Hello, Hi-Lo: East Lake Street gets a beautiful vintage diner

Hi-Lo Diner opens in March.

Hi-Lo Diner opens in March.

East Lake Street is about to get a whole lot prettier. A 1958 double-wide “Fedoro” diner has been placed on the former site of a vacant Taco Bell. The model is known to diner enthusiasts as the Cadillac of diners, the largest model ever made, seating 70 people.

The facade is aquamarine and flamingo pink — until night, when the neon sign blazes cherry red. It’s scheduled to open by the end of March for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night.

Rebekah Cook, Mike Smith, and James Brown, who own Modern Forage Workshop, have been staring at the Taco Bell site for years. It stood across the street from their ultra-modern design store, where you can buy the things like hand-thrown salt bowls and drinking glasses made from ash.

“We wanted to make sure something stupid didn’t go in over there,” says Smith.

They’ve partnered with Blue Door Pub to handle the menu concept, and hired Heidi Marsh as chef. Blue Door is known for their expertise with Jucy Lucys, and Marsh is known for her work at Chilkoot Cafe, a Stillwater Cafe with a healthy, seasonal sensibility.

At Hi Lo, expect to find “just food.” The team is keeping menu sneak peeks close to the vest, but they promise something called “hi tops,” sweet and savory doughnuts with other sweet and savory stuff piled on top. Maybe one with Korean short ribs, maybe pulled pork, Boston Creme Pie, or strawberry cheesecake. You eat them on a plate with a knife and fork.

The vintage 1950s diner has been impeccably restored.

The vintage 1950s diner has been impeccably restored.

They promise prices will be affordable.

There will also be a full bar, adult milkshakes, and breakfast served all day. They’ll open at 6:30 a.m. daily and close at midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends. Expect classic 1950s cocktails reimagined by drinks master Dan Oskey. A patio area will seat another 50 people.

The diner operated as the Venus Diner in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania from 1958 to 2007. The Hi Lo group purchased it from a Cleveland diner dealer and had it delivered to Minneapolis on two trucks. They’ve been tinkering with the buildout and assembly for about six months.

“It was like a big puzzle,” says Cook.

They’ve taken painstaking measures to find period-appropriate fixtures that were missing, such as lighting and upholstery. “The big fear is that we would screw it up.”

They also said the project has been enormously expensive. They built a huge new kitchen to accommodate the from-scratch menu. There’s also a new basement, and they had to replace the contaminated soil, the result of a gas station that once stood there.

But they say it’s all been worth it. “We hope it will feel like it has always been here,” says Smith. 

Hi Lo Diner

Opens mid to late March

4020 E. Lake St., Minneapolis