Cafe Cuba investor locked out of building

A South Minneapolis neighborhood looking forward to the prospect of a Cuban restaurant in the area has been left wondering what will happen to the space formerly occupied by Betsy's Back Porch and currently sitting vacant. Tenant and neighborhood resident John Walker says he was unexpectedly locked out of the premises in December. Around the same time, the owner of the strip center, which also houses Cathay Chow Mein and Best Steak House, subsequently refused his rent payment.

Walker says plans for Cafe Cuba fell through last year when his business partner failed to return from a trip to Florida. Walker says he proceeded to negotiate renting the space to other viable businesses, all of which the landlord rejected. Most recently he says he was in the process of negotiating opening the space as an internationally themed restaurant with the folks behind Roseville's Royal Orchid and was up to date on all rent, utilities, and the like, when he was abruptly locked out. Walker says he learned the news when a neighboring business called him and said they saw the locks being changed.

According to the property's management company, Lee Brent & Associates, the space is available to rent. Of Walker, Lee Brent says, "Whatever plans he had just simply fell through ... He is gone. I simply know nothing more than that." Brent declined to provide the building owner's contact information, and a request for comment has not been returned.

Walker says that, to date, neither the management company nor the owner have answered his phone calls seeking an explanation. Walker, who says he has invested his life savings in the space, had been working on updating since Betsy's departed.

In a letter (edited for clarity and omitting some names) to The Hot Dish and the community, Walker writes:

Whatever Happened to Cafe Cuba?

The Diamond Lake area community was excited at the prospect of a fine neighborhood restaurant opening soon after Betsy's Back Porch closed suddenly and sadly in the winter of 2008.

The space located at the Minnehaha Mall on 54th and Nicollet sits empty and continues to be an eyesore to this day, March 9, 2010. People by the droves asked [me] "When are you opening?" Now it is geared more to "Whatever happened?"

As of April 2009 [my] friend and partner suddenly took a better offer in Miami, forcing [me] to contemplate other concepts. While being approached by other restaurateurs, [I] decided to sell.

[The] [p]roperty owner ... blocked several sales. The last attempt and probably the best concept was in conjunction with [the] [o]wner of the Royal Orchid Restaurant, who submitted all financial requirements and was approved. [The] concept was that of international fare. He would serve everything from pirogis for the pleasure of our Russian Museum neighbors, to Cuban and American breakfasts, and of course Thai cuisine to mention a few fine selections.

[The] [o]wner ... refused December rent and locked [us] out ...

Let the revolution begin. Thanks for your support, and my apologies to the community; I know we need a restaurant for all to enjoy. More information is available from [me].

John Walker 612.817.4429 [email protected]

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