Throwing his hat into the restaurant ring

Newbie Jim Ringo has opened two new restaurants this month, Forum and Ringo. Can the corporate entrepreneur climb into the food world?

by Tony Libera

Forum WHERE: 40 7th St. S., Mpls. Ringo WHERE: 5331 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park Opening a new eatery is a bold move for even the most seasoned of restaurateurs, but that hasnâÄôt dissuaded culinary tenderfoot Jim Ringo . Last week, the former Cargill executive cut the ribbon on downtown MinneapolisâÄô Forum, making it his second venture this month after Ringo, which opened in St. Louis Park. Ringo and Forum may share management, but their owner views them as two distinct entities, both in appearance and in taste. âÄúThe two restaurants are polar opposites,âÄù Ringo said, sitting on ForumâÄôs patio. âÄúForum is classy, itâÄôs authentic, itâÄôs old, itâÄôs historic. Ringo is trendy, itâÄôs in a new space, it reflects contemporary design.âÄù Forum indeed is a classy-looking place, complete with elegant chandeliers, mirrored wall panels and a swanky bar in the center of the restaurant. But for all its upscale dazzle, ForumâÄôs main goal is to provide quality, down-home Americana. âÄúYouâÄôll see that on the menu,âÄù Ringo said. âÄúWhen people think American food, they often think Midwest, but this is for all of America.âÄù The main menu attests to ForumâÄôs intended diversity, with entrees ranging from Creole pasta to New England fish-n-chips. Prices can be on the high end for the average college student, but items like The Iowa Skinny, a pork tenderloin sandwich fried and served on focaccia, costs $12, a value for the quality and hefty portion. And to make sure Forum pays homage to all of these United States, they offer an additional monthly rotating menu that focuses on a specific region. âÄúOur menus are very diverse for a reason: thatâÄôs what guests want. They want to eat all over the map,âÄù Ringo said. âÄúMaybe it is a little aspirational, but why get into this business if you arenâÄôt going to try to create a satisfying experience?âÄù Not everyone agrees with ForumâÄôs sprawling menu philosophy. Even before the restaurant opened, Ringo was taking heat, with many detractors saying this newcomer would undoubtedly spread himself too thin, resulting in mediocre meals and a Cheesecake Factory aura. Despite the disparagement, Ringo remains confident in his business model, citing the support of his kitchen crew and the demands of his patrons as reason enough to weather the criticism. âÄúIâÄôve taken my share of shots from food critics who say it canâÄôt be done, but I wish they would actually come in and eat first,âÄù Ringo said. âÄúWhenever you try something new, youâÄôre going to have critics, but time will tell whether weâÄôre right or wrong.âÄù