Al’s Breakfast to renovate after health violations

Al’s Breakfast accumulated 45 health violations from four city inspections.

Justin Horwath

Tucked between Espresso Royale and Cummings Books sits Al’s Breakfast, a former tool shed turned diner and a staple of Dinkytown for more than 56 years.

Due to health code violations, the narrow, 14-stool legend on 14th Avenue faces its first major interior renovation since founder Al Bergstrom built the kitchen in the 1950s.

The renovations include new floors near the food preparation area, new shelves, ceiling remodeling and an additional sink for hand washing and cleaning of surface areas to remove “grease, food, soil and dust.”

According to a compliance agreement, the floor upgrades must be finished by May 31. However, co-owner Jim Brandes said he hasn’t heard back from the city about specifics, but thinks everything should be finished by the end of spring.

“We’re kind of waiting to see what happens,” Brandes said. “Our objective is to work with them on this.”

The violations – built up over the years, many of them repeats – have varied from not having a hand sink in the bathroom to not having approved materials for flooring, walls and ceiling. The Minneapolis Division of Environmental Health and Food Safety reports show a total of 45 violations in four inspections since 2000.

An inspection last December found more serious violations. Four of them labeled “critical” included violations to food contact areas, contamination and surface design. However, all were abated in a discussion with the Minneapolis Environmental Health and Food Agency.

Co-owner Doug Grina said many of the violations are inane and “odd.” For example, the code says meat or dairy products can’t be stored above food or vegetables, and he said none of those violations affect the food.

“We’ve never had a food-related problem in the history of Al’s Breakfast,” he said. “That’s part of the reason we’re not happy about this.”

Many of Al’s regular customers said the city’s mandated renovation is unfair. First-year law student Kyle Hawkins said he didn’t agree with the city’s actions.

“It’s unfortunate that a classic place like this with all of its charm is going to change,” he said.

Some also wondered about the timing of the renovations after repeated violations. Grina and Brandes said they heard of a “grandfather clause” repealed two years ago that exempted old establishments such as Al’s from certain violations.

Gary Edwards, a supervisor for the State Health Department Safety Center, said no such clause existed. Edwards does St. Paul inspections.

“There’s no black and white line,” he said. “We’re not going to close a place down because there’s a crack in the ceiling Ö but after 20 years it can get pretty bad and a regulatory authority says it’s time to fix it.”

Brandes said the renovations shouldn’t have any effect on the business, though it will hurt their bank account. But he said he doesn’t think that there will be a substantial price increase on the menu.

“We’ve never had a history of raising prices often,” he said. “We try to barely eke out a living.”