We recently unearthed dozens of ancient stock photos of old Twin Cities restaurants and published them in a vintage photos slideshow. It was a visual throwback romp for those who were there, and who remember. I've been fielding dozens of emails about the project. One of those emails came from Craig Schutte, son of Gordon Schutte, who together owned 510 Groveland for almost 30 years with other family members. In the cutline to the photo, I repeated some anecdotes I had heard about the restaurant:
"The 510" was the fanciest place in town for years. Owner Gordon Schutte was the city's most famous restaurateur. It stuck around far longer than it should have, and its image was tarnished because at the end it wasn't the spit-and-polish place it had been during its heyday. Rumor has it that when Josh Thoma looked at the space for what would later be La Belle Vie, he was horrified by the state of the kitchen. Rumor also has it that Minneapolis Star restaurant critic Joan Siegel wrote a scandalous story about the place in the 1980s. It was her "I'm-retiring-from-restaurant-criticism" story, and she recounted a happy memory of having sex in the cloakroom.”
Schutte wrote in his email to me:
“I wish you had reached out before you published. The insinuation that our kitchen was somehow substandard based on the rumored musings of a crook [he’s referring to Thoma and his 2010 mismanagement of his own company's funds] was disappointing. Add to that the ancient (and untrue) story about Joan...well, I am speechless. It would have been nicer to read about a 30-year legacy of Minnesota dining excellence. But, what's done is done.”
I called Schutte and he wished to set the record straight. “We are the cradle of what the Twin Cities dining scene is now. I read all of this about that space and how La Belle Vie was there for 15 years. Well, we were there for 30.” (The recently closed La Belle Vie occupied the space after 510 Groveland.)
Schutte says that while they were indeed working with an old kitchen with old equipment, they passed health inspections with flying colors every year. “We won the AAA Diamond award [and other awards] every year.”
As the years wore on, Schutte says that the 510 became a more populist restaurant because it had to in order to stay in business. “When La Belle Vie closed I see [chef of that restaurant] Tim McKee saying, ‘It’s your responsibility to go to places to keep them open.' I say it’s the polar opposite. For lack of a better term it’s culinary masturbation if you want to just keep doing that one thing if people aren't coming in the door. We had to make changes.”
He says he did things like institute the “Retail Plus a Buck” wine program, where he sold $100 bottles of wine for $26 ($25 retail, plus a buck). Competing restaurants were begging him to stop, he says, because he was messing with their profit structure. But by being nimble, they survived almost three decades, an eternity in the restaurant world. Schutte was also quick to point out the proliferation of name careers he says the restaurant went on to catapult, including Lucia Watson of Lucia's, Isaac Becker of Burch, 112, and Bar La Grassa, Joe Kaplan of 4 Bells, Randy Stanley of 6Smith, and dozens of others.
"We were responsible for that. If it weren't for the 510, guys like McKee would never have existed," he says. "And it's never documented." Schutte says that when he talks to his mother about the coverage the restaurant gets, she asks, "Why can't they say anything nice about us?"
As far as the story about former restaurant critic Joan Siegel and her alleged cavort in the cloakroom, Schutte says that's also bollocks. "There wasn't a cloakroom," he reports. "We had a bar with a couple of coats in it, and there would have been someone in attendance in there all the time, so it would be ridiculous for someone to have sex in there. It's pop lore. It's pulp fiction." However, he says that Siegel, who he is friends with to this day, would probably herself promote the lore "for its juiciness."