Spring Café’s New Owners Think You’ll Be Surprised – in a Good Way
Monday, March 4, 2019 11:40 AM

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Some people don't expect much when Lancer Hospitality takes over the Como Lakeside Pavilion's Spring Café. Tony Arvidson expects to prove them wrong.

“Our plan is to offer chef-inspired food served by a staff focused on providing exemplary customer service,” Arvidson says. Erase from your mind any images of institutional, foil-wrapped burgers sitting under a heat lamp. “Lancer’s has a deep bench of culinary talent and we are excited to use that to move the entire experience of the Como Pavilion forward. There will be good vibes and good times.”

Lancer purchased Spring Café and Red River Kitchen from local restaurateur Matty O’Reilly in February. The purchase assumes full responsibility for the remaining four years of O’Reilly’s contract with the city to run a restaurant and other amenities in the Lakeside Pavilion. Though word leaked before Lancer had everything in place, the company has been eyeing the Pavilion for years, says Arvidson, who is Lancer Hospitality's regional vice president. “We’re excited about it. We’re inheriting a facility that a lot of people want to succeed. We are really looking forward to embedding ourselves in this community.”

Wait-and-see approach
In a wide-ranging conversation with District 10, Arvidson dropped few hints about what the menu might look like when Spring Café re-opens in April or May. “We have some really innovative ideas, and want to ensure we provide options that appeal to all our guests.” But, he says, “we always consider feedback from the community."

Initally, some things will not change much. Arvidson expects the initial menu to include and enhance top items from the Spring Café and Red River kitchens. The venue will continue to be family friendly and provide vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, he says. Lancer has retained musician Molly Maher to book entertainment, so there will be full season of bands, theater, and more on the outdoor Promenade. Wheel Fun will continue to operate the surrey and watercraft rentals. Lancer will continue to offer hand-dipped ice cream at the lakeside concessions window.

One definite enhancement: Visitors will receive hand-held pagers that notify them when their meal is ready. And Spring Café expects to have weekend brunch, complete with a Bloody Mary bar.

Before making additional changes, however, Lancer wants to become more familiar with the neighborhood and restaurant guests. “Listening to the needs of the customers is always the right way to start a new relationship,” he says. “We’ll start by getting feedback from the guests before we make any final determinations. We’re nimble. Some things will not work, so we’ll fix it.”

Better visibility
There are areas on which Lancer expects to focus immediately, including additional promotion and marketing efforts. One priority: Make sure everybody knows there actually is a restaurant in the building. “Right now, park visitors can walk past the Pavilion or drive into the parking lot and not even know they can get a meal or a beverage inside,” Arvidson says. “We will maintain the historic look and feel but, at the same time, enhance it to provide a welcoming environment.”

Neighborhood residents should expect to be enticed by things such as a loyalty program, coupons, or limited time promotions.“We’re proud to be part of the local neighborhood,” Arvidson says, noting that Lancer currently manages Zooper Foods, Zobota Café, Como Town, corporate picnics in the park, and some vendor operations at the State Fair.

Longer term, Arvidson expects additional renovations at the restaurant, including relocating the kitchen so visitors can see chefs prepare fresh food in front of them. He expects to implement a sustainable, responsible-sourcing program similar to what Lancer uses at the Minnesota Zoo and several other venues.

Generating more revenue from banquets
Spring Café intends to live up to its contractual obligations with the city, which includes keeping the restaurant open year-round, at least on weekends. To make that possible, Arvidson expects to pay much more attention to catering weddings, corporate gatherings, and other events in the Pavilion’s third-floor banquet hall. That revenue can offset the slow times downstairs, he says. "The big thing is sustainability. We want to do what’s going to work in the long haul.”

Arvidson has been at Lancer 22 years; the company's corporate structure and experience will be a strength, he argues. For example, Lancer’s experience in zoos and the Minnesota Children’s Museum means Spring Café will be well aware of food allergies. Lancer’s experience in busy seasonal venues means Spring Café should be better prepared to handle crowds on popular summer concert nights. Because Lancer has staff who work elsewhere in the park – and has staff from college dining halls who otherwise would be out of work for the summer – Spring Café should have reserves it can call in to handle busy times. “We have plenty of people,” Arvidson says.

Spring Café will open “as soon as we get consistently warm weather,” he says. Expect some unannounced openings on weekends once temperatures are “60ish.”

Originally published March 8, 2019; updated March 12.

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