it was under the previous ownership.
"Do you think it’s still just a diner, and you hope for more than diner food? It’s not, and it hasn’t been for a LONG time! The sign is historically protected; we are unable to change or modify it. We are a neighborhood joint serving dinner 4 nights a week, and a great brunch on Sundays!" they add.
Overcoming the stigma
After a number of responses from Longfellow locals, Charles Stotts replied to clarify that they are not planning to leave their East Lake Street home anytime soon, noting that they have the option of giving the landlord a year's notice of their intention to sign a new lease or vacate the premises.
They intend to stay open "for at least a couple of years more" and the Nextdoor appeal was a way of gathering information as they seek to make it a success.
A few of the responses were about the menu prices, with Stotts noting that the menu changes daily based on farmers' supplies, and that "50% of my entrees are less than $20."
"Rest assured, no one in Longfellow exclusively buys the quality of product we do, and we would never choose to use lesser product regardless of price; our commitment to our farmers and small purveyors is more than a choice, it is our DNA," he adds.
Another suggestion is that the location at 27th and East Lake is somewhat less desirable than restaurants a little further east along the street.
"There apparently is a division there that, unfortunately for us, won’t be crossed," Stotts wrote. "Bummer. Perhaps by having this open conversation, one or two of you will cross that boundary and give us a go. We are here for you."
He concludes by saying he hopes the conversation "overcomes whichever stigma has kept so many away over the last three years."
You can find more information about the Town Talk Diner here.