Hard Times will reopen Saturday, Dec. 15

Happy days are here again for Hard Times.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

West Bank cafe emerges sparkling from 'bureaucratic red tape'

Four months after closing for what was expected to be a month-long renovation, Hard Times Café, 1821 Riverside Ave., will reopen at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, the cooperative announced in a news release last week.

“For 15 years, the West Bank landmark has hosted students, artists, travelers, bohemians, immigrants and regular people in need of strong coffee, a huge menu of vegetarian or vegan fare and an atmosphere unlike any other,” states the release. “Pay at the counter, sit down and when your name is called, you’d better pick up your food or face the cook.”

While that process will sound familiar to anyone who has known the café, the remodeled restaurant may look different. After at least $150,000 in city-mandated renovations and work by contractors and dedicated Hard Times workers, “The floors are so polished I could see my face in them,” said Susannah Dodge, who manages the property for her father, Peter Dodge, the owner of the building that houses Hard Times.

“It looks beautiful,” said Dodge. The entire kitchen was renovated, she said, including a new ventilation system, piping, sinks and a dish washer, as well as façade improvements, wall coverings and a “fake ceiling” to cover exposed ventilation.

Dodge said her father assisted financially because, “He absolutely loves Hard Times; he hangs out there everyday,” she said. “He thinks the business model is excellent and should survive.”

In addition to the landlord’s contributions, Seward Cafe loaned Hard Times $10,000, said Hard Times cooperative member Troy Pieper, calling Seward’s help “one of several outpourings from people in our community.

“Hard Times is fortunate to be a part of the community it is,” said Pieper in an email. “Without [the community’s] support, we might never have been able to open again.”

Dodge credited Hard Times cooperative members for the work they put into the renovations. “I was really impressed by how much they work there,” she said. “They are so committed to that place.”

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon was also glad to hear of the café’s reopening. “I’m looking forward to eating there again and looking forward to them doing a great, booming business,” he said. Gordon will resume holding his monthly “office hours in the ward” at the cafe every first Tuesday from 9:30–11 a.m. (The open hours have been held across the street at Mapp’s Coffee and Tea during Hard Times’ closing.)

Apparent miscommunication with the city and contractor’s delays dragged the renovations out to four months, during which Hard Times workers went without pay. The lack of income was particularly difficult for longtime Hard Timer Brian Monroe, who underwent treatment for cancer during that time. A benefit at Bedlam Theatre drew a large crowd and brought in thousands of dollars to assist Monroe and his two daughters.

A note posted in the café’s window during the closing cited “bureaucratic red tape” for the delay, and Dodge said that poor communication on the part of the city’s inspection department meant that café was not aware of the full extent of the work, planning and permits required until August, as the work was about to commence.

In October, city representatives told the Minnesota Daily that Hard Times had been told of the requirements in March. Dodge credited Gordon with bringing the two sides together in an attempt to expedite the process (Gordon said he did make one call to the inspections department, but he downplayed the alleged act of diplomacy.)

With the work and bureaucratic wrestling behind it, however, “the café will again provide folks with gypsy stew, tempeh reubens and coffee that can defend itself,” states the Hard Times release.

last revised: December 13, 2007