Pub is first step in Red Wing revitalization
RED WING — Up to a dozen people a day have stopped to peer through the front window since John and Danielle Flicek began renovating the Staghead Gastropub restaurant this summer.
The wait is nearly over. The Fliceks hope to open Monday.
Wendy Ward, the new executive director of Red Wing Downtown Main Street, is hoping that Monday's opening just the beginning of an ambitious 10-year plan to revitalize the river city's historic downtown district.
The Fliceks, who most recently worked at Zzest in Rochester, were the winners of the unique Red Wing Restaurant Challenge in July. The contest operated much like the popular "Shark Tank" television show, which rewards entrepreneurs who impress a panel of investors. The Fliceks made their pitch to Downtown Main Street and received $20,000 in start-up capital and another $20,000 of in-kind support through advertising and promotional services to reopen the restaurant, which had been closed for about five years.
The couple received their final permit — a liquor license — during a special city council meeting earlier this week and are set to open the doors. The restaurant will offer high-quality, non-fried meals for lunch and supper and an assortment of craft beer on tap.
"Every day we're here working we've had at least five people come in hoping to eat," Danielle Flicek said. "It's fun. There's been a lot of excitement. It's a good feeling to be so welcomed here."
Red Wing officials are hoping Staghead is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ward, a White Bear Lake native, spent her first nine months on the job talking to public officials, residents and business owners before proposing a revitalization project that's modeled after St. Paul's Lowertown boom from the 1980s.
"The Staghead was the first step toward a revitalization process," Ward said. "It was an incredible experience for Downtown Main Street. We realized if we built an incentive program … that's cool, but what happens if we take it to the next level? It was a great first step, but … how do we use the restaurant challenge as a jumping off point to something bigger?"
Red Wing has committed nearly $12 million to downtown road improvements and a river walk project in 2015. Ward convinced the city to commit another $200,000 per year through 2019 to support her vision of adding food and beverage options, similar to what's happened just to the west of Red Wing's immediate downtown district over the past few years. She hopes to leverage that funding for creative public-private partnerships.
The focus is on capturing visitors taking advantage of the region's many outdoor attractions, such as boating and hiking. Red Wing City Council member Lisa Bayley said that vision has intrigued city officials.
"(Ward) came to the city and did a whole workshop on her plan," Bayley said. "We all said, 'Wow. We don't know who would do this or what form it will take, but we like the vision.'"
It's already paid quick dividends. The restaurant challenge helped rev the city's economic engine. Oliver's Wine Bar is opening downtown next month and a new coffee shop is expected to open in the spring. An olive oil business filled a vacant downtown storefront this fall.
The newcomers have also created a renewed sense of optimism among those who survived the recent recession.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe in this," Ward said. "This is a big job, but I don't think there's any other Minnesota town that's so well positioned to come out ahead. It's not just me thinking this — we're all in on this.
"Right now we're just setting the foundation."