Turtle Empire

Turtle Bread Company

3421 W. 44th St., Minneapolis, 612.924.6013

and 120 S. Sixth St., skyway level, Minneapolis, 612.455.2552

Want homemade pretzels? Topped with cheese? And a comprehensive plan for citywide improvements in Minneapolis? If so, stop on in to Turtle Bread, because things are baking, cooking, and even sizzling, according to owner Harvey McLain, who bought nearly the entire block just north of Adrian's, the Parkway Theatre, and Pepito's, at 48th and Chicago. The building there was a grocery store, but will soon house the primary Turtle Bread production facility, a retail Turtle bakery, and perhaps even a wood-fire pizza restaurant.

This is good news for everyone. It's good news for Turtle bakers, who have hitherto been carrying buckets of dough up and down several flights of stairs whenever they bake, since the Linden Hills location was born a house, not a bakery. It's good news for downtown office dwellers, because this is going to allow the Turtle in One Financial Plaza to double in size, expanding its seating areas and bread offerings. And, of course, it's good news for the people who live in the chunk of city circumscribed by Interstate 35W, Highway 62, and Cedar Avenue, because they are, in my book, woefully underfed.

(Um, but it is bad news for the people near 34th Street and Lyndale Avenue South in southwest Minneapolis, because it looks like the plan to take over the old Olsen grocery store is off.)

Moreover, the Turtle Bread expansion is good news for everyone who got all worked up over the Loring Cafe eviction and Block E convergence of dumb, corporate restaurants that no one seems to want, and then didn't have any outlet for that worked-up-ness: Suddenly, we've got another opportunity to do something worthwhile with a block of the city! Here's the deal.

There's a large, vacant lot on the southwest corner of Franklin and Nicollet. McLain says he has been appointed by the city to be the exclusive developer for six months (he's about three months into that term). So far he's drawn up a plan for a mixed-use, six-story building, with four stories above ground, and two below ground for parking. Above ground would be a bakery, a restaurant, three auditoriums for theater, dance, and such, and up top would be housing. Projected cost: $8 million to $10 million.

The catch? "I figure we've got maybe a 50 percent chance of this happening," sighs McLain. "The city is feeling poor, and it's hard to get mixed-use properties financed. This would bring people to this neighborhood at all hours of the day and night, every day of the week, and would link Eat Street and downtown. But where's the money going to come from? I think it would be a beautiful, shining beacon for other development. It would look appropriate there with the other four and five-story buildings in that neighborhood. The last thing you want in an urban area is three-quarters of the lot covered in asphalt."

McLain points out that there are already acres of surface parking in the vicinity, acres of surface parking that are doing nothing to rehabilitate the neighborhood. "Look at Uptown," he says. "You would never get those buildings built with today's building habits, but it's that density that draws foot traffic and makes a culture. Everybody wants Uptown, but no one wants to actually build it." Except Harvey McLain.

And you? Is this the battle that could actually get won? Is this the one time we ever hear about a development before it's delivered to us as a done deal? Is this the place to channel all our frustration about the chain-ifying, mall-ifying, and endless transformation of Minneapolis to Minne-dale? A way to extend Nicollet into the city again, a link in the opening when that damn Kmart goes away, a place to go to, instead of a void? I don't know. It sure seems like it could be.

But I defer to you. It often occurs to me that you all are more powerful, more energized, and about a million degrees more informed in the ways of this city than I could ever be. You've got access to the mayor, access to city council members, friends in high places. So, break into groups and discuss.

Oh yeah, and Turtle Bread has a new master German baker who is making traditional lye-dipped German pretzels from scratch. They're $1.99, and not exactly like ballpark pretzels, and not exactly like bagged pretzels, but somewhere halfway between. They are a noble experiment, anyway. If you go to Turtle Bread, you can have some, or some topped with Asiago cheese, which are pretty tasty. There. I think you now know everything you need to.