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Rollicious: Nori and Rice rolls into Dinkytown

With Rollicious’ launch in Dinkytown, long-standing businesses discuss what it is like to run a business in a highly competitive area.
Image by Eleanor King
Rollicious: Nori and Rice, photographed on Feb. 28, opened on Feb. 12 next to Shuang Cheng and primarily serves sushi, onigiri and teriyaki bowls.

Specializing in hand rolls, rice balls and teriyaki bowls, new business Rollicious: Nori and Rice opened in Dinkytown on Feb. 12 underneath the Book House and neighboring Shuang Cheng.

Rollicious joins the fluctuating nature of Dinkytown’s businesses alongside its long-standing counterparts Tony’s Diner and Al’s Breakfast. As new students come and go for breaks, businesses must constantly adapt to change. 

Soi Ho, owner of Rollicious, said he opened the restaurant in Minneapolis because of the times he visited during family vacations while he worked for his sister’s sushi bar in North Dakota.

“Every time I came down, the place just grew on me,” Ho said. “Then I just decided, ‘Yeah, I want to be here.’”

Ho said he opened Rollicious for new opportunities and came to Dinkytown specifically to grow his business and meet people. He said he is excited for his life in Minneapolis where he can spend time with his family and explore the city. 

Dinkytown is a competitive market for restaurants as the streets are full of a variety of places for students to eat, but it also provides opportunities for new businesses. Several businesses such as Tony’s Diner and Al’s Breakfast have operated for over 22 years while others, like CrunCheese and $1.99 Americano, opened within the last few years. 

Ho said he believes the food appeals to younger generations and will be easy for students to get when they are in a hurry. 

“It’s grab and go,” Ho said. “They don’t have to wait a long time just for the food.”

Tony Nicklow, owner of Tony’s Diner, said he originally planned to open a Chinese noodle and dumpling restaurant after he had lived in China, but the landlord did not want it to compete with a similar business he owned. 

Nicklow said his father, who was in the restaurant business and started in Dinkytown in the ‘60s, suggested serving burgers and steaks instead. Nicklow opened Tony’s Diner in August 2002 and added breakfast options a few years later. 

Nicklow said he loves being in Dinkytown because being in a University neighborhood is dynamic and there is never a dull moment. 

“Dinkytown is an awesome place,” Nicklow said. “I kind of grew up here, like I said my dad started here, and I got to watch a lot of things change.” 

Ho said he chose to open Rollicious in Dinkytown to be open for students as one of the only restaurants in Dinkytown that primarily serves sushi. Nicklow said having a niche helps set you apart from other businesses in the area.

Al’s Breakfast opened in 1950 by Al Bergstrom and it is now owned and operated by Alison Kirwin, who has worked there since 1996.

Kirwin said Al’s differs from other restaurants in Dinkytown because it does not rely only on the student population but instead a loyal group of regulars. She said the regulars pass on the tradition of going to Al’s to new students attending the University and others they want to share the experience with. 

“We have regulars who have been coming in for 40 or more years,” Kirwin said. “The fact that people care enough to pass it on to the next generation is really cool.”

Maintaining a business in Dinkytown can be challenging when students go away for breaks. Nicklow said he relies on catering for the Gopher athletics teams to carry the diner through the summer, but some people will return on the weekends.

Kirwin said with new students coming to the University every year, they get new people coming into Al’s that tend to continue to come after they discover it.

“We tend to do a pretty good job of keeping people around while they are at school,” Kirwin said. “We get a lot of students who become short-term regulars.” 

It is not easy to stay in Dinkytown long-term. Kirwin said only a few businesses have survived for decades like Al’s, Wally’s and Tony’s Diner.

“There is definitely a community aspect of people who are constant around there,” Kirwin said. “But then it’s fun when new people come in with new ideas and become a part of the landscape of Dinkytown too.”

When Al’s and Tony’s first opened, they did not need to rely on social media to promote their businesses, but now new businesses should try to be active on social media and put themselves out there.

Kirwin said it is important for new businesses to consider the variety of places that already exist in Dinkytown and find something different that could benefit the area and be visible on the street for people to see them.

It is easy to walk past businesses without looking at what it is, especially as a student on their way to class, Kirwin said.

Nicklow said spreading the word when first opening is difficult but having good proportions for a good price is key.

“My old man told me when he was here, he said ‘You gotta put the value on the plate,’” Nicklow said. “If the food is good, if the price is right, it works.”

Although Rollicious is hard to find, Kirwin said the corridor is a hidden gem due to its architecture and old-world feeling.

“You walk back into this cobblestone hallway,” Kirwin said. “Once they get people back there, they are really going to like it.”

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  • Peter A. Baptiste
    Feb 29, 2024 at 10:20 pm

    So nice to “catch up” with a place I got to know and love way back in the ’70s, as a student and resident (I lived just off the Dinkytown main strip for a couple years). Thanks for the memories!