What the sale of Bryant Lake Bowl means... including a new Bartmann Group restaurant?

Neon and on

Neon and on Bartmann Group

The year is 1993, and things are lookin' up for the ladies. Janet Reno just became the first female Attorney General in U.S. history; the Supreme Court has courageously decided workplace sexual harassment is illegal.

And here in Minneapolis, a woman by the name of Kim Bartmann just bought the historic Bryant Lake Bowl, bringing her total number of restaurants to two.

There was a time before "Bartmann" was a household name, one naturally followed by "Group" (or, often, "empire"). A time before the food and drink dynamo would become a two-time James Beard Award semifinalist, preside over the board of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, or be a natural fit for the cover of the Star Tribune's quarterly magazine

But 25 years is a long time. Bartmann's empire has since grown to 10, and it's time for a changing of the guard at at least one—she announced late last month that she's selling Bryant Lake Bowl to longtime employee Erica Gilbert.

Gilbert's been bartending, serving, and managing at the restaurant-slash-theater-slash-bowling-alley for 12 years—almost half of its lifetime—and she's not even the longest-tenured employee.

"A lot of us have been working here that long," she says. "I'm still probably in the middle of the time frame that other people have been here. We have people who have been here 18 years, or 16, 15."

Sounds like it must be a pretty good place to work. That's probably why, as she tells City Pages, she didn't even flinch when the option to take over presented itself about a year ago. For her, it just kind of seemed like the next logical step.

Times may be different now, but at BLB, you can expect the same breakfast burritos and self-scored bowling and A-plus tap list you've been enjoying since the '90s. "Nothing is gonna change, as far as I know," Gilbert says. "The only thing that is possibly going to change is that some things might get fixed, and customers probably won't even see that."

That means all the feel-good stuff will stay the same, too: compostable products, health insurance for employees. Existing programming is staying put—yep, A Very Die Hard Christmas will be back this year—and so are the people. Gilbert says the theater is actually booked through about February. 

There is one tiny shift on the horizon: "Cheap Date Night might have to go away," she admits. But only in name! That's a KB original, and she'll likely take it with her. The budget-friendly booze, food, and bowling combo itself? That's not going anywhere.  

As for why Bartmann opted to sell now, Gilbert has some ideas. 

"I think for Kim, what I see with her is she's really good at making new restaurants," she says.

(No kidding—this is a person who opened two new spots and took over another in the last year alone.)

Gilbert continues: "I think this gives her an opportunity to keep doing that. I know she said ... there's a new restaurant already, coming downtown, somewhere."

...We've reached out for more info on that, don't worry.

The sale will be finalized this month. And while this is among the busiest times of the year for Bryant Lake Bowl, you can expect a big bash celebrating the next BLB chapter sometime this spring.