A growing restaurant hub can be found around Rochester’s West Circle Drive

West Circle Drive on Rochester's west end has been growing for over a decade. What has attracted a growing restaurant scene there over the years?

Smoak BBQ
Dinner time on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at Smoak BBQ in Rochester. The eatery, which opened in late 2019, is one of many popular local restaurants that have made West Circle Drive a veritable restaurant row on Rochester's northwest side.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — It started with pizza. Next came chicken.

Now, the dining options on West Circle Drive run the gamut from Asian to Italian, classic American to Southern staples. You can sit down, drive through, hunker down in a food court or dine on the patio (several patios), weather permitting. There are kitchens open late, and coffee and donuts available in the morning.

From 19th Street Northwest to Valleyhigh Drive, this stretch of road (and its adjoining side streets) have become a corridor of dining and drinking along Rochester's growing northwest side.

Early entrants

The first restaurant to open up in the area was North Mr. Pizza, then under the ownership of the Fulton family, which opened in 2006. The Zubay family, owners of Championship Dining, brought North Mr. Pizza into their company in February of 2020 from the Fulton family.


The next restaurant to follow into the area was Rooster's Barn & Grill in 2012 and from there a flurry of businesses grew up in the area, which in turn added more interest from restaurants along that stretch of West Circle Drive. The building that Rooster's is in had seen multiple different restaurants in it for years, but no business was able to stick around for a long period of time until Rooster's opened.

“A friend of mine owned the building and that's what caused me to say ‘Let’s do something good with this building,’” said Ross Manahan, owner of Rooster's. “We put Rooster's in there originally, to provide a blue collar-based neighborhood bar."

Near the end of that same year when Rooster's opened, bulk retail and grocery giant Costco became an anchor near the corner of 19th Street and West Circle Drive, triggering a boom of further real estate developments for hotels, restaurants, retail stores and neighborhood growth.

West Circle Drive Restaurants Map.png
A map of restaurants along West Circle Drive near 19th Street Northwest.
Created with Datawrapper

The domino effect

Jon Buck and Shawna Refsland of Rochester Restaurant Group said the addition of Costco helped spur restaurant growth, including their stylish American cuisine eatery, Five West, which opened near the retailer in 2015 .

“We realized that there was probably a need for a restaurant here when we saw Costco was coming in,” said Buck. “That was a no-brainer for us. And then we saw that McDonald's is going. If those two giants move somewhere, they don't pick a location for nothing. With that, we figured it'd be a good idea to throw our hat in and open Five West.”

After four years of success with Five West, Rochester Restaurant Group opened a second restaurant in the area with Smoak BBQ in December of 2019. The timing of the opening seemed right at first according to Buck, then four months later, the whole world changed.

“We first opened up the restaurant (Smoak) and got four months of craziness. That's a really key time to build your regulars and establish yourself as a go-to spot for people. So when we opened back up after the shutdowns just took a little bit longer to kind of get that your core clientele built out,” Buck said.


The newest addition to the West Circle Drive restaurant scene is Tap House West End. The restaurant’s opening came at an unfortunate time with the COVID-19 lockdowns forcing owner Chrstine Stahl to shut everything down not long after opening her doors.

“We were open 11 days before we had to shut everything down,” said Stahl. “That whole thing was absolutely shocking to us because when you build up and you've got all of the equipment and everything, and the food and the plates and all that that's on a six week pay time. We opened and then our first payroll was due on March 20. We were shut down on the 17th and so we had to survive for those three months on what we made in 11 days, and it was gut wrenching.”

Fortunately all of these restaurants saw a year of recovery with no COVID-19 restrictions in 2022. This has made their outlook on the growing population of housing and business developments in their neighborhood.

Quick and quaint

Not every restaurant along West Circle Drive is a large dining space with a huge kitchen and a full bar. And there's certainly a variety that has sprung up among some of the bigger, more established names.

The outdoor dining area at Five West.
Post Bulletin file photo

For example, North Mr. Pizza looks across West Circle Drive at Carbone's Pizza, another family dining establishment that fills a similar niche.

Fast food or merely quick ranges from McDonald's to Subway and Jersey Mike's to Great Harvest Bread. People in need of a quick jolt will find coffee stops ranging from the ubiquitous Starbuck's to the more local Moka and Caribou Coffee just a few doors down from Five West.

Across West Circle — and technically with a Superior Drive Northwest address — Zen Fusion Hibachi & Lounge is the latest entry in a building that has been home to several Asian-inspired restaurants. Asia Fusion — up the east side of West Circle near Subway and Carbone's — has a mix of Asian flavors as well.

Sweet treats can be found from Dunkin', which offers everything breakfast from coffee and donuts to sandwiches and bagels to Crumbl Cookies, which has also taken up a spot among the commercial businesses in the region.


Neighborhood support

Similar to downtown Rochester, the hotels in the West Circle Drive provide strong partnerships with their neighboring restaurants for a more convention heavy crowd compared to the heavy Mayo Clinic patient traffic seen at downtown hotels.

The hotels are only part of the neighboring support for these restaurants though as Steph Crowson, general manager of Mr. Pizza North, shared.

“We've had a lot of support from all the small businesses around there because they come together in large sizes, Crowson said. "A lot of the people over there only have 30 minutes for lunch or 45 minutes or an hour for lunch. They frequent us a lot and we appreciate that support because it's not like a downtown area where a lot of people are walking by, it's more of a destination where you drive to go there.”

The dining room at Mr. Pizza North provides more open space and a new bar spread for customers to come into on a sunny Monday afternoon on June 6, 2022.
Post Bulletin file photo

As more real estate developers bridge the gap of land between Byron and west Rochester with residential neighborhoods, every restaurant on West Circle Drive is preparing for more clientele in the area. While the company has yet to make an announcement, site development plans filed in November 2022 indicate a Cub Foods grocery store will open a new location in the neighborhood at 4221 West Circle Drive.

All of the restaurants on that side of town are preparing for what’s to come in a growing population of West Circle Drive. Rooster's and Five West are both working on patio renovations. Rooster's is hoping for an expansion with their current space while Five West will be bringing in new furniture.

“The patio is always a big draw come springtime,” said Refsland of Five West. “We're gonna revamp our patio, the lower patio as is, but we're bringing in furniture that will begin to arrive in a week or two. And weather permitting, we’ll hopefully set up within a month.”

For Tap House West and North Mr. Pizza, catering to the lunch time crowd is the focus for 2023.

“People that aren’t frequenting downtown as much, they're looking for other options where they can kind of still get that feel,” said Stahl. “We're busy downtown too, but I think word of mouth is huge in growing our business out here. With all of the businesses that are kind of moving out into this area too, we get businesses that come in and have lunch here, and they bring their clients here, and it's a good meeting place for people to do that, which we don’t have downtown because we don’t serve lunch there.”


No new restaurants have been announced for construction or openings around West Circle Drive for the year. However, with the large boom of success current restaurants already have, the growing retail and housing developments in the area. It may not be surprising if another restaurant tries to open up shop off of West Circle Drive in 2023.

Tap House West, June 23, 2021.
Post Bulletin file photo
West Circle
A view looking north on West Circle Drive Northwest on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Smoak BBQ
Diners tuck into slow-cooked deliciousness at Smoak BBQ in Rochester on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Smoak BBQ
Smoak BBQ brings a new take on Southern staples to Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Smoak BBQ
Freddy Douglas prepares a Smoak Box Old Fashioned is prepared on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at Smoak BBQ in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Theodore Tollefson is a business reporter for the Post Bulletin. He is originally from Burnsville, Minn., and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a bachelor's degree in journalism in December 2020. Readers can reach Theodore at 507-281-7420 or
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