Keeping old concepts fresh in changing times

For nearly 20 years, Nora's Restaurant operated on West Lake street in Minneapolis. The place —still sporting car ports with awnings from when it was Porky's, a drive-in burger joint in the '40s—did decent business serving diner-style grub.  But over the decades, the view from the dining room window changed drastically. The surrounding West Lake area saw massive development and the landscape evolved into a commercial hotbed. Up around Nora's, new restaurants with attractive designs and fresh menus rose, and Nora's began looking more dated than ever. Tryg Truelson, who co-owned the restaurant with his mother, Nora, says modern competitors were a huge worry.

These days, staying fresh is a common challenge. And as we head into 2005, tons of new concepts, many with fancy designers, will endanger the less-modern places on the block.

A solution is not simple. Redesigning seems like the best option, but sinking mega-money into renovation is not practical for many places. And in this ultra-competitive marketplace, that may not even be enough to keep up.

"It's hard to change your image," Truelson says, adding that people wouldn't just forget the old place and accept it as new after an elaborate fix-up job.

So, they decided to go for broke and start from scratch. They pulled the plug on Nora's red neon sign that had glowed for 17 years and called in the bulldozers. The 60-year-old building was leveled, leaving a fresh patch of dirt on which to build their brand new 300-seat, 6,500-sq. ft. eatery—Tryg's.

Tanya Spalding, a principle at Shea Inc.—a design firm that assisted with the development—says starting from scratch was the only option. "You can't put lipstick on a pig," she says. "The smartest thing for the new brand was making a grand statement by tearing Nora's down."

And "grand" is how Truelson describes the new place that now stands on the plot. "We spared no expense," he says, referring to the copper domed entrance, Brazilian wood floors, and state-of-the-art display kitchen.

Along with the new upscale look is a menu to match: Chef Philip Dorwart's rotisserie and woodburning-grilled meats, like duck and suckling pig, and high-end seafood entrees ($14-$30).

With Tryg's only open for about two months, it's hard to say what the return on the investment is just yet. But Truelson says business is great so far. "We're getting in a good, young crowd —exactly who we were trying to target," he says.


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