Bringing shock and surprise, Ward 6 restaurant closes


Marjorie Otto/Review • During the afternoon of May 30, a line of people waited to be seated at Ward 6 restaurant for what could be their last meal there. The restaurant announced May 28 that it would be shutting its doors, serving its last meals during brunch on June 3.

After five and half years of calling Payne Avenue home and becoming a staple of the neighborhood, Ward 6 restaurant announced May 28 that the eatery would serve its last meals during brunch on Sunday, June 3. 

The announcement came via a Facebook post, surprising many Ward 6 fans and neighbors who shared their sadness in more than 700 comments. 

“The sad fact is Ward 6 has had a difficult time financially for the past couple of years,” the post said. “Life in the restaurant biz is hard, and for a small restaurant that tries to do things the right way (as we see it), the margins (and margin of error) are very, very small. There is only so long a restaurant can go on without making money, and we have come to the end of that road.”

Ward 6 prided itself on making food from scratch and sourcing ingredients locally. Former employees of the restaurant commented on the post, saying they loved their time spent there.

The restaurant, co-owned by Bob Parker and Eric Foster, opened in December 2012 and helped to jump-start the growth of eateries on Payne Avenue, leading the way for places like Tongue in Cheek, Brunson’s Pub, Caydence Records and Coffee, Cook St. Paul and others, creating a restaurant culture on the avenue. 

“I have to give those guys credit for being able to see the potential,” said Dan Bostrom, the St. Paul City Council member who represents Ward 6, where the restaurant was located, of Foster and Parker choosing to put their business on Payne Avenue. 

The Facebook post thanked customers and employees for helping create the welcoming environment Ward 6 was known for.

“Along the way, we’ve learned many things, and we can say this: we survived for 5 1/2 years in a difficult environment. We helped create interest in the great restaurant scene on our beloved Payne Avenue. And we made a lot of friends with our amazing customers and neighbors along the way. The love between Ward 6 and its Eastside community is special to us, and we’re proud of what we created and what we accomplished,” the announcement said.

The post went on to encourage customers to support their favorite local restaurants, adding that “chances are, they’re closer to this kind of situation than you might think.”

Both Parker and Foster live in Dayton’s Bluff and have been active in the neighborhood. Foster, a former board president of the Payne-Phalen Community Council, announced at the council’s April annual meeting that he and his family would be moving to Mexico for a year.

Foster declined further comment, while Parker could not be reached for comment.

 

The ebb and flow

The Ward 6 news comes after the closuere of a few other Payne Avenue businesses over the past couple months. 

A Greener Read used bookstore closed in March. Its owner, Jason Burbul, said in a March interview it was a combination of the type of business — selling used books — and the location, especially with the construction on Payne Avenue and East Seventh Street, that closed his doors. He still operates a similar online business out of the old Hamm’s factory. 

The Mexican candy store Dulceria Bon Bon closed in January. Jose Villalobos, who ran the shop with his parents, said via a Facebook message in March that slow business traffic and keeping up with rent forced them to close their doors. Other closures included Judy’s Kitchen, a soul-food restaurant, and the SuperAmerica gas station near the Arlington Hills Community Center. 

But while businesses have closed, others have opened. Cookie Cart’s grand opening was in May — the bakery, located at 946 Payne Ave., employs youth from the neighborhood. The Somali deli Karibu is expected to open this summer on the corner of Payne and Minnehaha avenues, in a completely new building that replaced an old gas station that was at the site.

Bostrom said he was disappointed to see Ward 6 close, but added that because he doesn’t know the finances behind the scene, he can’t speculate as to what caused its closure. 

Bostrom, who has lived on the East Side his entire life and served on the council for a number of years, said he’s noticed a significant increase in these types of brew pubs and bars opening across St. Paul. 

“There has got to be a saturation point,” he said, adding that perhaps the city has reached that point, noting that Fabulous Fern’s Bar and Grill also announced it will be closing its doors after 26 years. Fern’s is located at 400 Selby in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

“There are only so many nights available and only so much money to spend,” he said. 

While many community members and fans of Ward 6 have been speculating as to what this means for the revitalization for Payne Avenue, Bostrom seemed confident this won’t derail the work.

“I think at this point now, Payne Avenue is not as fragile as when they started. Payne Avenue will be able to weather it,” he said. 

It’s unclear what will happen to the Ward 6 building after the restaurant closes. Bostrom noted it took years for the then-vacant building to finally have a business open in it, because of the costs of renovating the more than 100-year-old space.

According Ward 6’s website, the building the restaurant was housed in, at 858 Payne Ave., originally was built by Magnus Lindgren around 1885 as a saloon. He was eventually bought out by the Hamm’s Brewery in 1903. 

The website says that many breweries in the pre-Prohibition era would run a series of “tied houses” in the area, that would only serve the brewery’s products. Hamm’s built the wooden bar that is still there today and operated the bar until Prohibition was enacted in 1920. 

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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