46th and 34th Ave pick up speed

BY STEPHANIE FOX

For a couple of generations, the Sunrise Inn sat at the corner of 34th Avenue and 46th Street in the East Nokomis neighborhood of South Minneapolis. The next-to-the last of the 3.2 dive bars in the Twin Cities was the place where neighbors would drop in for a cold one, a famous burger basket or a grilled cheese sandwich.  “That was my bar,” said Steve Houle who had, until this year, co-owned it with Frank Jerkovich.
“I’ve been here for 39 years,” said Houle. “And we had the same people come here for years. I’ve seen a lot of action. I’ve seen people fall asleep in the booths. I’ve been trying to sell this place for 15 years,” he said.
The business had been on and off the market, officially and otherwise, and there were offers to buy. But five months ago, the partners officially put the Sunrise Inn on the market, the price negotiable, according to LoopNet, a commercial real estate site.
Doug Flicker and his wife (and business partner), Amy Greely, had been thinking about the Sunrise Inn for five years. They’d casually searched for bars for sale, but their plate was full, they said.
Flicker is known for his award winning but now closed Piccolo restaurant, as well as their current restaurant and summer dining destination, Sandcastle at Lake Nokomis. They wanted to open a new place, a bar to be called Bull’s Horn, when the time was right.
The couple lives a few blocks from the Sunrise Inn with their dog, Phoebe, and cat, Gato, so they knew about the place, at least from the outside. “You’d drive by and see people shamble out of the Sunrise,” said Flicker. “We approached Houle about five years ago, but nothing happened. And, we knew we couldn’t do Sandcastle and Bull’s Horn at the same time.”
Flicker had been nominated for James Beard awards for Piccolo, a hit from since it opened in 2010. The 36-seat popular high-end restaurant closed in March.

While Piccolo was a hit, Greely said that it was time to move on. “The world has changed,” she said, sitting in one of the Sunrise’s booths while renovation began a few feet away. “Doug got to do what he wanted in the kitchen for seven years. But, we love the feel of this place. We’ll be putting in a full kitchen, restoring but keeping the space as much as what it was before. We’ll just clean and shine it up a bit. We want to keep it as a neighborhood bar.”
Inside the old Sunrise Inn, there is a lot of work to do to clean and shine. Flicker and Greely want to keep the old vibe, with the beautiful oak bar, old school paneling, cozy booths—even bringing in some up-North touches like the newly acquired mounted walleye, which will soon grace the walls.
They hired Croix Custom Homes builder Jonathan Herum to re-do the place. Herum and Flicker met during a Mall of America cooking competition where Herum was Flicker’s sideman. “I won a $10,000 prize,” said Flicker. “So, I asked Jonathan to come into my kitchen and, for six years he came in every Thursday, chopping vegetables and doing other jobs that no one else wants to do. But, he also owns a construction company. So, I gave him a call.”
The new menu will include burgers and sandwiches, upgraded. “We’ll make our own American cheese and roast beef. We’ll have a smoker in the back and sell smoked meat with sides as a special of the day,” said Greely. The 3.2 beer will be replaced by strong beer and wine. “It’s hard to get 3.2 beer,” she said. “And, it takes at least two years to get a full liquor license from the state.”
Greeley had never worked in a kitchen until she met her husband and married him 16 years ago. She’d been employed in higher education, working with study abroad programs, allowing her, she said, to try food all over the world. It was a job she loved, but she left to handle the front of the house and the business end of Piccolo.
Flicker spent years as a star chef, where he reigned as a prince of the Twin Cities dining scene, including his first restaurant, Auriga, which closed in 2007 after a 10-year run.
But, he got his start in Pierz, a small German town north of St. Cloud, with a population of a little more that 1,000 people. There, his family owned Flicker’s Liquors, an off-sale/on-sale store and bar, the kind of place with “Bologna Tuesdays,” where specialty ring bologna sandwiches on soft white bread brought in dozens of customers. “It was awesome,” said Flicker. “My grandfather would give me quarters and I’d play pinball. As a kid, it was such a happy place.”
Flicker wants to make the new Bull’s Horn a happy place as well. They own the building, leasing to Pat Harteneck, owner of the Freshly Cut Barbershop, located on the north end of the building. Harteneck is planning an upgrade. There are two vacant units between the barbershop and Bull’s Horn and Flicker said he hoped to fill them with like-minded tenants.
“I think it’s a great addition to the neighborhood,” said Harteneck. “The new place will be family oriented, but they’ll be keeping with the historic feel. The old place wasn’t as friendly. I think it’s going to help my business. Our clientele will love it and vice versa.”
“The neighborhood is changing. We’ve got the light rail, people going to Twin’s Games, the craft beer scene—all which will bring people here,” he said.
“We’re really excited to be part of Standish East and Nokomis community,” said Greely. “We live nearby and know a lot about the people around here. We want to fill the rental spaces in the building with something that will benefit the neighborhood, but we have no set idea about what that will be.”
Flicker will stay busy writing menus and plans to do part of the cooking. “I love to cook. That’s part of the fun, but I have bigger responsibilities, now,”  he said.
They say that they’ll rely on their professional staff for support because they’ll be splitting their time between Bull’s Horn and Sandcastle, at least in the summer. “We’ll work with good people. A good team makes all the difference,” Greeley said. They plan to start interviews for Bull’s Horn in June.
Flicker passed the mantel and location of his last restaurant, Piccolo, to his former chef de cuisine, Cameron Cecchini, and cook, Grisha Hammes, who plan to open the even tinier tasting-menu restaurant named Tenant, sometime in mid-May.
The old owner of Sunrise, Steve Houle, has no regrets about selling or the changes soon to come. He plans to stop by to see the progress as his old homey dive bar is transformed. “I had another offer on it on Sunday, for more than I sold it for,” said Houle. “But, Doug will make something great out of it.”
The new Bull’s Horn will be open from 11a.m. until midnight. They plan a grand opening, sometime in July.

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