New shops vie for Dinkytown business

by Peter Frost

Students returning to the University this fall have a variety of new places in Dinkytown to spend their hard-earned summer-job cash.
Three new businesses moved into Dinkytown during the spring and summer months, and another is on the way.
China Express, The Dinkytowner and Erik’s Bike Shop have already opened in the area, and the long-awaited Loring Pasta Bar isn’t far behind.
China Express
Nestled between Dinkytown Tobacco and Hair by Stewart’s, the China Express moved into the old George’s Bakery building at 409 14th Avenue Southeast — a building which has been vacant for more than three years.
The restaurant serves typical Chinese cuisine, including lo mein, egg foo young and several szechuan-style dishes.
Diners can choose to eat-in, take-out or have their food delivered. China Express features an “express lunch,” with prepared dishes served a la carte for students with little time between class to catch a quick bite.
Although open for a mere seven weeks, employees say the restaurant has been “very busy.”
The Dinkytowner
Located below Dub’s Bar and Grill at 412 1/2 14th Ave. S.E., The Dinkytowner hopes to bring success to a location that has seen four restaurants come and go in the past three years.
But, although the location has a shaky track record, owner Vlad Fogel thinks there is a market for his menu and is willing to give it a shot.
“I’m not sure we are going to make it, but I will try everything in my power to make it,” Fogel said.
The Dinkytowner is a spin-off of the infamous Uptowner Diner of St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, a restaurant noted for its homestyle food, diverse clientele and late-night dining.
The new eatery features signature dishes like the Cajun Breakfast and the Double Decker Gutbuster burger, and is open until 4 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for students with late-night munchies.
While it will serve wine and beer, Fogel said he wants the Dinkytowner to be known as a restaurant rather than a bar.
“I believe that we have a unique product in Dinkytown that there is definitely a demand for,” Fogel said.
“Erik the Bike Man” and his chain of eight bike stores in the Twin Cities opened his Dinkytown branch of Erik’s at the end of March.
The retailer is a full-service bicycle and snowboard shop located at 1312 Fourth St. S.E., across the street from Dinkytown’s post office.
Students can find snowboards, bikes, scooters, rollerblades and all things associated with them at Erik’s.
The shop also specializes in bicycle repair. “We can fix any bike ever made by any company,” employee Pat Paul said.
Since the store moved into Dinkytown, Paul said, Erik’s has experienced a large amount of business.
Loring Pasta Bar
The much-anticipated opening of the Loring Pasta Bar is still two or three months away, but anyone dabbling about Dinkytown is sure to notice its progress.
Located in the old Gray’s Drug building at the main intersection in the miniature student city (Fourth Street and 14th Avenue Southeast), work on the forthcoming restaurant has been drawing attention for over three months.
“We’re going to open whenever we can,” owner Jason McLean said.
McLean and his crew have completely renovated the building to feature a wide-open ceiling with balconies in the front and rear, spacious booths and ornate decor, much like McLean’s other restaurant, the Loring Cafe in Minneapolis.
The outer appearance of the location attempts to hold the nostalgia of the long-standing Gray’s Drug by placing weathered glass “Drugs” signs around the top of the building, lined with colors used circa 1970.
The restaurant will feature a Mediterranean-based menu, including pastas, salads and other items borrowed from the Loring Cafe.
Wine and beer will be served, and dinners will range from $4 to $12.

Peter Frost covers business and can be reached at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3215.