Independent business owners reflect on ‘heart and soul’ of Stadium Village

A new apartment complex has forced some of Stadium Village’s most well-known businesses to shutter.

A stark contrast is seen between the former Jamba Juice location and Espresso Expos

Maddy Fox

A stark contrast is seen between the former Jamba Juice location and Espresso Expos

special to the Minnesota Daily and Andrew Heiser

With a 27-story apartment complex slated to rise in Stadium Village, several of the area’s most popular local businesses have been forced to close recently to make way for the project in the neighborhood that has rapidly changed in recent years with the construction of several high-rise, mixed-use complexes.

Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors plans to build a residential and commercial tower on the corner of Harvard Street and Washington Avenue, a block that currently holds a collection of Stadium Village business fixtures. While many new luxury apartment buildings in the area target students, the housing plan would be marketed to professionals who work at the University or in downtown Minneapolis.

But with the new tower, comes the demolition of the iconic Stadium Village block that housed many business with long histories on campus. The Big 10 Restaurant and Bar, Village Wok, and Espresso Expose are three of the best-known shops that have occupied the block for decades. Bun Mi Sandwiches also shared space on that corner, as did a vacant store front.

All of the block’s businesses closed within the last few weeks. Big 10 Restaurant and Bar closed over Labor Day weekend and Espresso Expose closed on Sept. 2. Village Wok and Bun Mi closed Aug. 21 and Aug. 26, respectively.

Big 10 and Espresso 

Expose held events for customers and former employees to celebrate the businesses. The displaced businesses’ Facebook pages are filled with memories from past employees and customers that frequented the restaurants.

“Started going there for lunch with a group of friends every Friday. That was in 1983,” said one commenter on Big 10’s Facebook post announcing its closing. “Since then we all graduated — well, most of us — got jobs and had to switch to getting together every Monday evening for dinner … We’ve brought girlfriends, wives, kids and even grandkids to the Big 10 … it was always just a dumpy little college bar, but the people made it feel like home.”

Espresso Expose owner Patrick Weinberg said his lease was up after this year, so he made a deal with the developers to let them buy out the lease.

“I’ve been approached all my life with that location,” said Weinberg, who also owns the Purple Onion in Dinkytown, “But they’ve been fair with me and treated me well. I feel okay about it all.”

Espresso Expose had been on the corner since 1991 and maintained a strong consumer base despite the arrival of two Starbucks nearby. Starbucks actually tried to buy Weinberg’s corner on multiple occasions, but he defied the coffee giant, so one moved in right across the street.

“I’ve always been proud to be an independent to survive here,” Weinberg said. “I know there are fans and regulars that are going to miss us.”

Sherman Ho, who owned Bun Mi, said he hopes another apartment complex wouldn’t affect the Stadium Village culture.

“Initially they’ll miss you, but things are constantly changing,” he said.

Ho said he would like to keep Bun Mi in Stadium Village. “I would like to be back here because you’re in the heart of campus, and our fan base is pretty loyal,” he said.

Ho is plenty familiar with the local restaurant scene. His uncle ran Village Wok, the recently-closed Chinese Restaurant two doors down that was started by two students from Hong Kong in 1975. Between them was the Big 10 — a popular sub shop and hangout spot since 1955. The Big 10 has another location in Hopkins.

Bun Mi wasn’t around quite as long as its neighbors, but it has stepped into the shoes of some memorable predecessors.

Before the Vietnamese sandwich outfit opened in 2009, the site was occupied by Stadium Village’s only independent barbershop, Harvard Barber Stylists. That’s where manager and ordained pastor Larry “Jake” Delander would tell customers about his days serving as a barber on the USS Intrepid during the Vietnam War.

Before Jamba Juice opened and subsequently closed, the original Harvard Market convenience store stood on the corner of Washington and Harvard. Established in 1904, the market catered to students in Stadium Village — even cashing checks for students from the nearby dormitories. Owner Brad Mateer shuttered the location in 2007 due to high maintenance and rent costs.

A second iteration on Ontario Street, dubbed Harvard Market East, preserved the shop’s presence until 2011. That’s when Opus Development Corp. began erecting student apartments in the area, and the Ontario Street corner became Stadium Village Flats with a CVS Pharmacy attached as a retail component.

Before Opus constructed The Station apartments and a Walgreens pharmacy at Washington and Walnut, there was Mercil’s Campus Auto Repair and a Noodles & Company.

Originally an Amoco station, Mercil’s was run by four generations of the family over an 85-year period. Dave Mercil began running the shop in 1936. His grandson, Darrin Mercil, the third-generation owner, said the shop began to look out of place in 2012 with the construction of the Green Line and the changing neighborhood. Noodles & Company relocated to the retail level of Opus’s Stadium Village Flats.

Even Campus Pizza closed its doors last year after a 56-year run. The restaurant moved across Washington Avenue in preparation for the Stadium Village Flats construction, but Green Line construction slowed business to an unsustainable level.

The future may be brighter for the current tenants of the Washington/Harvard corner.

Although Weinberg said he won’t relocate Espresso Expose, he will be able to focus more on the Purple Onion. Ho said he’s considering opening a new Bun Mi somewhere nearby, though nothing’s been decided. Whether or not that happens, it’s clear that change is coming soon to one of the last remaining old blocks in Stadium Village.

“It’s a great environment,” said University of Minnesota sophomore Jonathan Giesler, who used to meet friends at Espresso Expose a few times each month. “I’ll miss it. It definitely feels like you’re taking away part of the heart and soul of Stadium Village.” 

Andrew Heiser is a University of Minnesota junior studying journalism.