Remodeling woes hit Hard Times Cafe
After remaining open almost continuously for
most of its 15-year history, the Hard Times Cafe on Riverside Avenue
remains closed after owners became entangled in the city’s
permit application process earlier this summer. The West Bank landmark
and meeting place for those outside the mainstream, and even city
movers and shakers, has served coffee and locally-produced food
from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. since 1992.
“The initial closing was their call,”
said Minneapolis Media Coordinator Matt Laible, “but it sounds
like they’ve been working with city departments to get all
their issues resolved.”
After the cooperatively owned business closed
its doors in August to revamp its ventilation system, the plan was
to be reopened by the time University of Minnesota students—the
coffee and veggie emporium’s mainstay customer base—returned
for fall quarter. But, owners say, they weren’t fully aware
of the building permits required for them to open their doors after
remodeling work has been completed.
According to the city, remodeling an existing
drinking/dining establishment means owners must “submit a
completed Food Establishment Plan Review Application and two sets
of food safety plans” in addition to applying for construction
permits and passing construction inspections.
Co-owner Jason Buckendorf recently told The
Minnesota Daily that owners didn’t find out about the food
plan review until the end of August so it didn’t get approved
until Oct. 5. Cafe managers say they expect the business to be back
in operation in a few weeks. Hard Times owners have credited their
Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon (Green-Ward 2) with helping
move things along. Gordon has kept Tuesdays at the cafe as a regular
meeting date with constituents.
Closing the doors of the eatery and hangout
has been not only a disappointment for local patrons but an understandable
financial hardship for employees and members of the co-op business.
Co-op member Brian Monroe is a special case in the dilemma, currently
undergoing chemotherapy for recently diagnosed cancer.
The Bedlam Theatre is hosting a benefit on Nov.
11 for Monroe. The West Bank theater and studio is donating all
proceeds from its sale of Black Label beer to support Hard Times.
This is the second incident in recent memory
that Hard Times has been closed due to run-ins with the city. According
to records from Minneapolis District Court, police raided the cafe
Jan. 26, 2000, arresting two men for allegedly selling small quantities
of narcotics to undercover police officers. Two other men were also
later arrested for narcotics violations in relation to the police’s
undercover operation, although neither were connected to the cafe.
“The cafe itself was not found to have
engaged in illegal activity,” said the court, but city officials
had come to view Hard Times as a conduit for drug trafficking in
the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
The arrests not only caused owners to voluntarily
close its doors for a number of weeks, but also put the business
under the scrutiny of the Minneapolis Environmental Health Department,
which inspected the cafe and found several violations.
Based on the findings of an administrative law
judge, a Minneapolis City Council committee recommended in the spring
of 2000 that Hard Times’ business license not be renewed.
The business eventually passed health inspections,
met all city fire code regulations, and completely replaced a rear
entrance. Other recommendations made by the city were negotiated
and the cafe was legally allowed to operate on a regular basis,
remaining one of the only late night businesses in the area.