Cranky's Bicycle Bar hoping to open in Minneapolis soon
A full-scale bar and restaurant catering to the bicycling community may soon be coming to Minneapolis. Spearheading the project is Ross Stangler, a 28-year-old restaurant and bar consultant and cycling enthusiast determined to find the funding to launch a bicycle-centric eatery in the city that was named Bicycling magazine's No. 1 bike city in America last year. "Trying to make this happen is my only goal right now," he says.
Stangler says his concept for Cranky's Bicycle Bar is based on bicycle-themed restaurants that cater to cycling communities in other parts of the country, such as Chicago's Handlebar and Pittsburgh's OTB Bicycle Cafe, the latter which he discovered last year while visiting a friend. "We're the No. 1 bike city in America," says Stangler. "It's depressing that we don't have this type of venue here."
Stangler gives props to places like the Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar, One on One Bicycle Studio & Go Coffee, Freewheel Bike's Midtown Bike Cafe, Grumpy's Bar & Grill, and the Triple Rock Social Club for catering to the cycling community, but he says his concept is a step above. "Nobody's done a full-on restaurant and bar concept," he says. "It's bothering me that this doesn't exist [here]."
Stangler, who grew up outside of St. Cloud and has a BFA in furniture design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, has been in the restaurant business since he was 16, starting as a dishwasher and prep cook and working his way up to bartender, server, and design consultant at places such as Martini Blu, the Herkimer, Red Stag Supper Club, New York City's Spitzer's Corner and Manhattan Inn, and Red Lodge's Montana Jack's. "I've done restaurant and bar stuff pretty much my whole life," he says. Currently, he's a driver for PedalPub, the multi-cyclist mobile bar where patrons are allowed to drink alcohol as they pedal around town on pub crawls and other routes.
He has grand plans for Cranky's (so named "because crank is part of a bicycle and my demeanor is sometimes cranky"), and most of them are fully mapped out. Ideally, he'd like to be located in the Seward/Longfellow neighborhood. "I don't want to go to northeast Minneapolis because there's already a trillion bars over there," Stangler says. "South Minneapolis is filled with lots of younger families; it's right by the river, right by the Greenway, right across the river from St. Paul."
Along with a convenient location, he wants to offer ample bike parking and secure bike storage, turn-key lockers to stash away cycling gear while dining, patio seating, and food and drink discounts for cycling-industry employees, as well as host cycling events and sponsor local teams.
In addition, Stangler has been in talks with local bicycle shops about possibly setting up an in-restaurant tune-up and consulting satellite shop, where bikers can drop off their bikes for quick fixes or evaluations while they grab a beer or a meal, as well as purchase cycling gear and merchandise. He even has an old cigarette machine he's planning to repurpose into a bike-supply vending machine, featuring bike tubes, patch kits, and other small items bikers might need or want on the road.
Stangler, a self-described "beer nut," says he'd like to focus on canned craft beer, such as Surly, Tallgrass, Brewer's Cave, Fulton, Lift Bridge, and 21st Amendment, because of the potential for recycling. "It's kind of nerdy, but you can take all of that recycling money and sponsor teams," Stangler says.
He's also planning to feature Fender Blenders, cycle-operated blended adult drinks and malts that customers can mix themselves, and possibly even a bicycle-powered generator that allows cyclists to "power off their tab" by pedaling to work off their bill in kilowatt hours. "It'd be kind of kitschy and nerdy," he admits, "but it'd also be kind of hysterical to see, like, this is the energy that you're burning while you're sitting here waiting for your food and having a beer."
His proposed menu will be concise, with dishes in the $10-$25 range that focus on local, seasonal ingredients and feature comfort foods for carnivores and vegans alike (he's not a vegan, but he did win the Vegan Chili Cook-Off last February at the Seward Cafe). He'd like to be open all day, featuring baked goods and coffee during the morning for commuters passing by, as well as full lunch and dinner spreads, late-night drinks, and weekend brunch, available not only in the restaurant, but via takeout and bicycle delivery, as well. He even has his key staff picked.
But all this is currently on hold, because although he's been actively meeting with potential investors, Stangler has yet to find substantial funding, which he calls "ultimately frustrating." He's been searching for funding since the beginning of the year, but says that while reactions to his proposal have been overwhelmingly positive, nobody has financially committed to the project.
"That's been my general feedback: 'This is such a smart idea. How has this not happened?'" Stangler says. He cites positive responses from the Hub Bike Co-op, PedalPub, and even the owners of Nice Ride, the fluorescent green, rentable bikes around town, who, he says, contacted him about possibly putting a rental station outside of his potential location. Still, nobody has signed on. "Everybody seems to like it," he says, "but due to the crappy economy, it's becoming more and more tough to find the dollars that you need."
The dollars that Stangler needs add up to about $500,000, ideally. He says that amount would cover the costs of buying a property outright, purchasing ingredients and supplies, paying staff, advertising, fixing repairs, and funding other general operating costs for the first few months. An industry survey on RestaurantOwner.com indicates median start-up costs of those polled at $375,000 including land purchase and $225,000 excluding it. With about $25,000 of his own money to invest, he has a wide financial gap to bridge. When asked, Stangler says that bank loans are not a feasible option at this point, as he doesn't have a proven track record in the restaurant industry or other qualifying factors. "Due to the economy, they are really, really wary about restaurants, especially in this town. You basically have to half of the money you want and the rest in collateral," he says.
Stangler says he had two investors strongly interested in Cranky's at the beginning of the year, making him hopeful that he'd be open by spring. Unfortunately, due to a mixture of cold feet and financial setbacks, both eventually withdrew from the project. Other potential investors he's met with so far seem interested and enthusiastic about his idea, but balk when he runs the numbers past them. "They don't want to be an 'angel investor,'" Stangler says. "They don't want to shell out the full amount. They look kind of dumbfounded when I ask them, 'Do you have $500,000?'" He says he's open to spreading the cost across multiple backers, whether it be a few large investors or several smaller ones.
Stangler is trying to raise money in other ways, too. He's applied to Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform, and is waiting to hear back from them. He's also sent in an application for this year's Minnesota Cup, an entrepreneurial competition sponsored by several companies, including Wells Fargo and the University of Minnesota. The general division that Stangler has applied for awards up to $25,000 in seed capital, as well as additional start-up perks. In addition, he's brainstorming the idea of a fundraising block party toward the end of the summer.
He's also working hard generating buzz through word of mouth. His Cranky's Facebook page has over 500 followers, and he's working on expanding the Cranky's website to showcase potential menus. "Every day I get emails from people who are super jazzed about Cranky's happening," Stangler says. "People are pumped about this idea."
One person keeping up with Cranky's progress is Melanie Steinman, an avid cyclist who bikes to work daily and to bars and restaurants year-round. She subscribes to Cranky's Facebook page and says she's rooting for a business that supports the cycling community in a positive way.
"I'm totally down with the idea," Steinman says. "I think the increasing bikeability of the cities is something worth supporting." She says she'd like to see features that Stangler already has planned, such as ample bike parking, good craft beer, and handy access to popular bike routes, such as the Greenway, as well as things like grease-cutting soap in the bathrooms, hand air pumps for filling tires, message boards for posting cycling information, and rotating art on display, such as ARTCRANK's bike-themed posters.
Steinman also hopes that Cranky's will be inclusive to cyclists and non-cyclists, alike. "I'm curious what the vibe there will actually be like--hopefully nothing pretentious or cold," she says. Stangler says he doesn't want to exclude anyone. "I want everybody," he says. "I don't care how often or little you ride. I don't care if you bike or you drive. As long as you choose to respect bikers and not run us over? Awesome."
As for when Stangler thinks Cranky's will be up and running? Within the next year, he projects. "If you want your dreams, you're going to make them happen, come hell or high water," he says. "It's definitely more than a dream at this point."
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