By: William Morris
January 24, 2018
There hasn’t been much of a fine dining scene in downtown Owatonna since Jerry’s Supper Club closed in 2009. But that’s set to change later this year, and it will be a familiar name and face coming to the central business district.
Torey’s Restaurant and Bar is preparing to leave its home of 17 years on West Bridge Street and relocate to Cedar Avenue, in the buildings currently occupied by Ace Hardware. Preliminary floor plans show the restaurant will have comparable floorspace on its main level to what it has today. The big difference, proprietor Torey Statlander said, will be the 350-seat banquet hall planned for upstairs.
“One, we have our own space,” said Statlander, ticking off the advantages of the move. “Two, we have room for a big group, we can accommodate a big group, and three, we can do catering and weddings without leaving the building.”
The Ace location — which will soon be vacated as Arrow Hardware relocates to its new building on the same block — offers unique opportunities, and challenges, for the project. For starters, the space originally was built as three separate buildings, and still has many of the internal partition walls. Even worse, the second stories of the three buildings are uneven, with each floor a few inches offset from the next. And there’s the considerable work needed to convert a retail store to a code-compliant restaurant.
“What they’re looking at doing is combining these buildings more into a one-building usable space, but in order to meet codes, and obviously change of use from a retail store to a restaurant, you’re looking at significant building improvements, including elevators, restrooms, sprinkler system into the building, numerous things like that,” said Owatonna Community Development Specialist Greg Kruschke.
All of that, as well as possible asbestos removal, electric and sewer work and more, won’t come cheap. Currently, Statlander and his partners expect to invest more than $2 million in the building to make it happen, with help from the city in the form of a tax increment financing district to cover some of the costs upfront. Kruschke said the city has been working with Torey’s since July to make the plan a reality.
“Obviously this is a big boost for downtown, as it keeps going, and stays with the city’s themes of trying to drive more traffic downtown, so we’re obviously excited to see this,” he said.
Statlander said expanding the restaurant’s event space has been a goal for three or four years. Currently, he has a side room that seats about 80, but can do little for larger groups. Nor does he have a great deal of available parking at the Bridge Street Center strip mall. And he hears constant demand for a better location to hold business lunches, parties, and, of course, weddings.
“People are still getting married!” he said. “We’re doing 10 to 12 weddings a year off-site, and I know that we could do more, but we just don’t have the space. We just want to make it all-inclusive. … There’s different venues, the different barns and warehouses and things like that, but most of them aren’t air-conditioned, they aren’t 100 percent enclosed, they’re not ADA approved. We want to have the full package.”
The downtown location will also put Torey’s in a better location for its busy lunch traffic, and put it within a block of more than 250 parking stalls. Kruschke said the city is monitoring the parking situation but doesn’t see immediate cause for concern.
“The city’s goal is to create a parking problem downtown,” he said. “That shows that everyone is busy, and there’s a lot of people and thriving businesses downtown. We don’t have a problem walking from the back of the Wal-Mart parking lot in, which is 500 feet, so what’s the difference downtown?”
He also said it’s important to consider when different businesses bring the most traffic to the area.
“As you talk about times of operation, Torey’s isn’t necessarily operating, or their peak times aren’t when a lot of those other businesses are running,” Kruschke said.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the city scheduled a hearing on the proposed TIF district for March 6. Statlander said if all goes according to plan, the goal is to take possession of the building in March and be ready to open in August. They’re not taking commitments yet for the upstairs hall, but he expects to start with holiday parties and other events toward the end of the year.
The Torey’s relocation is one of several projects currently under discussion downtown, and Statlander said he’s happy to be part of it.
“With all the new projects going downtown in the area, the possibility of that project across the street, it’s only going to help downtown in general. It’s going to bring more things to Owatonna, not just weddings, but other things,” he said.
And create a great business opportunity for a popular local restaurant with a first-rate wedding and banquet hall.
“We’re not going to recoup $2 million in the first year. It’s going to take time,” he said. “But I think what we decided as a group is that we’re going to do it right the first time.”
William Morris got his start in the newspaper trade as a recurring editorial intern in Wisconsin and has been writing about business, government and crime at the Owatonna People’s Press since 2015. He now splits his time working with the newspaper and as Associate Editor for Forge.