Blackbird Cafe reopening: Owners talk about recovery process

The intersection of 38th and Nicollet: Blackbird Cafe will open on the southwest corner, pictured in the lower left-hand corner.
The intersection of 38th and Nicollet: Blackbird Cafe will open on the southwest corner, pictured in the lower left-hand corner.
Lisa Gulya

Since signing the lease on a new space at 38th and Nicollet two weeks ago, Blackbird Cafe co-owners Gail Mollner and Chris Stevens have been busy with new restaurant details like installing a kitchen and getting their business license in order. The February fire that destroyed the original Blackbird didn't lighten the owners' workload, even though they're not currently running a restaurant. "Between tying up loose ends at the old space and taking care of insurance concerns, inventorying all our products, and now moving forward and finding a new location and negotiating a lease, it's just pretty much back into full-time mode," Mollner said. "We thought unemployment would be a lot a different, a lot more afternoon cocktails."

More margarita time wasn't Mollner and Stevens' initial reaction to the fire, of course. After the shock of losing the original restaurant, which they had opened just two and a half years earlier, the two hesitated about reopening. "It's kind of taken a lot out of us," Mollner said. "The first space we had was kind of a blank space, too. It took a lot of time and money to turn that into a restaurant, and then to have that burn down was obviously pretty stressful. Just the thought of having to do all that again--the first couple weeks we were just like, I don't know, I don't know if we have it in us."

However, Mollner and Stevens got the emotional support they needed--and the invitations to afternoon cocktails--from their former employees and customers. "Our former employees see us as friends, so we hang out pretty frequently," Mollner says. "Same as our customers--we've been invited to hang out in their homes, we've gone out to dinner, we've had drinks with them. They're more friends and family now."

With that encouragement, Mollner and Stevens decided to look for a new location, sidestepping the complications of reopening at the old space, which would depend on both the landlord and the city. "We kind of figured if we wanted to [reopen], we had six to nine months to keep it on track and move things forward," Stevens said, so a new location was the easiest option.

The new location has more seating--"We were maxing out the old space," Mollner said--but they plan to keep the same menu and hope to entice back their former customers. They also would love to have their former employees return, whom they helped find work at other restaurants, including Sea Change, Brasa, and Lucia's.

Mollner and Stevens plan to redesign their website, too, and will continue to provide updates on the restaurant's Facebook page.

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